Back in the 1980s the standard fare of almost all popular womens literature centered around a very narrow range of themes. For teacher and lecturer Jody Gentian Bower the stories that she read at that time were not only unimaginative and derivative but also left her feeling that they failed to reflect the essential dynamics within her own life—one which, as she points out in her book, Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story
…resembled the path a ball takes through a pinball machine.
Then, whilst reading many of the classical works of feminine literature—as well as biographies by such aithors as Jane Austin, Charlotte Bronte, and George Eliot, Bower noted that the patterns that played through the lives of these great writers also mirrored those taking place in her own personal life.
As she researched deeper to find out if others had also discovered and addressed this phenomenon she found that whilst some researchers had indeed un-earthed a life-determining dynamic commonly known as the “heroines journey” she felt that scholars had intepreted this mythic theme incorrectly. She felt that they tended to compare it to Joseph Campbells”s model of the essentially masculine orientated model of the heroic quest.
Bower felt that this approach failed to accurately reflect the real inner meaning and core dynamics that underpinned the life of herself and others—themes that very often would emerge more accurately in the literary stories that were perhaps less significantly appreciated by psycho-analytical observers.
The author was also equally critical of the transformative process that was often cited as stages along a woman’s pathway to discovering the Goddess within herself. This process, often characterized as the emergence from the Maiden into the Mother into the Crone, the author felt that these are
…roles that are defined by a woman’s relationship to others.—whether to the husband, her children or the wider community.
All of these influences caused the author to attend graduate school, to study the motifs and characters in these tales in greater depth and, eventually, to write her book.
Through her work, Bower seeks to reevaluate current thinking regarding the correct methodology to employ whilst interpreting literary dynamics—rather than the current process which she feels has become dominated by logical reasoning.
The author explains in her book that her original intention when writing it was to describe what she later came to describe as the story of the Aletis or
However, as she explains, this expanded greatly and so she came to address
…issues of the feminine voice in literature.
Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story begins with an examination if the wandering heroine
…a story of a woman who myst travel from place to place searching for love or freedom or answers.
Here, she references Jung and his ideas related to archetypes that emerge from the collective unconscious.
Although largely ignored as a pattern in its own right the archetype of the Aletis clearly emerges from this fertile terrain.
Bower also looks at the role that fiction can play in midern life, its connection to the imagination of its reader and how writers can directly impact upon reality as a result.
In revealing the Aletis story she compares the differences between the myth of the hero’s return and that of the heroines journey by stripping down and evaluating the key components of both the male and female-centric tales.
Subsequent chapters of her book examine the influence that comes to play upon the heroine via an number of differing influences. These include the type of home, form of family life, the style of parenting that she experiences as well as the qualities and characteristics that are displayed by her husband, (often centered around ‘The Knight in Shining Armour’ archetype).
Ultimately the journey the heroine takes when leaving the safety of her home and begins her challenging journey into the great unknown, or wilderness will in most cases ultimately lead to a condition of personal power.
At this point a woman
…needs to encounter and deal with those aspects if the feminine that have been relegated to the dark places.
Bower explains how, once the heroine has dealt with all of these initial challenges, she emerges into a new world—a life that is of her own making.
At this point she will invariably set up house and home as well as establish relationships based upon her own set of personal values and emotional requirements. Now free from the expectations placed upon her by society, she may well have children of her own and develop creative capabilities—often in ways that will help them to transform the society around them.
With the story of the heroines journey now complete the book concludes with a final section of footnotes, cited notes, bibliography and index.
The epic story contained within the myth of the Hero is,without doubt, one of the most important and enduring stories of psycho-spiritual transformation. However, as powerfully inspiring as it is, it sadly fails to engage withe archetypal myths that govern the lives of women.
At last, in Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story women are being offered an equally epic work of initiation and one that can establish a new psycho-spiritual pathway for strong-willed and individuating woman of all cultures to use as their guide wilst traversing this invariably tortuous path.
The equivalent male quest is, compared to that of the heroines journey, a walk in the park in that, in the main, our male-dominated society upholds and supports the sort of dynamics that underpins the journey.
Not so for the women folk who are often pressurized into following typical those maternal roles based around family, stability and uniformity.
As the author so successfully and eloquently shows throughout Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story these fail to offer a solution to the problems felt by those women who strongly feel the need to embark upon their own personal mission or quest.
Whilst it draws it initial research from the classical women writers of previous centuries the author continuously references contemporary mythic hero-quests such as those found in the book ‘The Lord of the Rings’ and the ‘Star Wars’ films.
As in all mythic quests these modern stories also throw up their own dark material to thwart the progress of the hero/heroine and in her book Bower reflects upon those deeper psycho-spiritual dynamics as personified by the Trickster, the Shadow, the Dark Night of the Soul as well as other dark themes such as The Descent Journey found within Greek mythology.
So to sum up, this is a book that places the heroines journey of personal exploration upon a road of spiritual exploration governed by both forces of light and dark. It is a thoroughly well-considered and executed foray into an archetypal myth which set against the current period of the re-emergance of the Goddess, is borne of its time.
Jane Eyre’s Sisters: How Women Live and Write the Heroine’s Story offers a great deal to those women seeking to break free from the stranglehold of established mores and for this it will inevitably become acclaimed as an important and transformative book.
I would encourage all spiritual-seekers to read this deeply-inspiring, fascinating and challenging book. Within its pages its author, Jody Gentian Bower, has made an important contribution to our understanding and respectful appreciation of the pressures, challenges, opportunities and rewards that are available to any woman who feels drawn to live a more rewarding life—one spent free of the spiritually-limiting, patriarchal and projected expectations of home, family, religion and society.