Ten brilliant women who challenged the status quo and changed our world: a literary selection.
Murasaki Shikibu (c973- ?) Imperial lady-in-waiting at the Japanese court during the Heian period and author of the world’s first ‘novel’, the scandalous and intriguing Tale of Genji.
Aphra Behn (1640-1689) Said to be the first English woman to succeed as a professional writer. Poet, novelist and dramatist: definitely gave her male contemporaries a run for their money when it came to being frank about the joy of sex.
Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) Needs no introduction as the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1790)
Charlotte Bronte (1816 -1855) Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, too absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. (from Jane Eyre)
Edith Wharton (1862-1937) Born into a wealthy aristocratic family where women were expected to look decorative, marry, manage the servants and play the piano, Wharton became famous for her brilliant novels and short stories. If you haven’t read any of her work yet, start with The House of Mirth.
Christina Stead (1902 – 1983) Great Australian novelist, and one of the great women writers of the 20th century: she taught us about love, passion, marriage, children and careers through the vivid female characters that she created.
Simone de Beauvoir (1908 – 1986) Best known for The Second Sex (1949) but her novels are also worth reading, particularly Le sang des autres (The Blood of Others), her ‘fictional’ account of the French Resistance movement.
Nadine Gordimer (1923 – ) South African writer, political activist, Nobel Prize winner. She has the gift of making politics and human rights issues accessible through fiction; one of the most vocal opponents of apartheid.
Sylvia Plath (1932 – 1963) Worshipped as a feminist icon for all the wrong reasons: her fabulous, inventive, emotional poetry is what counts.
Margaret Atwood (1939- ) Responsible for putting Canada on the world’s literary map, a fabulous writer who succeds in being a critical as well as a commercial success. I’ve read every one of her novels and enjoyed all of them. Her subjects aren’t easy to deal with – feminist dystopias, environmental disasters, divorce, betrayal – but she writes like an angel and her novels are real gifts to the world.
All of these books are available in the Barr Smith Library.