“For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.” — Virginia Wolfe
Reading has always been a passion of mine. Since the age of four, I’ve been attracted to the written word.
Even before I could read myself, I was constantly badgering anyone and everyone around to read to me. My mother used to tell me that by the time I was five-years-old, she had every sentence of Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears A Who etched into memory.
As I grew up, I took reading and my joy of it for granted. I had a library card by the time I started kindergarten and as my parents were both in the newspaper business and my grandmother an English teacher, I was blessed to have a cornucopia of authors, texts and stories from which to choose at any given time.
March marks National Women’s History Month and there is almost no area richer and more diverse in that history than the field of female authors.
Believe it or not, there was once a time when the idea of women authors was not only preposterous, but highly frowned upon. It simply was not something genteel young women were supposed to do.
As American author Virginia Wolfe once famously said, “For most of history, Anonymous was a woman.”
In an effort to help celebrate Women’s History Month, I thought I’d take the opportunity to take a trip down my own personal literary memory lane, and pinpoint some of the women authors and their works that helped to shape my life and my vision of the world.
Where to begin? I suppose at the beginning — with the classics.
An English novelist, Jane Austen set the standard for romantic fiction in her day. To be honest, that standard continues to this day.
Considered a bluestocking (an unmarried, educated woman concerned with trivial things such as politics, ethics and the world around her), Austen’s realist portrayal of the state of marriage and her bold commentary on the society of her day in novels such as Pride and Prejudice; Sense and Sensibility, was spot on.
She received very little critical acclaim during her lifetime. It was not, in fact, until the early- to mid-20th century that the genius of her writing was truly appreciated.
Bronte was the third sister in a trio of authors that would one day help to define the standard of English literature.
Along with her sisters, Emily and Anne, Charlotte helped to establish the “tortured romance.” Her novel, Jane Eyre, epitomized this genre. Published in 1847 under the the pen name Currer Bell, Jane Eyre shows readers the darker side of romance; the more visceral emotions — in short, the true, in some cases, nature of love.
The mother of The Modern Prometheus, Mary Shelley was at her best in the gothic genre. And she, in fact, took it where no man had dared to go before.
The daughter of a political philosopher and a feminist, the world was open to Shelley, and she grabbed it with both arms.
In 1818, she published her most well-known work, Frankenstein, at the ripe age of 21. It, in my opinion, marks the beginning of the horror genre and set a standard that few authors — male or female— have managed to reach.
Now, onto early 20th century literature.
Perhaps I am biased, having been reared in the South and and as I have continued to live here on into adulthood, but two authors who top my all-time favorites lists share the same heritage as I do.
Mitchell had one major publication, which was, of course, Gone with the Wind. The epic novel, which has sold millions of copies worldwide, won the much coveted Pulitzer Prize in 1937 and was shortly after made into one of the most well-loved motion pictures in history.
I can recall the first time I read Gone with the Wind. I was in the sixth grade and I remember this so vividly because the elementary school librarian had to send me to the high school library to check it out.
I was completely engrossed within just a few pages. Of course, I didn’t understand all the nuances and subtexts to her writing (as I would discover in later readings many years later), but I was instantly hooked.
Gone with the Wind is full of vivid characters, none more than the spoiled, selfish, yet charming Scarlett O’Hara, and is rich in history. It tells the story of rebellion, (reflected in both the South’s secession from the United States, as well as in the character of Scarlett herself), failure and the search for redemption.
To Kill A Mockingbird is unequivocally my favorite book of all time. There, I said it. No takesy-backsies.
I am a daughter of Harper Lee’s South and the mark that her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel has left on me is palatable.
Based in the Depression plagued Maycomb County, Ala., To Kill A Mockingbird is a tale of racism and morality, all wrapped up in the silk gauze of a Southern Gothic, seen and experienced through the eyes of a child — Scout.
As a child, I wanted to be Scout Finch. I already lived in a sleepy Southern town and detested all things girly. I rode my bike and I climbed trees and I absolutely hated wearing dresses.
Harper Lee created in Jean Louise Finch a character that I could not only relate to, but someone I aspired to be like.
As an adult, I still feel that kinship. I still feel that yearning to be like Scout, running down the street each evening to meet her father Atticus, struggling to keep up with her brother Jem, and learning the value of a friend next door like Boo Radley.
And that’s what good writing is all about, isn’t it? Authors creating relationships on the page that reach out and grab their readers, take hold of them and never let them go.
The above authors were all able to create unforgettable characters and tell the stories that left a mark on the world around them.
And really, as an author or a reader, can you ask for anything more?
Agree or disagree? Do you have a favorite female author? Let me know. E-mail me at email@example.com.