HEROINES is a discussion of how stories throughout history have portrayed heroic female characters. The book lacks an overarching theme, consisting primarily of plot summaries of major myths and works of fiction, focusing on the actions of female characters. Many of these summaries will mean little to someone not familiar with the myth or book in question, as they illustrate isolated incidents rather than showing how broad themes develop. The telling is not aided by Goodrich’s literary form, which consists of unwieldy, convoluted sentences that all too often do not follow the rules of grammar.
Goodrich begins with the statement that heroines were recorded in ancient Greek, Latin, Norse, and Gaelic and that later heroines primarily are modeled on these early stories. The remainder of the book consists of chapters loosely grouping various stories about women, such as “Legendary Good Women” and “Prostitutes and Fallen Women.” The chapter “Heroines Return to Paganism” is perhaps the most illustrative. It begins with citation of facts of ancient astronomical calculations, such as those used to construct Stonehenge, and then discusses oracular divinations. These ideas are loosely tied to mythology and thus to women. Goodrich states that her purpose in the chapter is to explain humanity’s worship of stone monuments, a purpose that appears to veer from the thesis of the book. The chapter attempts to link Medusa to D. H. Lawrence’s female heroines to the main characters of the film THELMA AND LOUISE.
The conclusion makes some interesting points, primarily that early epics praised women who died for their leaders or kings, while later prose celebrates independence and criticism of society. That point is far from clear as a theme in the text. HEROINES will be of use primarily to those interested in Goodrich’s personal views on the topic. As literary analysis and history, the book is incomplete. Appendices contain lists of heroines in literature, film, myth, and opera, along with a list of modern writers who have celebrated heroines. The index is adequate in guiding readers to discussions of particular figures.