Ever since women in the West first started publishing works of fiction, they have written about a heroine who must wander from one place to another as she searches for a way to live the life she wants to live, a life through which she can express her true self creatively in the world. Yet while many have written about the “heroine’s journey,” most of those authors base their models of this journey on Joseph Campbell’s model of the Heroic Quest story or on old myths and tales written down by men, not on the stories that women tell.
In Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story, cultural mythologist Jody Gentian Bower looks at novels by women–and some men–as well as biographies of women that tell the story of the Aletis, the wandering heroine. She finds a similar pattern in works spanning the centuries, from Lady Mary Wroth and William Shakespeare in the 1600s to Sue Monk Kidd, Suzanne Collins, and Philip Pullman in the current century, including works by Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, Kate Chopin, Virginia Woolf, Doris Lessing, J.R.R. Tolkien, and Alice Walker, to name just a few. She also discusses myths and folk tales that follow the same pattern.
Dr. Bower argues that the Aletis represents an archetypal character that has to date received surprisingly little scholarly recognition despite her central role in many of the greatest works of Western fiction. Using an engaging, down-to-earth writing style, Dr. Bower outlines the stages and cast of characters of the Aletis story with many examples from the literature. She discusses how the Aletis story differs from the hero’s quest, how it has changed over the centuries as women gained more independence, and what heroines of novels and movies might be like in the future. She gives examples from the lives of real women and scatters stories that illustrate many of her points throughout the book. In the end, she concludes, authors of the Aletis story use their imagination to give us characters who serve as role models for how a woman can live a full and free life.