Sophie Kinsella, best-selling author of the universally loved Shopaholic series, tells Women on the Page about her literary heroines, including, for a time, being Harriet the Spy.
I grew up with them. I think of them often. I refer to them when I’m unsure in life. I love them, admire them, cringe with them and weep with them. They’re my literary heroines. And the fact that they’re imaginary doesn’t make them any less influential on my life than if they were real. In fact, it makes them more influential.
Whom have I known in real life as long as I have known Milly-Molly-Mandy? Not many people, that’s for sure. But her adventures are etched in my brain as surely as if she were a family member. There was the day she unselfishly gave up the one remaining length of flowered dress fabric for another girl. There was the time she made one penny work so hard, it provided her with mustard and cress, a knitting project, a cake, some sweets, and finally the start of a savings plan to buy a duck. If there was ever a fore-runner to my resourceful Shopaholic heroine Becky Bloomwood, it’s Milly-Molly-Mandy.
My childhood was spent embracing one literary heroine after another. I identified passionately with each one and would slavishly imitate them. I was Harriet M Welsch from Harriet the Spy, clutching a notebook and watching my neighbours. (I quite literally climbed onto our garden fence and noted down the contents of their compost heap.) I was Anne from Anne of Green Gables, hankering after the latest fashion. (I wanted puffed sleeves myself, reading that book).
Growing up, I identified with Jo March from Little Women. One minute eating apples and crying over a book, the next scorching her skirts… always following her heart. And of course Lizzy Bennett with her wit, her feisty banter, her refusal to settle for Mr Collins.
Friends – even good ones – can be a mystery to us. Not so literary heroines. We know their every thought. We understand them; we’ve travelled on their journeys with them. This is where literary heroines win over filmic ones. When Emma Woodhouse realizes the truth of her feelings for Mr Knightley, the discovery darts through her head with the speed of an arrow. No-one around her can tell – how could they? But we do.
It’s this intimacy, which makes our literary heroines feel like such close friends. When their story draws to a close, we feel bereft. Their voices stay in our minds, maybe for a few days, maybe forever. How many of us unconsciously reference Bridget Jones’s unmistakable style? (Green smoothie for breakfast. V.g.)
My latest favourite literary heroine is the eccentric and wonderful Bernadette from Where’d You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple. Reading her fictional letters and emails, I felt as though I knew this woman. I wanted to hang out with her. She describes the other irritating mothers at her daughter’s school as ‘gnats’ – now I’ve started mentally employing this term for anything annoying in life. It’s a gnat.
I still feel – at the back of my mind – as though I might just come across her one day. She’s so real. They all are. Unlike real-life friends, literary heroines don’t move away or become too busy to meet up. They’re there for you always, and long may they be.
Sophie Kinsella is an international best-selling writer. She is the author of many number one bestsellers, including the hugely popular Shopaholic series. She has also written seven bestselling novels as Madeleine Wickham. Find out more about Sophie on her website.
To keep up to speed with the stories, interviews, features and galleries we have in store for you this month, follow #onthepage on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. For monthly literary titbits straight from the Penguin’s beak, sign up to our monthly newsletter here.
You can find even more amazing content from some of our best loved authors, talking about their heroines, on the Five Dials page now.