Brain Pickings

Well-Read Women: Gorgeous Watercolor Portraits of Literature’s Most Beloved Heroines


Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Clarissa Dalloway, Holly Golightly, Daisy Buchanan, Lolita, and more.

When my friend Lisa Congdon and I started our Reconstructionists project — a yearlong illustrated celebration of women who changed the course of history and our understanding of the world — we knew that nearly half of them would end up being women of letters. Now, New-York-based painter and fashion illustrator Samantha Hahn is giving us the literary fiction counterpart to The Reconstructionists in Well-Read Women: Portraits of Fiction’s Most Beloved Heroines (public library) — a collection of expressive watercolor depictions of such literary icons as Jane Eyre, Anna Karenina, Holly Golightly, and Clarissa Dalloway, paired with a memorable quote by each character.

Though some of the typographic renderings could use a bit more love and the quote selections tend to reach for the popular over the profound, the portraits themselves, to which the screen does absolutely no justice here, are breathtaking — sometimes tender, sometimes intense, always thoughtfully evocative of each heroine’s persona and sensibility.


'Jane Eyre' by Charlotte Brontë


'Oliver Twist' by Charles Dickens


'Mrs. Dalloway' by Virginia Woolf


'Madame Bovary' by Gustave Flaubert


'Dr. Zhivago' by Boris Pasternak


'The Bell Jar' by Sylvia Plath


'Breakfast at Tiffany's' by Truman Capote

Pair Well-Read Women with Lolita reimagined by modern graphic designers and The Graphic Canon — literary classics distilled by contemporary cartoonists and graphic artists.

Images courtesy of Chronicle Books

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