Celebrating Women’s History Month: Favorite Female Authors

Happy Women’s History Month everyone! As a woman, I wanted to take the time to celebrate women in literature this month, today I want to talk about some of my favorite female authors and how they have impacted and inspired me and my love of reading.

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I think in a world that has always been very dominated by men, especially since it was a lot less “acceptable” for women to be successful authors in our history, it is important to reflect on the great work that women have done in the literary world.

9780553213300.jpeg   1. Kate Chopin

Born in 1850, Chopin is now considered to be one of the best female authors of her time. Some of her most influential short stories are “Desiree’s Baby”, “The Story of an Hour” and “The Storm”, and her novel The Awakening is one of the first pieces of work that addresses womens issues without condescension. The Awakening and “The Story of an Hour” are both stories that have stuck with me since I read them. The Awakening tells the story of Edna Pontellier, who starts to figure out who she is as her own person; learning she has her own wants, needs and desires, separate from her life as a wife and mother. “The Story of an Hour” is the tale of Mrs. Mallard and the hour in her life after learning that her husband has passed away, and the drastic changes to a person’s sense of self that can happen in an hour. Both of these pieces of literature I read in college and I have continued to pick them up and reread them throughout the years. Both of them deal with the idea of freedom and femininity, and how learning who you are as a woman, as a whole person, can bring you freedom.

“but whatever came, she had resolved never again to belong to another than herself.” – Kate Chopin, The Awakening.

Unknown.jpeg 2. Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Gilman who was born in 1860, has been a role model for many feminists going forward due to the lifestyle that she lived and the views that she held. Her most famous piece of work “The Yellow Wallpaper” is one that is semi autobiographical – after having been given the “rest cure” (being confined to bed in order to treat an illness, usually in the case of “hysteria” in women) after developing severe postpartum psychosis after her daughter was born. The Yellow Wallpaper discusses how the lack of women’s autonomy is detrimental to them, mentally, emotionally and physically. This is another short story that I read while I was in college, and one of the things that struck me is how women’s mental health has been treated throughout history. Women were told that they are mentally ill by the very people who are preventing them from becoming well and happy, by forcing them into reclusiveness and forcing them to renounce their own personhood to become strictly a wife and mother.

“There are things in that paper that nobody knows but me, or ever will.” – Charlotte Perkins Gilman, “The Yellow Wallpaper.

Unknown-1.jpeg 3. Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was a feminist icon, becoming heavily involved with anti-war, civil rights and feminist activism in the 1960s. She was an essayist and poet and her poetry is some of the most beautiful prose I have ever read. She writes in a way that even a person who doesn’t love poetry would enjoy it. My favorite book of her poetry is The Dream of a Common Language. Published after she came out as a lesbian in 1976, she splits the book into three sections: The Power, Twenty-One Love Poems, and Not Somewhere Else, But Here. “The Power” is a section of poetry talking about individual women and their accomplishments while she relates these accomplishments to women in general at the same time. “Twenty-One Love Poems” is a section in which she discusses the love that women have for each other and the way that our culture denies the existence of that kind of love. The section, “Not Somewhere Else, But Here” talks about the relationship between women and nature. All of these poems are some of the most moving poems I have read.

“No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone. / The accidents happen, we’re not heroines, / they happen in our lives like car crashes, / books that change us, neighborhoods / we move into and come to love.” – Adrienne Rich, The Dream of a Common Language. 

59716.jpg 4. Virginia Woolf

One of the things that I love most about Virginia Woolf’s prose is that she so often uses almost a stream of consciousness way of writing her novels. Most of her novels you get most of the depth from them when you are looking introspectively into the characters as they are thinking about and reacting to the things that are happening around them. In To The Lighthouse there is no specific narrator, instead it relies on the shifting perspectives of the characters to tell the story. As with many women of the time, Virginia Woolf also struggled with mental illness and the lack of compassion and understanding that went along with it.

“And all the lives we ever lived and all the lives to be are full of trees
and changing leaves.” – Virginia Woolf, To The Lighthouse.

Unknown.jpeg 5. Charlotte Bronte

Jane Eyre is a novel that has stuck with me ever since I read it. Jane Erye is a classic for a reason, and it’s the way that Bronte wrote it, and how she wrote her character that makes it stick around. Bronte has been called “the first historian of the private consciousness” for the way that she writes about the inferior life that women were being forced into leading and the way she exposed a woman’s thoughts and feelings throughout the novel.

“I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.” – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre.

Unknown-1.jpeg 6. Edith Wharton 

Edith Wharton was a writer, designer, and the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize when she won it in 1921 for The Age of Innocence. Her novels focus on the lives of those who lived during the nineteenth century when wealth was declining. The craftsmanship, and the subtle ironies and hypocrisies that are woven throughout all of Wharton’s novels should be admired as she consistently discusses the class system and money, while still exploring the individual characters themselves. In reading the The Age of Innocence in todays world, Ellen Olenska becomes a feminist character struggling with her identity as a woman and what it means to live her own life. At the same time, May Welland is now seen as manipulative when she was only using what means she had at her disposal to save what was important to her – her marriage. Wharton’s prose when it comes to her descriptions are what really give you depth to what is going on around these characters, the attention to detail is immaculate.

“And you’ll sit beside me, and we’ll look, not at visions, but at realities.” – Edith Wharton, The Age of Innocence.

Unknown-2.jpeg 7. Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton and the next author on my list, are two of my very favorite poets. Sexton is often grouped in with other poets who write Confessional Poetry, poetry that often focuses on their individual experiences. Often her poems are considered autobiographical, which caused her to become known for writing poems about topics that were often not discussed, like her long battle with depression and suicidal thoughts, but also her personal relationships. Sexton struggled with depression her whole life, spending time in and out of hospitals, which ultimately caused her to take her own life. Her ability to turn her pain into beautiful prose that sings is something that inspires me in my efforts to write.

“I am stuffing your mouth with your
promises and watching
you vomit them out upon my face.” – Anne Sexton, “Killing the Love”.

Unknown-3.jpeg 8. Sylvia Plath

Sylvia Plath was also grouped together with poets who wrote confessional poetry, although she is given a lot of the credit for advancing it. Plath was a poet, a novelist and a short story writer who suffered from depression. Throughout her writing, she discusses her struggles with mental illness quite thoroughly. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical novel she stated was about describing the loneliness that one feels while suffering a breakdown. Plath spent time in mental hospitals and was even treated for her depression with Electroshock Therapy. Like Sexton, Plath famously committed suicide shortly after The Bell Jar was published. Her journals have always been something that has spoken to me, everything she talks about regarding her relationships and her struggle with mental illness is amazing to read. How much of themselves that Plath and Sexton put into their writing is overwhelming to read sometimes.

“I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart. I am, I am, I am.” – Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar.

Unknown.jpeg 9. Jane Austen

Jane Austen is a staple for many people who have a love of books, and her novel Pride and Prejudice is one of the most popular examples of English literature. In a lot of Austens work, the major theme is the importance of the upbringing and the environment in which her young characters grow up, and the idea that a good marriage is one of the most important things a woman can accomplish as that is one of the only ways to bring her into a place of good standing and class. In Pride and Prejudice Austin looks at marriage and what a good marriage is vs. what a bad marriage is. Is a good marriage one that is for love, or is it for money, or maybe is it a combination of both? Throughout the novel, as the characters interact and come closer to the end it is obvious that Elizabeth and Darcy love each other, but Elizabeth does still come out on top with an higher place in society and more money then she had prior to her marriage.

“There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.” – Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice.

Unknown.jpeg 10. Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is a novelist, poet, activist and many other things and the way that she writes is incredibly moving and upsetting all at the same time. While Atwood has never actively put the label of feminist on her writing, it is pretty hard to ignore the politics of most of her novels, like The Handmaid’s Tale, or The Heart Goes Last, as feminist. Her novels are often focused on the issues of female sexuality, relationships, and the brutality of men in a patriarchal society and the way that women suffer at the hands of men. Her novels never seem to be something that won’t ever happen, too often in fact they seem to be very possible if only a few key changes were to happen in our modern day world, and I think that is one of the things that intrigues and terrifies me most about Atwood’s writing.

“The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened. It can’t be changed; so, in a way, there’s nothing to dread.” – Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last.

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Most of the authors that I identify with do share a lot of the same qualities, often they are writing about things like feminism, female sexuality, and mental illness. And more often than not, a lot of them suffer from their own mental illnesses. It is inspiring to me to see women putting their own personal struggles into their writing so that they can do something bigger with it. Allowing other people to find peace from their own demons through reading about theirs.

Did I miss any of your favorite female authors? Whose writing has inspired or impacted you?

– Hannah

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Review: Red Clocks by Leni Zumas

2018 is shaping up to be the year that Hannah reads A TON of feminist novels. Fifth book of the year, the second review I’ve written, and second feminist novel of the year. And I am not complaining. I’m here for it. Bring me all of the feminist novels in 2018. And I mean ALL. OF. THEM.

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(You and me both Jess)

Just like the last book I reviewed, The Power by Naomi Alderman, this book is being likened to Margaret Atwood’s, The Handmaid’s Tale. Set in a small fishing town in Oregon the story follows, four woman (technically five but we’ll get there) as they deal with the repercussions of new legislature that changes each of their lives as they deal with freedom and what that means for each of them.

Ro, a high school teacher struggles with her fertility.

Susan, a frustrated mother of two trapped in a failing marriage.

Mattie, an adopted teenager who finds herself experiencing an unplanned pregnancy.

Gin, an herbalist who is arrested and put at the center of a modern-day witch hunt.

Eivor, a female polar explorer. (I said technically five woman because Ro is writing a biography about Eivor and even though through Ro’s writing about her you learn more about Ro, I’m not sure if I would consider Eivor a main character – but maybe I’m missing something?)

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This book is set in the not so distant future in Oregon after Roe vs. Wade is over turned and new legislature is passed. The Personhood Amendment. This amendment gave the constitutional right to life, liberty and property to a fertilized egg at the moment of conception. This effectively makes abortion a murder charge (there is even a “pink wall” at the Canadian border that prevents woman seeking abortions from leaving the country) and it causes in-vitro fertilization to be banned, due to the fact that embryos “can’t give their consent to be moved.” All of the woman in this story are effected in some way or other by this new law, and the story focuses on what it means to each of their lives, freedom, and identities.

One of my favorite things about this novel is that Leni Zumas used real life legislature put forth by many men in Congress and our government when it comes to Women’s Rights and the right to choose what happens to our own body’s as woman. This book gave a very vivid picture of what this world could be like if Roe Vs. Wade is overturned and some of the men in government roles get what they want in regards to women’s bodies.

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And while this book is definitely a feminist novel, a novel that makes it clear that a world in which Roe vs. Wade being over turned, and abortion and in-vitro fertilization being illegal is not a great one, I don’t think someone who believes in pro-life arguments would feel like they were being attacked, or offended. Although I say that and everyone is offended by something. I think where this book succeeds is it really sticks to just the experience of the women in the story and lets you see what they are having to go through once these laws are passed.

I was really looking forward to reading this book the minute I read a synopsis, I even signed up for Book of the Month Club just so I could get it before it actually came out. While I wasn’t disappointed and while I did really enjoy it, I think I may have overhyped it to myself. I was really expecting to be blown away and I just wasn’t. I wanted to be able to give it 5 stars but I just couldn’t do it. So for me it gets 4. With that said though – I would HIGHLY recommend this book to everyone.

Let me know what you thought of Red Clocks or give me some recommendations of your favorite feminist books!

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(and don’t let the bastards grind you down)

– Hannah

 

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Review: The Power by Naomi Alderman

I’m here tonight to talk about The Power by Naomi Alderman. This was one of the books I received as a gift for Christmas (I actually got it because my fiancé got it for my sister and when he was telling me about it, I got so interested in it I pouted a little bit because he didn’t get one for me… well surprise!) and it was the one I was most excited to read. The minute I finished my book that I carried over from 2017, I immediately moved on to The Power, and let me tell you, I can see why Barack Obama put this novel as number one of his favorite books of 2017 list.

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(Seriously)

The Power is getting a lot of notice for being this generation’s The Handmaid’s Tale, Margaret Atwood’s 1985 feminist work. And the hype is deserved. It is a piece of feminist literature that makes one feel all of the emotions, from empowered, to terrified, to enlightened. The novel, just like it’s female characters, are a force to be reckoned with.

 

Alderman’s novel follows four central characters as teenage girls suddenly discover that they have the power to shoot electricity from their fingers – enough to cause terrible pain, and even death. There is Roxy, the daughter of a crime boss in London. Tunde, a Nigerian young man who documents the revolutions happening across the world. Margot, an ambitious U.S politician who struggles to control her powers. And Allie, an abused young woman finds the call to be the Goddesses voice here on Earth.

Throughout the novel, we watch as the world learns what it can be like when women become the superior gender. We find that it does not become a utopia where women and men learn to live together as equals, instead we find a dystopian future where violence and cruelty reign as one gender learns what power can do and as the other struggles to cope with the loss of their long standing dominance.

“It doesn’t matter that she shouldn’t, that she never would. What matters is that she could if she wanted. The power to hurt is a kind of wealth.” – The Power, Naomi Alderman.

The thought that was left in my mind for days after finishing this novel was that, we know that with great power comes great responsibility, (thank you Uncle Ben) but is the world the way that it is because of who is in power, or is it power itself that causes the world to become the way that it is?

– Hannah

 

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Best of 2017

Today is the last day of 2017 and I don’t know about you guys, but this has probably been one of the worst years in my life. I am more than ready to close the door on 2017 and walk into 2018. I’ve already dubbed 2018 the year in which Hannah makes her mental illness her priority, so things can only go up from here. So, in honor of probably one of the worst years of my life, I’m going to share the top five books that I read this year (in no particular order).

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Lady Chatterly’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence. Constance Chatterly unhappy and married to an invalid, finds refuge in the arms of their game keeper, Mellors. Together they learn how to find peace and fulfillment in their lives. – I’m not sure if you can tell, but this book is well read and well loved. This is one of my favorites of all time, I read it over and over and constantly fall in love with this story.

“We’ve got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen.” – D.H. Lawrence, Lady Chatterly’s Lover

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern. Le Cirque des Rêves arrives without word or warning, a beautiful circus only open at night. Within its tents, there is a fierce competition between two talented magicians Marco and Celia. Unbeknownst to the two magicians, the competition is a duel that ends only with the other participants death. As the two fall in love, the fate of each of them, the circus, and all of their friends hang in the balance. – I got swept away in this story, and when it was over I was upset there wasn’t more of it. I felt like I was a part of the magic of the circus while I was reading it, I fell in love with every one of the characters, my heart breaking and rejoicing with them.

“I am tired of trying to hold things together that cannot be held. Trying to control what cannot be controlled. I am tired of denying myself what I want for fear of breaking things I cannot fix. They will break no matter what we do.” – Erin Morgenstern, The Night Circus

The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood. In the midst of an economic collapse, Stan and Charmaine believe that the gated community of Consilience may be the answer to their prayers. As troubling events start to occur, a darker side of this community starts to emerge. – I love everything I’ve ever read by Margaret Atwood, and while this novel isn’t as dark as either The Handmaid’s Tale or the MaddAddam trilogy it does have a lot to say about the human heart and what it is to be free.

“The past is so much safer, because whatever’s in it has already happened. It can’t be changed; so, in a way, there’s nothing to dread.” – Margaret Atwood, The Heart Goes Last

Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore. The life of Jesus was written out in the Bible but you might not have heard the whole story. Here is where Biff comes in, Jesus’s childhood best friend. He is here to tell us the true story of Jesus that we haven’t yet heard. – This book was by far the most humorous one I read this year. I was laughing out loud at work, causing multiple coworkers to ask inquisitively what exactly I was reading. I had to stop and reread passages over again purely because I had been laughing so hard when I read it the first time I didn’t want to miss anything. In a year like 2017 this was definitely my favorite read by far.

“It’s wildly irritating to have invented something as revolutionary as sarcasm, only to have it abused by amateurs.” – Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal

I, Lucifer by Glen Duncan. The Devil has just been offered a hell of a deal, reentry back into Heaven if he can live a well behaved life in a human body on earth. In almost stream of conscious-like prose, instead of teaching us what it is like to be the Devil, he ends up learning a bit of what its like to be us. – This book was recommended to me by one of my best friends and I ended up loving it just as much as he thought I would. The way the novel is written takes a while to get used to, it doesn’t have much structure to it, most of it is just stream of conscious thinking, but once you get used to it, I, Lucifer was quite the enjoyable ride.

“(I invented rock and roll. You wouldn’t believe the things I’ve invented. Anal sex, obviously. Smoking. Astrology. Money … Let’s save time: Everything in the world that distracts you from thinking about God. Which … pretty much … is everything in the world, isn’t it? Gosh.)” – Glen Duncan, I, Lucifer

So there you have it, my top five favorite reads of 2017. What was in your list? What are you looking forward to reading most in 2018?

– Hannah