Meet ten of literature’s most iconic heroines, jacketed in bold portraits by female photographers from around the world.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
‘Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain, and little, I am soulless and heartless? – You think wrong!’
This is the story of Jane, an orphan in Victorian England, she is relentlessly bullied and deprived by her aunt and the charity school she is banished to. Yet Jane emerges from a tragic childhood a curious young woman with an indomitable spirit. When she finds work as a governess at Thornfield Hall it seems Jane has finally met her match in the unconventional Mr Rochester.
But as her feelings for Mr Rochester grow, so do her suspicions that something darker lurks within the walls of this vast mansion… Jane Eyre is the unforgettable Gothic tale of a woman’s search for happiness.
Gigi by Colette
‘He must know by now, I should think, that I can give as good as I get!’
This is the story of Gigi, educated as a future courtesan in Paris, her days are filled with cigars, lobster, lace and superstitions. Bored and unconvinced by what she’s taught, Gigi surprises everyone with her earnest approach to love.
In this classic turn-of-the-century novella, Colette unveils Gigi’s journey into womanhood in rich and supple prose.
Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit by Jeanette Winterson
‘At that time I could not imagine what would become of me, and I didn’t care. It was not judgement day, but another morning’
This is the story of Jeanette, adopted and brought up by working-class evangelists in the North of England to be one of God’s elect. Passionate, headstrong and shielded by her mother’s grand disapproval of a sinful world, she seems destined for life as a missionary. And then she meets Melanie.
At sixteen, Jeanette faces a world of uncertainty as she breaks from the church and her community for the young woman she loves. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is a warm, witty and daring novel that gives voice to irrepressible desire.
White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht
‘Look for your sister after each dive. Never forget. If you see her, you are safe.’
This is the story of Hana and her little sister Emi, who are part of an island community of haenyo, women who make their living from free diving off the southernmost tip of Korea. One day Hana sees a Japanese soldier heading for where Emi is guarding the day’s catch on the beach. Saving her sister, Hana herself is captured and forced to become a “comfort woman” in a Japanese military brothel.
Moving between Hana in 1943 and Emi as an elderly woman today, White Chrysanthemum sheds light on a devastating history – and how the bond of sisterhood is strong enough to endure the evils of war.
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth by Xiaolu Guo
‘She’s no good, that girl. Much too individualistic.’
This is the story of Fenfang who, determined to carve out a life more independent than her provincial roots, gets a job as a film extra in Beijing. But living a modern life is not as easy as it looks in this tumultuous, messy city. Grappling with the narrow world of cinema, an outworn Communist regime, and the city’s far-from-progressive attitudes to women, charismatic Fenfang finds her true freedom in the one place she never expected.
20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth is a sparkling and wry coming-of-age story about the changing identity of women in contemporary China.
We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
‘There are times, though, that no matter how much food I eat, I find the food does nothing for me, like I am hungry for my country and nothing is going to fix that.’
This is the story of Darling, uprooted from her family home by paramilitary police, and living in a Zimbabwean shanty called Paradise. Despite the turmoil, she revels in mischief and adventures with her friends, like stealing guavas from the rich neighbourhood, and singing Lady Gaga at the top of her voice.
But when Darling has a chance to forge a different life in America, she realises that this new paradise brings its own set of challenges. In We Need New Names a spirited girl grows into a powerful observer of global identity.
My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh
‘When I’d slept enough, I’d be okay. I’d be renewed, reborn.’
This is the story of a woman with no name. Young, thin, pretty, a recent Columbia graduate, she lives in an apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan paid for, like everything else, by her inheritance. Yet she longs to lose herself completely.
It’s the year 2000 in a city aglitter with wealth and possibility; what could be so terribly wrong? My Year of Rest and Relaxation is a savagely funny novel of a woman looking out from the abyss.
Push by Sapphire
‘I’m alive inside. A bird is my heart. Mama and Daddy is not win. I’m winning.’
This is the story of Precious, a sixteen-year-old illiterate Black girl who has never been out of Harlem. Pregnant by her own father for the second time, she is kicked out of school and placed in an alternative teaching programme. Through learning to read and write, Precious begins to find her voice, and fight back.
Push is the unflinching diary of a girl whose strength and kindness shines amidst extraordinary adversity.
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert
‘She wanted to die, and she wanted to live in Paris.’
This is the story of Emma, trapped in a disappointing marriage with a dull country doctor, she dreams for a life more like the sentimental novels she reads. In an attempt to break from the drab reality of her provincial life in Normandy, Emma takes a lover, and disaster soon follows.
Greedy, delusional and selfish, the character of Emma Bovary scandalised readers from the novel’s first publication in 1857, yet her magnetism is undeniable. A landmark work in modern realism, Madame Bovary vibrates with the inner life of a woman hungry for more.
I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith
‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink…’
This is the story of Cassandra, precocious and charming, who begins a journal detailing her life with her bohemian family in a crumbling old castle. On the cusp of adulthood, Cassandra meets the family’s growing challenges of poverty and decay with indefatigable humour and insight.
However, her life is turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love. Both a gorgeous study of 1930s England and a sharp exposition of what it’s like to be teenage girl, I Capture The Castle is a novel layered with eccentricity and nostalgia.