Saturday, January 03, 2015

Well-Read Women - portraits of fiction's most beloved heroines

Anna Karenina, Daisy Buchanan, Jane Eyre: the greatest female characters inflame our passions and excite our imaginations.  Our favorite characters are universal archetypes and uniquely flawed individuals all at once.  Every so often, an author creates this kind of masterpiece, a female figure of such dazzling originality and truth that she will resonate with readers for all time.  We sympathize with her, we admire her, we hate her, we want to be her. Ultimately, every reader brings his or her own imagination to the task of envisioning these legendary characters.
 From Well-Read Women, by Samantha Hahn
I received several books for Christmas this year (yeah!), but the one that I've now read three times is from my dear daughter.  It is Well-Read Women, by Samantha Hahn, and it is a collection of gorgeous water color portraits of memorable fiction women along with quotes from the books they feature in.

Here are a few of my favorites...

Holly Golightly

Daisy Buchanan


It is a wonderful book and I enjoy leafing through it, looking into the eyes of the women who have peopled my literary world for most of my life. Most of them are consistent with my image of them--although Jo March is much sharper than I imagined, and Dorothea Brooke is more diffuse.  And...I do have a couple of out-and-out quibbles.

The first is the Elizabeth Bennet quote: "A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment."  We all know that Mr. Darcy said this to Miss Caroline Bingley so I'm not sure why it was chosen as Elizabeth's signature quote for the book.

Hahn in the introduction mentions Becky Sharp's "Edwardian dress."  Given that Vanity Fair was published in 1847 and is a classic Victorian novel although set in the Napoleonic (Regency) timeframe, and the Edwardian period was 1901-1910, I have to wonder just how closely Hahn got to know Becky Sharp before producing this portrait of her.

Becky Sharp
I don't mean to sound like a curmudgeon, but any editor worth their salt should've caught that one!

So, like any good heroine, this book has a couple of flaws, but not enough to prevent me from loving it.


  1. This book looks to be super. The pictures that you posted are really good.

    Lately I have been interested in illustrations that relate to great fiction.

    1. I agree--I really love to look at the illustrations that accompanied the serialization Victorian novels that I enjoy. I wish more novels were illustrated.

  2. I'd love to take a closer look at this book!

  3. This looks fun! I haven't heard of it. I think I'll see if my library has it. You are right about the quote for Elizabeth Bennett though, that is nothing like her character at all.