Jamie Cox Robertson
Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2010.
Reviewed from a review copy.
Like Stephanie Stall, author of Reading Women, Jamie Cox Robertson had occasion to revisit the books of her youth after having a daughter. For Robertson, the book that sent her on a re-reading spree was Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany’s
In my twenties, I thought of Holly as a self-centered girl who dated entirely too many men. But reading Capote’s novel again so many years later caused me to see Holly Golightly in a completely different way than I did back then. Now I see a necessary rite of passage to her outrageousness and self-centeredness, and I think a woman’s twenties is the perfect time to be whimsical and unpredictable. … I got to thinking–would I see other women I had read about in a different light now that I was older, married, and had a daughter of my own?
The result of her re-reading the heroines of her youth, and of meeting some new ones, is this collection of excerpts from the classics of books by and about women.
Each chapter is named for the heroine and has brief sections on “her story,” “what makes her so memorable,” and “the life and times” of the author who brought her to life. Those brief sketches are a useful reminder of the character’s back-story, and the context of the authors’ biographies helps to situate the memorable women they created.
Because this book began as an experience born of revisiting the heroines and revising her opinions, I would have liked to have heard a lot more from Robertson, but her voice all but disappears after the short introduction. I would have liked much more lengthy discussions of how her perspective changed, about what having her daughter did to colour her perception of many of these women’s maternal ambivalence, for example. For me, the joy of books about books so often lies in the personal narrative, in how authors’ lives have been shaded by their reading. I am also not a big fan of excerpts, but I did enjoy the brief visits I had with these uncommon heroines, some of whom I met for the first time. (I have gotten this far in life without reading My Antonia. Summer seems like a good time to change that.) This book is a gateway to others and an invitation to question her choices: Is Anne Elliot your favourite Austen heroine? Is Little Dorrit worthy of inclusion? Does Dorothea Brooke prevail as a heroine? Many of the women on these pages also appear in The Heroine’s Bookshelf, and I’ve added some titles to my list for that reading challenge. (Sometimes, “challenge” is just not the right word. It’s just too easy to read and read and read books with these marvellous, complicated women.)
Ultimately, the book did what good books do: it sent me to my bookshelves. I pulled down Mrs. Dalloway for a re-read, and I will spend the summer solstice roaming through the streets of London and through the minds of Clarissa and Septimus, listening to the birds speak Greek.