BOOK: Jane Eyre’s Sisters

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.

Jane Eyre’s Sisters is available in bookstores and through online sellers.

Poet and writer Sheila Bender interviews Jody Gentian Bower on radio KPTZ.

Brief interview with Don Ashford on radio KTRT.

Reviews:

Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story isn’t just a survey of Bronte’s writings or relatives (as some might expect from the title): it’s a collection of examples of women who search for love, self-actualization and life’s meaning (often in the wrong places) and it is packed with considerations of how women’s fiction reflects this process of exploration. Women’s studies readers will find Jane Eyre’s Sisters filled with revealing portraits that use women’s fiction to examine traditional psychological devices considering heroic quests, relationships between parents and children, images of goddesses and other women of power, and how new lives are forged from influential stories. While all this sounds daunting, the approach is through a blend of analysis of archetypes and literature, and adopts an accessible tone even as it makes its scholarly points and references – which means it’s accessible by a wider audience than college-level literature students alone.” – California Bookwatch

“With extraordinarily insightful commentary and analysis, Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story is an impressive work of seminal scholarship and an inherently absorbing read from beginning to end.” – Midwest Book Review

“[An] insightful text, transformative for both women and men . . . We need heroes, yes, but heroes who embrace both yin and yang, and affirm the gifts of the heroine as mutual and equal. Like the heroines Bower cites, our current situation provides no clear way out or promise of success. The balance is tipped against planetary well-being and the challenge is daunting. But, the heroine’s wisdom can provide a multiplicity of meandering, holistic, earth-supporting pathways. We need steadfast heroines to share their wisdom with the hero waiting to emerge in more holistic and life-supporting ways.” – Bruce Epperly, Patheos.com.

Jane Eyre’s Sisters is a priceless addition to the library of those who love stories and reading into what they say about our collective unconscious. . . .  The part that hit closest to home for this reviewer was the breakdown between being and doing. The hero’s journey is defined by accomplishment. . . . While I appreciate my hero’s journey, and my life has paralleled this trajectory in many ways, it also resonates with the Aletis model, fleeing from the expectations of 70 hour work weeks at meaningless jobs, from stoicism (although I admire and utilize the philosophy at times), from emotional disconnect. I fell away into uncertainty, and had many of the experiences Bower describes, like being lost in the wilderness, and having mentors teach me the ancient wisdom. The other thing I appreciated greatly about Jane Eyre’s Sisters is the broad overview of many classic texts either written by or about women. Although this is a poor excuse, our society does not encourage men to seek out and empathize with women’s stories, and I have missed out on a lot of classic texts, which I’m starting to rectify. As somebody who’s interested in how everybody thinks, it’s essential to seek out as many points of view as possible, from all walks of life. Jane Eyre’s Sisters has a great bibliography, which serves as an excellent intro to both feminist literature, and great literature either by or about women.” – J Simpson, Spiral Nature.

“Lest you think that this book is strictly an academic exercise, know that she takes up the challenge of practical application with topics like The Power of Story and the Imagination, The Frenemy, Problematic Parents and Guardians, Marrying a Fantasy, Refusing Obligations, Sorting the Seeds, Learning Discrimination, The Home of One’s Own, Transforming Communities, Leaving a Legacy, and Words as Maps. There’s an amazing bibliography which can serve as an almost never-ending supply of book suggestions for a “heroine of the month” discussion group. Let customers know that Bower is bearing testimony to the fact that women truly can change the world, if they are willing to change themselves.” – Anna Jedrziewski, Retailing Insight

“Finally! We who have been seeking the feminine counterpart to the masculine hero story have reason to rejoice. Aletis, the wandering heroine, is an archetypal treasure who’s been with us all along, and I am deeply grateful to Jody Gentian Bower, a brilliant new pioneer in the wilderness of the soul, for introducing her in this groundbreaking book.” —Jean Benedict Raffa, author of The Bridge to Wholeness, Dream Theatres of the Soul, and Healing the Sacred Divide

“Bower’s work will prove a game changer. ”  — Sheila Bender, poet, author, and founder of WritingItReal.com.

“This is a book full of those wonderful moments of familiarity that spring upon us when we find a story exactly like something we have experienced in our own lives.  Jody Bower’s many examples of women who wander ‘from place to place searching for love or freedom or answers’, drawn from novels and stories, myths and folk tales, genre fiction and popular culture, women’s biography and autobiography, make her book a treasure trove of epiphany and identification. Women, and men who genuinely desire to understand the true shape of women’s lives, will find Bower’s  discernment of the differences between the journey of the male hero as outlined by Joseph Campbell and the heroine’s wanderings, drawn from her large sample of readings, as illuminating as it is startling.” – Annis Pratt, author of Archetypal Patterns in Women’s Fiction

“The book isn’t written in academic-ese at all, but very clearly and skillfully, with lots of great examples supporting the central thesis of the woman as a wanderer in search of her true self. Even so, I keep stopping to ponder the profound ideas underpinning the straightforward prose.” – Lillian Stewart Carl, author of the Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron mystery series.

“Should be required reading for all MFA students – men as well as women.” – Pamela Moore Dionne, author of the Blue Truth mystery series.

“A profound book . . . Jody Gentian Bower opens up archetypes of the heroine as written by women (as opposed to the male writer’s tropes), drawing from mythology and both classic and contemporary literary and fantasy genres of page and screen.” – John Gordon Hill, Seattle film-maker.

And from readers:

“I’m 71 years old and for the first time, thanks to your book, I understand what it is I’ve been trying to do with my life.”

“Your book has helped me understand my relationship with my daughter.”

“This book is a gamechanger . . . almost every page offers an insight that makes you say, “Yes! Of course!” This book is a MUST READ!”

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