Kat: New Year’s Resolution: Twelve “Classic” Women Writers

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I have the unfortunate task of following a wonderful post from Kay yesterday, an ode to Pride & Prejudice Christmas style. I also have a confession to make: I have never read P&P (or anything by Jane Austen), Virginia Woolf, Margaret Mitchell, or the Bronte sisters for that matter.

It’s not that I didn’t read growing up. On the contrary. I read so much that my third grade teachers were forever confiscating the books I would cleverly try to hide (and read) in class. These consisted primarily of a series of childhood historical biographies of famous Americans like Jane Adams and Sacagawea and Helen Keller  (the third grade librarian turned me on to this series and I devoured it).

As I grew older, my love of reading grew, too. In addition to biographies, which I continued to read, my tastes expanded to include adventures stories, mysteries (Nancy Drew!), and anything that featured horses (National Velvet, Black Beauty!).  I’d heard about the “classics” but had no interest in reading books I saw as an instrument of torture for English teachers around the globe.

At some point that changed, of course. I’ve read Edith Wharton’s The Buccaneers, SE Hinton’s Outsiders (thought she was a he), and Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women. And since McD, I’ve blown through the modern romance masters: Susan Elizabeth Phillips, Jennifer Crusie, Loretta Chase, among others. But I’ve continued to shy away from “THE CLASSICS” thinking them slow, dull, boring. I wanted to read for fun, not to enrich my mind (Heaven forbid).

Then yesterday, Kay posted “Twas Daybreak on Christmas” and I realized what I’d been missing. The classics were the fun stuff.

My mother (wise women that she was) voiced one regret as her life winded down, and it was this: “So many books, so little time.” She came to reading late, too busy being a wife and mother to five children to have time to read. Once the kids were raised she discovered the pleasures of reading, but by then her time was limited in a different way. Still, she’d managed to read voraciously and well. I treasure her copy of Jane Austen’s “Emma”.

I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions but this year I’m making an exception. I resolve to read one classic (female) author a month. Making a resolution is easy, keeping it ( and compiling the list is much harder). A varied number of “best” lists abound on the internet, but everyone seems to agree on these authors:

  1. Pride & Prejudice, by Jane Austen
  2. Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
  3. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
  4. Gone With The Wind, Margaret Mitchell
  5. Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf
  6. Wuthering Heights, Emily Bronte
  7. Life & Loves of a She-Devil, Fay Weldon
  8. Mansfield Park, Jane Austen
  9. The Color Purple, Alice Walker
  10. Rebecca, Daphne DuMaurier
  11. Cotillion, Georgette Heyer
  12. Bleak House, Charles Dickens

(Additional recommendations in pink).

Help me round out this list by recommending your favorite women author (and their must-read book).

Have a safe and joyous New Year!

28 thoughts on “Kat: New Year’s Resolution: Twelve “Classic” Women Writers

  1. Instead of Jane Eyre, I’d recommend Wuthering Heights.

    If you aren’t completely ruling out male authors, try Bleak House by Charles Dickens. It’s one of my favourite novels – it’s about real people and their lives, and so much better than the saccharine Oliver Twist!

    • Yes, Wuthering Heights, Kat! Gotta say, I crashed and burned at To The Lighthouse, so I never read Mrs. Dalloway. Can somebody tell me if I should woman up and give it a try?

      Possibly not strictly within your criteria, Kat, but I think very much in the spirit of things – what about Fay Weldon? The Life and Loves of a She-Devil or Puffball.

      • I think the only Gertrude Stein novel I’ve read was Orlando. It was pleasantly weird, as I remember it. That line of hers, “Pigeons on the grass, alas” goes around and around my head many times a year, so her poetry might be an easier read.

        There are some books on your list I haven’t hit, either, Kat. (-: I may have to see if anyone has them. Just as soon as I get my own reading list pared down a bit.

        One of my favorite classics is George Eliot’s Middlemarch (George was actually Mary Anne Evans). I wanted to strangle the protagonist at first because she was such a silly young girl (silly in her seriousness), but she grew up quite nicely, and the subplots are very interesting. it turns into this gorgeous tapestry of time and people.

    • Thanks, Anne, I’ll make the switch. Wuthering Heights must fit the old adage: you can’t judge a book by its cover. I always assumed it was dark, dreary, and featured vampires 🙂

      And in the spirit of diversity, I’ll add Dickens to the list.

  2. Since you’re looking to add, not subtract, I’d do both Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights–different sisters, different romances. Also, The Color Purple by Alice Walker and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. And Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier.

    I found this list of Top 100 20th Century Books by Female Authors: http://www.thebookescape.com/Feminista.html

    I’ve never read anything by Virginia Woolf, so I’ll join you on that one. Maybe we should do a monthly book club!

  3. Wuthering Heights is the worst book ever. Please. Don’t. How about “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Drabble? Or “The Bell Jar” by Sylvia Plath or “The Golden Notebook” by Doris Lessing? Those are super depressing, too, but they’re at least thought-provoking. I’ve read a lot of Virginia Woolf, and she’s challenging, but worth a shot. Might as well know what she’s about, right? Also, if you’re into the madness thing, maybe “The Yellow Wallpaper” by Charlotte Perkins (really a novella). To cheer yourself up again, anything by Barbara Pym. I liked almost everything on Jeanne’s list, but “Wide Sargasso Sea” by Jean Rhys deserves a shout-out because it’s great as a companion book to Jane Eyre (since it’s about how the wife gets locked up in the attic). Oh, and Jane Smiley! So many good authors. 🙂

    I love this idea of a female author a month. I’m going to do that, too.

    • I hated the Bronte sisters, too. I gave one or the other of them a second chance, and didn’t hate it quite so vehemently, but I wasn’t pleased at the end of the book, either. I blocked them out of my mind . . . I think they are such slaves to love, and that really bothers me.

      I read Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale in high school, and was really disturbed by it. But as a mark of a great book, it often turns up in my dark thoughts. Might be a good summer read, followed up by something light-hearted.

      And “The Yellow Wallpaper” — I read that when Jenny recommended it on her blog long, long ago. Very worthwhile. I think it’s got some good insight into depression. It is a horror story, though.

      (-: Dare I add Lois McMaster Bujold? Cordelia’s Honor is two books in one — the first is pretty much a straight adventure romance, only it’s in space. The second one is the happily every after, which is happy but also fraught with difficulties.

      Barbara Kingsolver is really pretty good, too.

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