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A Woman Of Substance – Drawing Inspiration From Fiction

Posted: April 23, 2020

Emma, an oppressed but resourceful servant girl, acquires a shrewd determination; hones her skills; discovers the meaning of treachery; learns to survive, to become a woman, and vows to make her mark in the world.

I’m an avid reader and book lover and I owe this to my English teacher in high school. When all other teachers used to give writing assignments/project works during the summer vacations, she would share names of the books that she wanted us to read during the holidays. After vacations, she would then discuss the finer nuances of those books and characters. That is how my love affair with English fiction started. By the time I passed out from class 10th, I’d literally read all English novels available in our school library and there were quite a lot of them.

In 1998, I was going through a rough patch professionally. Thankfully, I’d not given up on my habit of reading books. I pick up books from anywhere and everywhere – book fairs, roadside vendors, exhibitions etc. During one such book hunt, I came across a fictional novel by Barbara Taylor Bradford – A Woman of Substance. What attracted me towards the book, was its title. I presumed that it was a light reading book, a romantic novel about a woman and her love. Little did I know that it was indeed a book about a woman’s love – for life. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t keep it down. The characters are so skillfully woven in the story; it’s completely mesmerizing. This is the dazzling saga of Emma Hart, a woman who dares to dream, conquers her inhibitions, overcomes all obstacles and establishes herself as a formidable business woman.

Emma, an oppressed but resourceful servant girl, acquires a shrewd determination; hones her skills; discovers the meaning of treachery; learns to survive, to become a woman, and vows to make her mark in the world. From kitchen maid at the beginning of the 20th Century, to respected business woman and grandmother. From humble beginnings, Emma starts her business with a small shop, but over the next 3 decades she expands her stores and invests in the growing textile industry in Leeds, England. She is driven and ambitious, determined and clever and has a strong will; all qualities to become an extraordinary woman.

Emma, the protagonist, exhibits different leadership styles ranging from autocratic (where she makes all decisions & tells her people how to do things); strategic (by coaching/guiding her grand-children and creating winning habits in them for a high-performing team & organisation); transformational (by initiating change & motivating others to do more than they thought was possible); cross-cultural (by expanding her business beyond boundaries and efficiently managing people from different cultures) to charismatic and visionary. Emma’s attitude is always positive. She is able to identify her emotions in light of other’s beliefs & opinions and then not only evaluates her response but also takes actions accordingly. She is intrinsically motivated to change her stature in society and extrinsic factors like rejection and failure, strengthens her resolve to work towards making her dreams come true. Throughout the story, Emma passes through different stages – emotional & irrational (when she falls for a guy & gives birth out of wedlock), rational (when she decides to send her daughter with her cousin so that she could concentrate on her work) and moral (when she forgives her children for conspiring against her and still creates trust fund for them). Because of her childhood and early struggles, Emma exhibits an innate need for social recognition, commonly known as need for strokes by famous psychologist Eric Berne. Emma’s emotional intelligence quotient is also very high as she fits perfectly on all 5 elements of emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman – self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy & social skills.

A Woman of Substance has inspired me in a way that no autobiography had ever done. The lessons that I learnt have stayed with me, ever since. The book taught me that it is okay to follow your dreams and that a life without purpose is no life at all. I understood the meaning of leadership skills, intrinsic motivation, value of hard work, result orientation, accepting your failures & learning from them and moving on, self discipline and empathy. Some of these skills were already there but others I have cultivated over the years. Whenever I’m in doubt or feeling demotivated, I still go back to the book and it fills me with a new energy and purpose. So yes, I can say that it is possible to get inspired by a fictional character.

Image Credits: Canva, barbarataylorbradford.com

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