In 2011, Samantha Hahn was developing a solo show of paintings inspired by Helen of Troy when she decided to balance Helen's infamous beauty with renderings of more complex heroines like Anna Karenina. Watching gallerygoers gravitate toward their most beloved characters, Hahn suspected there was more to be done with literary leading ladies. "These women we read about really resonate with us," she says.

Hahn, 35, spent the next two years crafting Well-Read Women, her book of ethereal portraits of females in fiction, from Anne of Anne of Green Gables to Shakespeare's Ophelia and Tennessee Williams's Blanche DuBois. To choose which 50 would grace the pages, she considered her own favorites (Lolita was a no-brainer) and finally picked up classics she'd neglected, like Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises.

As she reimagined the women, Hahn stuck to the original prose, eschewing movie versions: "It's too easy to think of Holly Golightly as Audrey Hepburn." She also researched extensively—Civil War–era fashion for Jo March, Victorian furniture for The House of Mirth's Lily Bart—to get the details right. By the end, she'd discovered a soul sister: the conflicted Edna Pontellier from Kate Chopin's The Awakening. "She was a bit selfish!" Hahn says. "But also a rebel, just trying to find her voice in the world."

Below: Scarlett O'Hara of Gone with the Wind by Samantha Hahn

Scarlett O'Hara

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