How To Be A Heroine

How To Be A Heroine
Published : 2 Jan 2014 - Chatto & Windus
On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights with her best friend, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing about which heroine she liked best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, free, passionate Cathy, but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob who betrays Heathcliff for Edgar and makes them all unhappy – while Jane makes her own way. And that’s when she realised that all her life she’d been trying to be Cathy when she should have been trying to be Jane.

So she decided to look again – and harder – at all the heroines she’d loved through her life, from her earliest obsessions with the Little Mermaid and Anne of Green Gables; and then on to Scarlett O’Hara, Sylvia Plath, the Dolls (of the Valley); and later Riders, Buffy, Flora Poste from Cold Comfort Farm and many, many more. Some of her heroines lived up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (thought Katy Carr from What Katy Did was a carefree rebel? Think again. She’s a drip).

These were the girls, the women, the books, that had shaped her ideas of how to live, of what kind of woman she wanted to be. But had she always chosen the wrong heroines? Should she abandon them, or did they have more to teach her about being the heroine of her own life? HOW TO BE A HEROINE is her funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives.


Listen up, ladies: it's never too late to become your own heroine. This warm, spry tale of a textual coming of age leads the way through a gallery of literary role models, introducing and reintroducing warriors and worriers, spinsters and seductresses. Plucked from the pages of authors from Jane Austen to Jilly Cooper, there are heroines here to make you bold, make you laugh, and make you mad. They'll all get you thinking.

Hephzibah Anderson

How To Be A Heroine happily reminds all bookworms of years of their life spent in the company of Scarlett, Amber, Katy, Jane Eyre, the March family and all those wonderful friends that only really exist in our hearts.

Shirley Conran

'My whole life I’d be trying to be Cathy, when I should have been trying to be Jane.' Something brilliant grew out of this lightbulb moment. And that something brilliant is Samantha Ellis’ first book.


How to Be a Heroine is an honest, warm and readable book about the plots we follow in order to make sense of our lives, the selves we adopt as we grow up and the selves we shed... Wise, courageous and endlessly generous, Ellis is something of a heroine herself.

Literary Review

At the end of the day this is a life-affirming feminist text, but one delivered with such dexterity and sly humour that it never feels like a polemic or a prescription, making it well worth your time.


A genius idea for a book... Ellis is charming, witty and self-effacing as she leads us through her experiments with trying on literary personalities for size. A fantastically inspirational memoir that makes you want to reread far too many books.


Any woman (I can’t imagine any man picking up this book) with a remotely bookish childhood will find great pleasure in How to Be a Heroine

Sunday Times

A treasure-trove of once beloved characters, if you spent your childhood and adolescence with your head in a book, you'll love How To Be A Heroine


A real treat

Good Housekeeping

It fizzes along, thanks to Ellis's warm humour and interesting back story... Plus, how could we resist a book that reminisces about Judy Blume novels?


It's not so much self-help as shelf-help, as Ellis applies fresh insights to her own life dilemmas and proffers some inspiring solutions to everyday problems. A truly brilliant read.

Marie Claire

All the books I love, remembered

Nigella Lawson

Overwhelmingly, this is a thoughtful, celebratory book and leaves you believing Ellis enjoyed writing it as much as you’ll enjoy reading it.

The Nothern Echo

It’s a thoughtful, celebratory book that leaves you believing Ellis enjoyed writing it as much as you’ll enjoy reading it.

The Evening Gazette (Teeside)

This is an honest and open-hearted book by someone whose life has been informed and enriched by her reading. Ellis makes us warm to her enthusiasms

The Times

It was a joy to read. Well written, and engaging on her own story, Ellis analyses books often dismissed as childish or light in an intelligent but never pretentious manner.

Running in Heels

One of my 2014 new best books, without doubt, has been Samantha Ellis's wonderful How To Be A Heroine: Or What I've Learned From Reading Too Much - a romp-cum-memoir through Ellis's childhood canon of female protagonists and how they inspired her. As a huge swot I identified with her all the way from Cathy Earnshaw to Anne of Green Gables.

Sara Sheridan, The Herald, Books of the Year

Delightfully honest and warmly funny"<br />

Daily Mail

A delightful and hilarious memoir

The Economist

Samantha Ellis, a playwright brought up in London in an Iraqi-Jewish family, offers herself up in this warm-spirited biblio-autobiography... She is endearingly open about her vulnerabilities, superstitions, love tangles and defeats and is adept at droll asides


Ellis not only makes you want to go and re-read your own teenage canon but to recapture that mode of absorbing novels... If this is a defence of 'reading for wisdom', then the wisdom in her own writing makes an eloquent testimony

Evening Standard

HOW TO BE A HEROINE is Samantha's funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives

CGA Magazine

This book is at its best and most amusing in the autobiographical passages which describe the author’s volatile and close-knit family and her place within it


[A] jaunty, witty book


Funny and thoughtful, this will have you remembering your favourite characters when younger – and perhaps have you reaching for a reread

Woman's Way

Ellis is a nimble, effervescent storyteller... Anyone who expresses an interest in Eat, Pray, Love should be handed this book instead


Ellis' tone is warm and welcoming – like chatting to a big sister... there’s a nice mixture of stories you’ll recognise, as well as more niche books which I’ll now be rooting out like a pig seeking literary truffles


An utter joy to read: a whirlwind walk down memory lane

Optima Magazine

A delight. It’s a memoir-slash-accessible-literary-criticism, slash-your-next-read

Image Magazine

Fascinating and insightful... This is a book that can teach so much about the self; it can make struggles so wound up in the past and in the novels that stay with you come clear. Nostalgic, warming and a stern lesson for life, How to Be a Heroine should be on everyone’s bookshelf

The Upcoming

A wonderful summary of all the different literary heroines she has loved, from Anne Of Green Gables to some interesting downmarket choices, like Valley Of The Dolls. She makes me think there are about five books I have to re-read immediately, starting with Wuthering Heights.


Ellis’s journey of reading and self-discovery offers a fresh perspective on the classics


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