women's writing

Nandini Tripathi curates 10 fantastic examples of women’s writing with a focus on authors that have questioned the norms, broken rules and used their work to highlight societal problems. With both well-known titles and a few you may not be aware of, this list will provide a whole new perspective on women’s writing.


A Vindication of the Rights of Woman

Mary Wollstonecraft

Written by the 18th-century British proto-feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, this book is one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy. Wollstonecraft proposes several revolutionary (for the time) ideas, including, the need for educating women as the key to equality. She insisted that women should be allowed to practice reason over sensibility and that they are not inferior in terms of intellect. As an Enlightenment thinker, Wollstonecraft recognised that gender roles were inherent in society and actively spoke against them.

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Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen

Jane Austen is a familiar name in both academic and general circles. The humour, wit, and use of irony that pervades the entire narrative render her commentary on femininity, the institution of marriage, and class dynamics not only brilliantly subversive but also extremely profound. Written in a period of political turmoil and social mobility, Austen’s novel is a critical analysis and questions moral values. With its focus on themes of love, marriage and gender, Austen’s famous novel, Pride And Prejudice, pleases the heart while, at the same time, cajoles the mind into action.

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Mary Shelley

Written in 1818, reprinted in 1823 and revised in 1831, much like Adam’s story, Frankenstein itself is a study in resurrection. The novel’s interpretive range cuts across generic divides and provides every genre – film, drama, and art with something to appropriate. Mary Shelley’s story about a “waking nightmare” is seen as an initiator of the science fiction genre.

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Jane Eyre

Charlotte Bronte

Published in 1847, Jane Eyre broke away from the tradition of didactic and educative novels that were written for young women during the time. Lacking a literary precedent, this novel carved a niche in literary history. It challenged and destabilised contemporary notions of femininity and gender roles through the complex power struggles described in the novel. Charlotte Bronte’s innovative and enduring romantic novel continues to engage and provoke readers to this day.

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Ten Days in a Mad-House

Nellie Bly

This book is based on newspaper reporter Nellie Bly’s experience when she took on the terrifying task of posing as Nellie Brown in an undercover assignment to investigate the deplorable conditions of insane asylums. She feigned insanity at a women’s boarding house and was involuntarily committed to the Women’s Lunatic Asylum on Blackwell’s Island. Ten Days In A Mad-House is a short but horrifying read as it provides an insight into the way the mentally ill were (mis)treated during the latter part of the 19th century. Her ground-breaking book went on to have a huge impact on the laws that were passed in the United States to improve the conditions in mental institutions.

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The Yellow Wallpaper

Charlotte Perkins Gilman

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wallpaper is written as the secret journal of an ailing woman whose husband has taken her to the country and put her on bed rest. Though she longs to write, she is forbidden to do so and is forced into an existence of passivity. In the involuntary confinement of her bedroom, the protagonist creates a reality of her own beyond the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wallpaper- a pattern that has come to symbolize her own imprisonment. Narrated with chilling psychological and dramatic precision, The Yellow Wallpaper stands out not only for the imaginative authenticity with which it depicts one woman’s descent into insanity but also for its powerful testimony on the importance of freedom and self-empowerment for women.

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Mrs. Dalloway

Virginia Woolf

Mrs. Dalloway, one of Virginia Woolf’s most acclaimed novels, follows a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, a fictional high-society woman in post-World War I England. She spends the day preparing for a party she is hosting while reminiscing about the people who would be at the party. In narrating Mrs. Dalloway’s story, Woolf creatively paints a picture of the inter-war social structure by playing with the timeline and delving into the character’s mind. The novel disrupts all conventions of space and time in its narrative structure.

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Wide Sargasso Sea

Jean Rhys

Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys’ last and best-selling novel, is the tale of one of fiction’s most fascinating characters – the madwoman in the attic from Charlotte Brontë’s classic, Jane Eyre. This mesmerising work introduces the reader to the character of Antoinette Cosway, a sensual and protected young woman, who is sold into marriage to Mr. Rochester. Rhys portrays Cosway amidst a society so driven by hatred, so skewed in its sexual relations, that it can literally drive a woman insane. In this poignant evocation of the bitter romance between the white Creole heiress from the Jamaican plantation-owning class and the increasingly cold Englishman, Rhys creates a relationship that is intense in its desire but marked by deep tragedy.

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I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings

Maya Angelou

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, the 1969 autobiography about the early years of American writer and poet Maya Angelou, is an extremely poetic and powerful tale. This novel touches the heart of the reader as it recounts tragic incidents from the author’s life. Maya Angelou describes her life and journey as a young girl as she attempts to come to terms with her true identity, finds the courage and carves a space for herself in a ruthless society. This is the first in a six-part series, all of which are worth reading.

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The Colour Purple

Alice Walker

The Colour Purple is filled with joy, pain, humour, and bitterness. With over a million copies sold in the UK alone, it is hailed as one of the all-time ‘greats’ of literature, inspiring generations of readers. Set in the deep American South in between the two wars, The Colour Purple is the tale of Celie, a young black girl born into poverty and segregation, and her journey as she discovers the power of joy and her own spirit, freeing her from her past and reuniting her with those she loves.

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With an increasing list of ‘to-read’ books and decreasing space to stack the plethora of novels she hoards, life seems to be a constant struggle between reading the books she owns and wanting to buy new ones. She is often lost between the pages of some engrossing novel that takes up the time required to actually read the books in her syllabus.

Nandini worked as a content intern for The Curious Reader. You can read her articles here.