Classic Novels Written by Female Authors
There’s nothing better than settling in with a good book. Whether you want to cry over romance novels or shudder at a horror tale: there are a variety of different genres to chose from. Popular and prolific books of this genre are called classic novels. In this blog, we’ll discuss what makes a book “classic”. Plus, as we come to the end of Women’s History Month, we’ll suggest some female-written book for you to enjoy.
What Are Classic Novels?
Classic novels are books that represent a genre or writing style. Or, ones that have made a contribution to literature. This is measured by number of copies sold or the impact on how a genre is written. Classics provide insight into a certain time period and its societal standards.
Women In Literature
Unfortunately, it’s not uncommon for literature classes to reduce or completely omit any work that was written by a woman. They are often ignored due to the inferior position women have held in male-dominated societies. Hence, it has rested on the shoulders of these female authors to highlight theirs and their contemporaries’ work.
What’s more, women were often the pioneers of certain genres and literary movements. For example, Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, is regarded as the world’s first science fiction writer. Additionally, the non-male writers of these time periods could provide an insight into a world that the men didn’t get to see. Their perspectives are just as important as their male counterparts.
Since the end of the 20th century, there has been a rise in women’s literature courses and the publication of lost or ignored works. What’s more, discussion has opened up about intersectionality and the relationship between race, gender, religion, and class.
Classic Novels by Women
Here is a non-exhaustive list of classic novels by women:
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jane Eyre follows the life of an orphan who finds work as a governess at Thornfield Hall. Here, she falls in love with her employer who is keeping a secret that could ruin their romance. It explores themes of class, religion, and feminism. Jane Eyre is one of the most famous romance novels of all time.
Little Women by Louis May Alcott
Little Women is a coming-of-age story that follows the lives of the four March sisters. It is loosely based off Alcott’s own experiences. The book explores the role of women in society and the different relationships women have between each other, especially as sisters. It also helped to legitimise the dreams of regular American middle-class girls.
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
The Handmaid’s Tale is one of the more famous classical novels of recent years. Set in a dystopian future, we follow Offred as she navigates her new life and tries to hold onto the memories of her old. The novel explores themes of controlled women in a patriarchal society, and the various means by which they rise and attempt to gain individuality and independence.
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
This classic novel is a staple of the Harlem Renaissance. It follows the life of an African-American woman navigating a post-civil war world. Tackling themes of identity and coming to peace with oneself, this novel is the journey of a woman who finds herself with her own destiny in her hands.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
Like we mentioned earlier, Frankenstein is the world’s first science fiction novel. This book follows the story of an experimental alchemist who creates life and then is horrified by what he made. Fun fact, the idea came to be when Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron had a competition to see who could write the best horror story.
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Another romance classic, Austen’s novel tackles themes of the repercussions of hasty judgements, and superficial vs actual goodness. It is an honest and humorous insight into Regency Era Britain. Additionally, the book raises questions of marrying for love vs marrying for money.
Beloved by Toni Morrison
This book joins other classic novels set after the American Civil War. Beloved tells the story of a family of former slaves whose home is haunted by a malevolent spirit. It explores female familial relationships, the psychological effects of slavery, and the definition of manhood. Morrison dedicates her book to the “sixty million and more”. This refers to the Africans and descendants who died as a result of the Atlantic slave trade.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
Another semi-autobiographical novel that parallels Plath’s own struggles with her mental health. It explores the question of socially acceptable identity as we follow a protagonist whose quest is to forge her own identity unshaped by other’s expectations. The “bell jar” is a metaphor for her mental health.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
Rounding off our list with another coming-of-age story, Maya Angelou’s classic novel illustrates how strength of character and a love of literature can overcome racism and trauma. It is an autobiography depicting Angelou’s early years and ends with the birth of her daughter at the age of 16. It is a celebration of black motherhood, a critique of racism, and highlights the importance of family, personal dignity, and self-definition.