Sunday 11 October 2015

Women's Classic Literature Challenge

The Classics Club is hosting a new event, or more accurately, they are hosting a celebration, a joyous exaltation of all things to do with women and classic literature.

Starting now with a planned finished date of 31st December 2016, it's time to get your booty on, get in touch with your inner sassy and embrace your feminine mystique!
The event? Read classic literature by female authors, & share your thoughts (or links to your thoughts) at #ccwomenclassics on Twitter, or in our quarterly check-ins, which we’ll have here in January, April, July, October, & December of 2016.
 You can choose any genre you like....You could do a deep exploration of a single author’s work, or pick a couple authors whose works you’d like to compare and contrast.
 If the title was penned by a female and written or published before 1960, it counts.
 Biographies on classic females count, too. (Even if they were written recently.)
 The point is to get people thinking about women writers & sharing favorite reads.
Over the years, my reading has become more and more female focused. So much so, that I have to occasionally remind myself to read the male perspective as well!

So this event is perfect for me and my reading habits. The challenge will be to broaden my horizons.

I have spent this past year focusing on Australian women writers thanks to my involvement with the Australian Women Writers Challenge. But it has meant that my Classics Club list was left languishing on the sidelines.

Next year I was planning on reading more classics written by Australian women.
For anyone else who'd like to explore more Australian classics please check out this link. I also have some classics lists under my AusReadingMonth tag and the Miles Franklin tab at the top of my page.

I'm hoping the WCLC will inspire, excite and encourage me to read those female writers currently on my CC list as well as explore the lists created by other Clubbers.

I would like to find more women's classics from other cultures and countries.
Recommendations welcome in the comments below.

I'm not usually one for surveys, but to answer a few of the questions posed by The Classics Club...

I have read a lot of Colonial, Victorian and Regency female classics over the years.

Jane Austen, L.M. Montgomery, Louisa May Alcott and Edith Wharton are perennial favourites.

At different times I have also been fascinated by Ruth Park, the Bronte's, Monica Dickens, George Sand, Nancy Mitford, Virginia Woolf , Agatha Christie, Colette, Muriel Spark, Daphne du Maurier, Janet Frame, Katherine Mansfield and George Eliot.

In recent years Elizabeth Gaskell, Willa Cather, Barbara Pym, Elizabeth Harrower, Madeleine St John and Henry Handel Richardson have caught my attention.

It has been hard to think of female characters written by men that don't fall into the 'saints or sinners' mould - Anna Karenina, Lara Guishar (Dr Zhivago), Esther Summerson (Bleak House), Penelope (Homer), Miss Haversham (Great Expectations), Emma Bovary all saints or sinners - and even Shakespeare fell into this way of developing his female characters - think the virtuous Juliet and the scheming Lady Hamlet. Which isn't to say that they aren't fascinating character studies...they're just like no woman I've ever met.

Whereas I have met a real life Scarlett O'Hara, I know many wanna-be Lizzie Bennett's and I am Elinor Dashwood!

The most true-to-life, well-written female by a male author that springs to mind right now, would be Irene in The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy. She not only reminds me of a friend of old but also brings to mind Helen from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. (my desire to watch/rewatch the DVD's has only increased now that I've discovered that Rupert Graves is in both productions!)

Female authors I hope to get to during the WCLC are Karen Blixen, Elizabeth Bowen, Pearl S Buck, Simone De Beauvoir, E.M. Delafield, Elaine Dundy, Edna Ferber, Patricia Highsmith, Elizabeth Jenkins, Margaret Kennedy, Doris Lessing, Toni Morrison, Sylvia Plath, Christina Rossetti, Dodie Smith and Elizabeth Taylor.

I'm hosting a readalong during November for AusReadingMonth of The Fortunes of Richard Mahony.

Written by Henry Handel Richardson - the pen name of Ethel Florence Richardson born in Melbourne in 1870.

The Fortunes of Richard Mahony is Richardson's well-known trilogy about the slow decline, due to character flaws and an illness, of a successful Australian physician and businessman and the emotional/financial effect on his family. It was loosely based on Richardson's own family experiences.

Richardson and her sister, Lillian, were active supporters of the suffragette movement. Ethel also explored lesbian relationships at various times throughout her life.

If you'd like to tackle a fascinating classic Australian female writer, this could be your chance!

I also plan to host my annual Edith Wharton readalong in January 2016 (Edith's birthday month).

Three books to get you started with classic female writers - Persuasion by Jane Austen, My Antonia by Willa Cather and Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. Three personal favourites with three strong and independent (in very different ways) female protagonists.

I also feel that everyone joining in this challenge should read (or reread as the case may be) Virginia Woolf's A Room of One's Own to get into the right frame of mind. 

And finally - a favourite inspirational quote from a classic female writer....?

It has to be Jane Austen in Persuasion:

Do you have a favourite female classic author that I haven't mentioned above?
Let me know below - I'm always up for more #ccwomenclassics!


  1. I never knew E. M. Delafield was a woman! I always thought of the author as a guy. You've really covered the biggies! But some women authors I enjoy are: Mary Roberts Rinehart who wrote popular mysteries (among other types of books) in the very early 1900s. Read Bab; a Sub Deb which is hysterically funny. It is different from the other books I've read by her. Another popular writer of yore was Gene Stratton-Porter. I've only read two by her, but I want to read more. Another more contemporary American woman writer is Anne Tyler. For British women authors, I am a big Georgette Heyer fan. I love her intelligent regency romances, her mysteries and her historical fiction. And you can't forget Dorothy L. Sayers and her wonderful Lord Peter Wimsey series! And Elizabeth Goudge was another popular writer who got at least one of her books turned into a movie, Green Dolphin Street. I think my one of my favorite male authors who can write women characters well is Nathaniel Hawthorne. I think he 'got' women.

    1. I had to google it to be sure too :-)
      Her full moniker was Edmee Elizabeth Monica de la Pasture (I wonder if that's were the 'field' part came from in Delafield?)
      Her married surname was Dashwood.

  2. Oh, I agree with Faith's suggestion above about Hawthorne...

    Anyway, this is so exciting! I just reread A Room of One's Own & agree that's a GREAT place to start in this event. I've read Sylvia Plath & Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen) from your "want to read" list. Both are incredible. Have fun, Brona!! :-D

    1. I would like to read The Scarlet Letter one day...although I can't but help it's another 'fallen woman' story....the epitome of the saint or sinner storyline?

    2. What are some other fallen women stories? I am drawing a blank except for Tess. Unlike Tess though, Hester is strong and has a clear idea of what is right or wrong. She comes to embrace living on the outskirts of society, even though it isn't a happy situation, because she can see how screwed up that society is. I just thought it was a gorgeous novel about redemption, love and trust. And conversely you can see how pride (not strength) and caring about worldly reputation torments the soul.

    3. By fallen women, I mean ' sinners' - so it doesn't just have to a be a fall into prostitution. It also usually involves a double standard - that is, if a man did the same thing he would considered interesting or strong-minded or independent or a flawed character - whereas the woman just gets to be bad or mad!
      Many male writers (& some women too) wrote their female characters as either good or bad - angels or fallen - saint or sinner - the virgin or the seductress - the old maid or the wife & the more modern idea of the shrinking violet or the women's libber. They had to be one or the other - not flawed, complex or nuanced with a bit of both - Scarlett O'Hara being the classic example of one such nuanced, complex, flawed human being.

      Off the top of my head we have the original sinner in the eyes of mankind - Eve, as well as Anna Karenina, Lady Macbeth, Lady Chatterley, French Lieutenant's Woman, Cathy in East of Eden, Nana by Zola, Becky Sharp - Thackery, Madame Bovary...I'm sure there are more!

      It's a fascinating topic - lots of English papers have been written on this theme over the years & I will definitely give The Scarlet Letter a go - thanks :-)

  3. Our lists overlap with many of the same authors! I am hoping to get to Barbara Pym, Anita Brookner, Muriel Spark, Stella Gibbons and Elizabeth Taylor, among others. I also have more Gaskell to read, and I am going to definitely read The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, which I haven't gotten to yet!

    1. Yes, the TofWH is well worth the time...I'm now trying to source the old BBC series with Rupert Graves.

      I ended up not adding Anita Brookner to my list due to the 1960's time frame. But then I remembered that I was using '25yrs' as my benchmark for a 'classic', so some of her work would fit in after all :-)

  4. After having read your post I think I'll start off with A Room of One's Own! I do love Persuasion and Jane Eyre but have yet to read any Willa Cather despite many people having recommended it to me. I'm so excited for your Edith Wharton month as I've not read any of her writing yet apart from my previous failed attempt at The Age of Innocence, but I'm determined to rectify that!

    I'm off to start a list of all the authors I'm already discovering from people's posts!

    1. Yes! I need to hunt down my copy of A Room of One's Own for a reread. I wonder if my 40-something self will find it as enlightening as my 20-something self did?
      A may have to download a copy of Wollstonecraft's A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects too.

  5. I only discovered Persuasion as my new favourite Jane Austen book earlier thus year when my original Spin choice (Emma) became a struggle to read. So I switched to Persausion and was enthralled. Now I can understand why so many other women also like Persuasion!!! I read Jane Eyre at high school so many years ago, but I have not read any Willa Cather, although I have heard of My Antonia.Good idea to answer the survey questions. I should do mine as well.

    1. Emma is a hard one to get into. Try watching one of the movies (the Gwyneth Paltrow or Clueless) to give you a sense of her character. Sometimes seeing someone else's interpretation frees you up to develop your own.

  6. Anonymous13/10/15

    After reading this excellent post I took a look at my reading list 2015.
    Oh, dear, not looking good. 1 short story collection (Adichie) , 3 French novelists (Gersten, Salavyre, Autissier) and 1 American novelist (Yanagihara). 1 Ukraine (Alexievich, non-fiction in progress) 1 Australian in the planning (Henry Handel Richardson).
    I'm going to have to think long and hard about a 'reading strategy' for this challenge. I have read Edith Wharton, Ruth Park, and Barbara Pym. (very good) Karen Blixen,Pearl S Buck, Simone De Beauvoir, Edna Ferber. (still to be discovered). But would like to include some Nobel winners and Australian writers. I will work on a list and kickoff blogpost.... asap.

    1. It looks like I will be doing An Age of Innocence readalong (by popular demand) in January for my Wharton Review. Perhaps you could factor that into your schedule?

      Good luck with your list :-)

  7. Anonymous13/10/15

    I'm really excited about this challenge. I just haven't decided yet where to start with a reading plan. So far, I only know that it will include Elizabeth Gaskell and Edna Ferber. (I was happy to see her mentioned in your post.) So much "listing" to do... :)

    1. Ferber is part of my Pulitzer reading challenge - my copy is one of those small brick-like odd sized books.
      But a number of the early female Pulitzer winners are out of print....

  8. Anonymous14/10/15

    I enjoyed books by Jane Austen, the Brontës, Louisa May Alcott, Daphne du Maurier, Dodie Smith and Agatha Christie. You have plenty of exciting, new-to-me, authors on your list too though.

  9. This sounds great. I rather let Classics Club fall to the wayside in the past few months. This would be a great way to get started again!


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