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About the book
  • Published: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448130832
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 272

How To Be A Heroine

Or, what I’ve learned from reading too much

A funny, touching, inspiring exploration of the role of heroines, and our favourite books, in all our lives.

Cathy Earnshaw or Jane Eyre?
Petrova or Posy?
Scarlett or Melanie?
Lace or Valley of the Dolls?

On a pilgrimage to Wuthering Heights, Samantha Ellis found herself arguing with her best friend about which heroine was best: Jane Eyre or Cathy Earnshaw. She was all for wild, passionate Cathy; but her friend found Cathy silly, a snob, while courageous Jane makes her own way.

And that’s when Samantha 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 at her heroines – the girls, women, books that had shaped her ideas of the world and how to live. Some of them stood up to the scrutiny (she will always love Lizzy Bennet); some of them most decidedly did not (turns out Katy Carr from What Katy Did isn’t a carefree rebel, she’s a drip). There were revelations (the real heroine of Gone with the Wind? It's Melanie), joyous reunions (Anne of Green Gables), poignant memories (Sylvia Plath) and tearful goodbyes (Lucy Honeychurch). And then there was Jilly Cooper...

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 – and how they change over time, for better or worse, just as we do.

  • Pub date: 2 January 2014
  • ISBN: 9781448130832
  • Imprint: Vintage Digital
  • Format: EBook
  • Pages: 272

About the Author

Samantha Ellis

Samantha Ellis is a playwright and journalist. Her first book How to be a Heroine was published in 2014. Her plays include Cling to me Like Ivy, Operation Magic Carpet and How to Date a Feminist. She has written for the Guardian, Observer, TLS, Spectator, Literary Review, The Pool, Exeunt and more. She lives in London.

Also by Samantha Ellis

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Praise for How To Be A Heroine

“Any woman with a remotely bookish childhood will find great pleasure in How to be a Heroine... like Ellis, I find it reassuring that Lizzy Bennet can admit that she was wrong about Darcy, have used Scarlett's indomitable mantra in times of adversity, and have every sympathy with the women who keep their bank accounts separate as in Lace”

Daisy Goodwin, Sunday Times

“This is quite simply a genius idea for a book.... A fantastically inspirational memoir that makes you want to reread far too many books”

Viv Groskop, Observer

“Brilliant... From Lizzy Bennet to 'go-getting Judy Jordan' from Lace, Samantha Ellis did what we all do, mostly without realising: tried other people's lives on for size in literature”


“The best kind of book: one that I gobbled up, wanting to go slow to savour it but unable to stop reading until it was all gone. One that made me want to run to the bookshop to buy copies of novels I’ve never got round to reading and devour those, too”

Rebecca Armstrong, Independent

“Delightfully honest and warmly funny”

Eithne Farry, Daily Mail

“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

“A delightful and hilarious memoir”

The Economist

“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”

Lucy Scholes, Independent

“An honest and open-hearted book by someone whose life has been informed and enriched by her reading”

Susan Hill, The Times

“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”

Claire Harman, Guardian

“This warm, witty memoir is perfect if you're the kind of woman for whom the Louisa May Alcott quote, "She is too fond of books and it has turned her head" reverberates... 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 prescription, making it well worth your time”


“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?”


“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”

Joanna Thomas-Corr, Evening Standard

“A real treat”

Good Housekeeping

“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.”

Frances Wilson, Literary Review

“I was a bookworm as a child, and practically everything I learnt about life came from fiction... If you did too, then this is the book for you”

Running In Heels

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

Shirley Conran

“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

“A thoughtful, celebratory book that leaves you believing Ellis enjoyed writing it as much as you'll enjoy reading it”

UK Press Syndication

“[A] vivid, passionate study of literary heroines”

Sunday Times

“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”

Cressida Connolly, Spectator

“[A] jaunty, witty book”

Ruth Scurr, Telegraph

“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”

Carlene Bauer, Tablet

“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”

Lizzy Dening, Grazia

“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”

Jennifer Lipman, Running in Heels

“Ellis proves funny and thoughtful, alive both to the indulgence of reading (preferably in the bath, with a glass of wine) and to her own capacity for false enchantment. Her synopses are always lively and perceptive but she’s at her best when she gets stuck in to interrogating her characters”

Johanna Thomas-Corr, Evening Standard

“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”

Jeanne Sutton, 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”

Georgia Mizen, 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.”

Jacqueline Wilson, Express

“Ellis’s sensitive and witty analyses reflect the power classic fictional heroines have not only to inspire but also – as in Jane’s Eyre’s case – to endlessly surprise, even horrify”

Bidisha, author of Asylum & Exile

“A charming, amusing autobiography told through the classic literary heroines”

Mel Hunter, Essentials

“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”

Sara Sheridan, Herald

“A dazzling, witty and heartwarming read”

Sally Morris, Daily Mail

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

Frieda Ford, 4 stars, Lady

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