Women’s Classic Literature Event for Classics Club

“Suppose, for instance, that men were only represented in literature as the lovers of women, and were never the friends of men, soldiers, thinkers, dreamers; how few parts in the plays of Shakespeare could be allotted to them; how literature would suffer! We might perhaps have most of Othello; and a good deal of Antony; but no Caesar, no Brutus, no Hamlet, no Lear, no Jaques–literature would be incredibly impoverished, as indeed literature is impoverished beyond our counting by the doors that have been shut upon women.” – Virginia Woolf

The Classics Club is hosting an event about women’s classic literature throughout 2016, which is awesome. It’s nice to see women’s classic fiction being broadcasted and celebrated as much as mens, especially when people involve some of the lesser known women writers. Austen and the Brontë’s (and by Brontës, people usually just mean Charlotte and Emily) are all fine and dandy, but let’s start talking about H.D., Franny Burney and Daphne Du Maurier too!

Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event.

I think I just did this. But hi, I’m Belinda! I’m looking forward to seeing other lovely bloggers talk about their discoveries, and get a few ideas or discussions out of it!

Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?

I have read a fair few, but there are loads more that I want to read. I read women’s literature because I relate to it, I understand their struggles and want to know more about women’s lives throughout history. I think I am now reading more women writers than I am men- not by design, just by mood.

Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.

I’m reading North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell at the moment, and so far I am loving it! Gaskell was born in September 1810 in London, and was a very famous writer during her lifetime. She had a complicated professional relationship with Dickens, was a friend of Charlotte Brontë and had a sadly unfortunate home life, losing her baby son when he was 10 months old. Writing was a form of therapy for her, and is what spurred her on to write her first novel, Mary Barton. She died at age 55 of a sudden heart attack.

Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!)

I’m honestly struggling to even think of a female character in a man’s novel, since I haven’t read Tess of the D’Ubervilles or something… and the ones that I can think of are only side characters. This says quite a bit, doesn’t it?

Jean Paget in A Town Like Alice by Neville Shute is pretty well rounded, though she’s a bit too perfect for my liking.

Favourite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?)

Anne Shirley from Anne of Green Gables. I love her because she’s a chatterbox, she’s imaginative, she’s empathetic and isn’t afraid to make mistakes. To follow her through her life, from the lonely orphan Matthew finds at the train station, to adulthood, is a wonderful journey. I wish she were my friend!

We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list?

The Persephone and Virago lists are always a good starting point, or just the classics section in your local bookshop!

Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. 

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?

I haven’t really considered it, but I’d say I’m joining in now, since I’m always reading women’s literature

Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list?

I don’t work well with preset TBR lists, as I’m too much of a mood reader to maintain them.

Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?)

Poems, novels and essays are always high on my list of to-read books. I have some short stories I’d like to read as well, so I’ll be mixing it up.

Are you pulling towards a particular era or location in literature by women?

Mid to Late Victorian to mid-1930’s is my preferred time range, but I wouldn’t say no to anything a bit earlier or later.

Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious!

I’m always happy to do all of the things! Anyone want to do a read-a-long? I’m so down for that!

Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer.

How about a Tenant of Wildfell Hall read-a-long? Or Evelina?

Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet.

“For love, as she knew it now, was something without shame and without reserve, the possession of two people who had no barrier between them, and no pride; whatever happened to him would happen to her too, all feeling, all movement, all sensation of body and of mind.”

Frenchman’s Creek by Daphne Du Maurier

Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it.

Do you think women writers get the same attention as male writers do?

I think that the Victorian women are beginning to, but that being said, there are many that remain fairly obscure- Mrs. Oliphant, for example, was extremely prolific, but is seldom seen in book form in shops. There are countless more that are lost completely, and who knows what sort of works we could have had if they’d been taken seriously. That’s why I love the idea behind Virago and Persephone, because they’re giving these women a new voice and a new audience, who are willing to give them a chance in spite of (and because of) their gender.

For the early 20th century women’s writers, it’s a somewhat different story… a classic case in point would be Zelda Fitzgerald’s novel Save Me the Waltz, which F. Scott demanded be published only once they had edited out anything that he wanted to use in Tender is the Night, since he believed that his wife’s experiences and ideas belonged to him as writing material. The book got slammed by critics at the time. I haven’t read it myself, but many considered it to be a disaster. More recently though, there has been more attention given to it, so perhaps F. Scott didn’t win after all.

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21 thoughts on “Women’s Classic Literature Event for Classics Club

  1. Fascinating stuff, and I think this is a *wonderful* challenge. If I was in the Classics Club I would be joining in like mad!

  2. Yes! I am all for discovering the lesser known women writers during this event,and even just non British ones. I feel like almost all the classics I’ve read by women have been by British Regency and Victorians which is all fine and I’ve read some great books but I know there’s so much more!

    I’ve added Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Return of the Soldier to my list of possibilities and I’m looking forward to reading some more Daphne DuMaurier this year as well. I’ve only read Rebecca and that was a while back!

    I’m so excited about this project!

    • I’m really excited to read some more non-English novels too… seems so strange that there’s far more availability of overseas classics than Australian, even in Australia!
      I do hope you love both of them, they’re fantastic novels. I just finished my thesis on The Return of the Soldier, and I think I love it even more than when I began! I need to read more Du Maurier too, I think Jamaica Inn will be next!
      Me too! =D

  3. Wonderful answers, Belinda! I would love a readalong of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, since I’ve been putting it off for months.. 🙂

      • I haven’t read anything by Anne so far, and since I’ve loved both Charlotte and Emily for such a long time (and been completely ignorant of Anne’s existence for the most part) I’m really curious to read her work!

  4. I’ll be joining this event as well, though I have yet to decide what to read. I have a few “obvious” picks, like Elizabeth Gaskell, but I’d love to add a few women who, as you point out, are hardly ever found in a bookstore. (Evelina would be a good choice for a readalong; I enjoyed that book.)

    • It’s such a great event, I’m really excited about it! There’s so many women who don’t fit the “obvious” role, so we’re pretty spoilt for choice. I also want to read more of the obvious ones too, since I’ve never read any George Eliot and I haven’t read all of Jane Austen or Charlotte Bronte’s novels either!

  5. So excited you’re joining. I LOVE your answer to the “think of a female character by a male author” question. Yes, telling. I ALSO LOVE ANNE SHIRLEY! To your final question: no. 🙂

    • Yay, thanks! I’m so excited for this whole event! It was so hard, and I’ve been pondering since I wrote this post and still can’t think of anyone other than Jean! ANNE IS THE BEST! ❤

  6. I was excited to see your love for Frenchman’s Creek as it’s on my TBR pile.

    And I was very excited to see an Australian classic on your top 3 – I nearly put it on mine too, but I tried to pick authors with several books under their belts instead.

    Happy reading!

    • I so hope you love Frenchman’s Creek- I read it maybe 5 years ago and I still feel so much love for it.
      Aussie classics are the best! Picnic at Hanging Rock is definitely a more “modern” classic, but a classic nonetheless. I did think of putting Playing Beattie Bow by Ruth Park on, but I haven’t read her other novels yet.

  7. I think I’ll be doing this challenge too, though I haven’t posted any responses to these questions yet. I’m really looking forward to it!

    Love the last question you added & your answer to it. Do you think it is still a problem that women’s writing isn’t taken as seriously as men’s in general? I’ve noticed that male readers are often reluctant to read works by female writers for some reason, but that might just be anecdotal evidence….

    • I’m gad you’re doing it too! It’s going to be awesome!
      I think you’re right, it is a problem still. Men are often more likely to only read male writers, and dismiss females even within their favoured genre. I’ve seen studies of this, seen it from working in bookshops and also my dad is exactly this sort of person! I also see a problem with the way female writers are published- they are often given fluffy pink covers with spangles all over it, or constrained into the “chick lit” region, when a man writing a similar novel would be given a serious cover and put in literature. It sucks and hopefully will change over time!

  8. Pingback: #AusReadingMonth Sign Up | bookarahma

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