A five-storey, 600,000 cubic feet industrial space is transformed for this walkthrough exhibit.
For years, sometimes generations, literary heroines have captivated and inspired readers with their stories of strength and resiliency. We take a closer look at some of them, discovering who they are, why they are admired and how you can experience their stories.
Elizabeth Bennet from Pride and Prejudice
HER STORY: In Jane Austen’s novel, Elizabeth is the second oldest of the five Bennet sisters and is regarded as the most endearing of the author’s heroines. Pushed to seek a prosperous match, she wishes to marry for love. After meeting wealthy Fitzwilliam Darcy, they must both overcome their respective pride (of self-respect and rank) and prejudice (against his snobbery and her inferior standing) to fall in love and get married.
WHY WE LOVE HER: “Elizabeth displays her strengths and weaknesses,” says Anne Hughes, a guide at the Jane Austen Centre in Bath, England. “She experiences stressful familial situations, yet she thrives, she protects her sisters as far as she is able to and she has a fiery, rich and excitable personality that makes us feel that we can be our true selves, too. She is empowering.”
WHERE TO GO: BATH, ENGLAND
Although Austen only lived in Bath from 1801 to 1806, the honey-coloured spa town in southwest England has become synonymous with her. Follow the writer’s footsteps from her former house at No. 4 Sydney Place to the famous Roman Baths, where the author’s brother, Edward, may have “took the waters.” Drop into the Jane Austen Centre for a snapshot of Regency-era Bath, and twirl in an Empire waist dress before indulging in afternoon tea. Meet your own Mr. Darcy during the annual Regency Costumed Summer Ball in June, or promenade in period attire at the Jane Austen Festival in September 2019. Don’t leave without strolling past the places that inspired Austen—a keen walker—such as the public gardens. —WC
Josephine March from Little Women
HER STORY: Jo, Louisa May Alcott’s feisty lead character, is the second eldest of four daughters growing up in New England in the mid-19th century. She dreams of being a writer and of breaking free from stifling societal dictates.
WHY WE LOVE HER: For 150 years, Little Women, one of the first young adult fiction novels in the United States, has never been out of print. That’s largely thanks to Jo, a proto-feminist and restless teenage rebel; a flawed, complex, conflicted character whose fearlessness remains inspiring. “I want to do something splendid before I go into my castle—something heroic or wonderful that won’t be forgotten after I’m dead,” says Jo.
WHERE TO GO: CONCORD, MASS.
Alcott based Little Women’s characters on her own family, friends and experiences, and used her family home, Orchard House, as the novel’s setting. Stepping into this sizeable, Federal-style clapboard house on the outskirts of still-bucolic Concord is to step into Alcott and Jo’s world. Remarkably preserved, the very furnishings used by the family help bring the story to life. In Alcott’s/Jo’s room, the simple shelf desk where Alcott wrote the novel is humbling in its plainness and tiny size. As in the book, the dining room and adjoining parlour are where the girls would enact elaborate dress-up plays. “This was their stage,” says Jan Turnquist, Orchard House’s executive director. “People have an intense reaction when they visit Orchard House. I’ve heard people describe it as a place of peace.” —LL
Karana from Island of the Blue Dolphins
HER STORY: After her family is killed and her people are taken to the mainland, 12-year-old Karana—the heroine in Scott O’Dell’s book—must survive alone on an island off the coast of California.
WHY WE LOVE HER: O’Dell’s book is largely fictionalized, but based on the true story of a woman who survived alone on San Nicolas Island for 18 years, starting in 1835. No one knew that woman’s real name, but she was baptized as Juana Maria in 1853 after being brought to Santa Barbara. “Everybody loves a Robinson Crusoe-like story about a person who has to live by their wits and skills and survive on their own,” says John Johnson of the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.
WHERE TO GO: SANTA BARBARA COUNTY, CALIF.
Many monuments honour Juana Maria, including a marker near her grave at the Old Mission Santa Barbara and an exhibit at the Museum of Natural History. Head to Channel Islands National Park, which is in the same archipelago as San Nicolas Island (access to San Nicolas is restricted). The views, wildlife and setting are much the same as during Juana Maria’s time, and you may just feel her survival spirit. —MK