“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.