Classics to read for Pride Month

It’s Pride Month! In honour of celebrating Pride Month, I’ll be sharing some LGBTQIA2S+ book recommendations. Keep checking in each week for more recommendations.


Are you tired of reading classics by boring old white men? Here’s your chance to read some queer friendly classics!

Even though most classics represent heteronormative relationships, there have always been people who exist outside those norms. There’s a small portion of classics that represent people within the LGBTQIA2S+ community and I think it’s important to highlight them.

Everyone deserves to see themselves in the books they read.

It’s unfortunate that there aren’t more classics with a range of sexualities portrayed, but sadly, it’s not surprising. Especially since homosexuality has been illegal, and remains illegal in many countries around the world (source).

However, it does make me think about the many works of art that have been lost to history due to society’s limited acceptance of people.

With all the barriers authors faced to get these types of novels published, I think it makes the ones that do exist that much more valuable.

Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Five classic LGBTQIA2S+ books

Here’s a list of five classic books that represent some aspect of the LGBTQIA2S+ community.

  1. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1890)
  2. Orlando by Virginia Woolf (1928)
  3. Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin (1956)
  4. Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)
  5. The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)

Keep reading to find out more about each one. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890)

by Oscar Wilde

  • Year Published: 1890
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, horror, lgbtqia+, literary, dark, mysterious, reflective, medium-paced
  • Oscar Wilde’s only novel

Summary:

In this celebrated work Wilde forged a devastating portrait of the effects of evil and debauchery on a young aesthete in late-19th-century England. Combining elements of the Gothic horror novel and decadent French fiction, the book centers on a striking premise: As Dorian Gray sinks into a life of crime and gross sensuality, his body retains perfect youth and vigor while his recently painted portrait grows day by day into a hideous record of evil, which he must keep hidden from the world. For over a century, this mesmerizing tale of horror and suspense has enjoyed wide popularity. It ranks as one of Wilde’s most important creations and among the classic achievements of its kind.

Links:

Orlando (1928)

by Virginia Woolf

  • Year Published: 1928
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, magical realism, challenging, reflective, slow-paced
  • Considered a feminist classic

Summary:

As his tale begins, Orlando is a passionate young nobleman whose days are spent in rowdy revelry, filled with the colourful delights of Queen Elizabeth’s court. By the close, he will have transformed into a modern, 36-year-old woman and three centuries will have passed. Orlando will not only witness the making of history from its edge, but will find that his unique position as a woman who knows what it is to be a man will give him insight into matters of the heart.

Links:

Giovanni’s Room (1956)

by James Baldwin

  • Year Published: 1956
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, sad, medium-paced
  • Considered a classic of gay literature, and helped foster discussions of homosexuality and bisexuality in mainstream readers

Summary:

Baldwin’s haunting and controversial second novel is his most sustained treatment of sexuality, and a classic of gay literature. In a 1950s Paris swarming with expatriates and characterized by dangerous liaisons and hidden violence, an American finds himself unable to repress his impulses, despite his determination to live the conventional life he envisions for himself. After meeting and proposing to a young woman, he falls into a lengthy affair with an Italian bartender and is confounded and tortured by his sexual identity as he oscillates between the two.

Examining the mystery of love and passion in an intensely imagined narrative, Baldwin creates a moving and complex story of death and desire that is revelatory in its insight.

Links:

Maurice (1971)

by E.M. Forster

  • Year Published: 1971 (written in 1914)
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Forster wrote the book in 1914 but wouldn’t let it be published until after his death.

Summary:

Maurice is heartbroken over unrequited love, which opened his heart and mind to his own sexual identity. In order to be true to himself, he goes against the grain of society’s often unspoken rules of class, wealth, and politics.

Forster understood that his homage to same-sex love, if published when he completed it in 1914, would probably end his career. Thus, Maurice languished in a drawer for fifty-seven years, the author requesting it be published only after his death (along with his stories about homosexuality later collected in The Life to Come).

Since its release in 1971, Maurice has been widely read and praised. It has been, and continues to be, adapted for major stage productions, including the 1987 Oscar-nominated film adaptation starring Hugh Grant and James Wilby.

Links:

The Color Purple (1982)

by Alice Walker

  • Year Published: 1982
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, historical, lgbtqia+, literary, emotional, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance: Winner of the 1983 Pulitzer Prize (making Walker the first black woman to win the prize)

Summary:

Winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Alice Walker’s iconic modern classic is now a Penguin Book.

A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence. Through a series of letters spanning twenty years, first from Celie to God, then the sisters to each other despite the unknown, the novel draws readers into its rich and memorable portrayals of Celie, Nettie, Shug Avery and Sofia and their experience.

The Color Purple broke the silence around domestic and sexual abuse, narrating the lives of women through their pain and struggle, companionship and growth, resilience and bravery. Deeply compassionate and beautifully imagined, Alice Walker’s epic carries readers on a spirit-affirming journey towards redemption and love.

Links:

Final thoughts

I’ve only listed five books here, so it’s only a small portion of the classics available. But hopefully something caught your eye.

I’m always looking for more suggestions of books to read. If you have a favourite classic that represents part of the LGBTQIA2S+ community, please feel free to share it in a comment below!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think of the book?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five turn of the century women poets (1800-1900)

Do you want to read more poetry but not sure where to start?

For April, poetry month, I’ll be sharing various poetry recommendations to help you read more poetry.


For this week, I wanted to share five women poets that are considered classics from around the turn of the century (1800→1900). I tried to give a range of options from a few countries around the world.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more women poets, each week moving closer to present day.

All five of the women poets discussed below were born in the 1800’s and published most of their work in the early 1900’s. Each of them are significant both for their literary contributions and their impact on society.

Photo by Daria Kraplak on Unsplash

Five women poets

Here’s a list of five women poets who lived through the turn of the century (1800→1900).

  1. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)
  2. Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)
  3. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)
  4. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
  5. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

I’ve listed them in order of when they were born. Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Sarojini Naidu (1879-1949)

  • 1879-1949
  • Indian political activist and poet
  • In India, Naidu’s birthday, February 13th, is celebrated as Women’s Day

Sarojini was both an Indian political activist and poet. She played an important role in the Indian independence movement and had close ties to Gandhi. She even persuaded Gandhi that women should join the famous Salt March (he was initially against it). After he was arrested on April 6, 1930, Gandhi appointed Naidu as the replacement leader.

She actively fought for civil rights, women’s emancipation and anti-imperialism. She was the first woman to be the president of the Indian National Congress (during British rule). Then after independence she was appointed as governor of a state.

Because of her poetry, Gandhi nicknamed her the “Nightingale of India”. Her poetry was written in English (she was educated in Madras, London, and Cambridge). One of her most popular poems is called “In the Bazaars of Hyderabad” from the year 1912.

Naidu’s birthday is February 13th, and each year India celebrates Women’s Day on her birthday to recognize the powerful women’s voices that shaped India.

Links:

2. Hilda “H.D.” Doolittle (1886-1961)

  • 1886–1961
  • American modernist poet, novelist, and memoirist
  • Wrote under the pen name “H.D.”

H.D. was primarily known as a poet, but she wrote so much more than that. She wrote novels, memoirs, and essays, along with translating a number of texts from Greek. She produced work over five decades, from 1910-1960s.

As a poet, she was known for her innovative and experimental approaches. Her work had strong themes of literary modernism and she participated in the avant-garde milieu era.

She started as an Imagist and for a long time only her early poems were studied. But was an Imagist for a short time and moved on to create many different types of content and developed her craft for decades past that. Interest in her later work was reignited from a feminist and queer studies perspective in the 1960’s and 1970’s.

H.D. was also bisexual, having her first same-sex relationship while in college. Over her life, she had several relationships with both men and women. The longest lasting relationship seems to be with Bryher (pen name for: Annie Winifred Ellerman). They met in 1918 and lived together off and on for a few decades and even continued their relationship after that, until H.D.’s death.

Fun fact. In the 1930’s, H.D. was treated by Sigmund Freud for both her war trauma and bisexuality.

Links:

3. Anna Akhmatova (1889-1966)

  • 1889 – 1966
  • Shortlisted for the Nobel Prize  in 1965
  • Regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets

Anna is regarded as one of Russia’s greatest poets. Her father was Ukrainian and her mother was Russian, so sometimes you’ll see her referred to as Ukrainian.

Her full name is Anna Andreyevna Gorenko, but she is better known by her pen name Anna Akhmatova. Her pen name comes from their family lore of a maternal ancestor, Khan Akhmat, who was a Tatar chieftain and is believed to have been a descendant of Genghis Khan.

Her poetic work has significant range, from short lyric poems up to intricately structured cycles. Her style was considered strikingly original and very distinct form her contemporaries, especially with her use of restraint. She was considered an icon of both noble beauty and catastrophic predicament.

Anna lived in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Much of her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities. However, she choose to remain in the Soviet Union and act as a witness to the historical events.

Unfortunately, many written records were destroyed during the Soviet regime, especially of those condemned by Stalinist authorities, and so there is very little information about her life.

Links:

4. Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

  • 1892 – 1950
  • American lyrical poet and playwright
  • Won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
  • Pseudonym: Nancy Boyd

Millay is one of the most respected and successful American poets, and notably, she was recognized throughout much of her life. However, she did write much of her work under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.

She was also a well-known social figure, feminist, and was known for her progressive political views. She was also known for her riveting readings and performances, which garnered her even more attention as a poet. Within her work, she had both homo and hetero portrayals of sexuality and was known for her descriptions of the female experience.

In 1923, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (for her poem “Ballad of the Harp-Weaver”) and in 1943 she won the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry. She was the first woman and second person (ever) to win the Pulitzer for poetry.

In the 1930’s, modernist critics dismissed her work due to her use of traditional poetic forms. However, in the 1960’s and 70’s, interest in her work increased due to feminist literary criticism and feminist movements. She regained her reputation as being a highly gifted writer.

Links:

5. Dorothy Parker (1893-1967)

  • 1893 – 1967
  • American poet, writer, critic, and satirist

Dorothy Parker was an American poet, writer, critic and satirist. She was known for her humour, through her wit, wisecracks and social commentary.

She rose to fame in the 1920’s, both from her work in magazines and as part of the social scene in New York City. She was an inaugural member of the board of editors at the magazine the New Yorker and frequently contributed her own writings. She was also a founding member of the Algonquin Round Table. A group of writers, critics, actors, etc. that met together everyday for lunch at the Algonquin Hotel in New York City.

In 1926, Parker published “Enough Rope”, her first book of poetry that became a bestseller. You can access it for free here on the Gutenberg Project.

She also moved to Hollywood and worked as a screenwriter. She was nominated for two Academy Awards before being placed on the Hollywood blacklist. The films she worked on included:

  • A Star is Born → for which they were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Writing—Screenplay (This is the original version of the 2018 movie starring Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper.)
  • Smash-Up, the Story of a Woman together with Frank Cavett, she received a nomination for an Oscar for the screenplay in 1947
  • Saboteur → a Hitchcock directed movie

Due to her left-wing politics (aka suspected of being a communist), Parker was placed on the Hollywood blacklist. Parker was listed as a communist in the “Red Channels” publication in 1950, which was an anti-communist document published by the right-wing journal Counterattack. Also, the FBI complied a large dossier on her (1,000 pages!) based on her suspected communist activities during the McCarthy era. She was also the chair of the Joint Anti-Fascist Refugee Committee’s fundraising arm and help found the Hollywood Anti-Nazi League in 1936.

When she died (1967), she willed her estate to Martin Luther King Jr., and upon his death in 1968, it was then given to the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People).

Links:


Final thoughts

All these women seem like powerhouses. They were all known for being disrupters and social justice advocates.

I hope you’re learned something new and maybe discovered a new poet to read.

I think it’s incredible to see how influential these women were and to learn about their lives outside of just being a poet.

Have you read any of these poets’ work?

Who would you add to this list of classic women poets?

I would love to hear your thoughts in a comment below.

Five classics: Feminist fiction books from before the 1960’s

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.


Are you interested in reading fiction books that shaped literature and how women were perceived?

Here are five older fiction books considered classic feminist fiction from the 19th century up to the 1960’s. Obviously that’s a large time span, so this is just a small selection of books.

All of these books have had a significant impact on literature and the way women have been perceived. I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

Photo by Jr Korpa on Unsplash

Five feminist fictional texts

Here’s a list of five feminist fictional books written before the 1970’s.

  1. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868)
  2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman (1892)
  3. The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
  4. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962)
  5. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. Little Women (1868)

by Louisa May Alcott

  • Year Published: 1868
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, emotional, hopeful, lighthearted, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Created a new genre

Alcott wrote this coming-of-age novel focused around the lives of the four March sisters.

Through this novel, Alcott developed a new genre of literature by combining romantic children’s fiction with sentimental novels.

The book was an immediate success! Readers were eager for more about the characters, so Alcott quickly completed a second part. It was originally published in two volumes, however now the two volumes are often sold together in a single novel.

Summary (from Storygraph):

The lives and adventures of the four March sisters–Jo, Meg, Beth, and Amy–are set against the backdrop of nineteenth-century New England while their father is off fighting in the Civil War.

Links:

2. The Yellow Wallpaper (1892)

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

  • Year Published: 1892
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, horror, short stories, dark, mysterious, fast-paced
  • Importance:
    Mental health portrayal

This is a short story that powerfully portrays health issues and their treatment faced by women of this era (late 19th century).

It’s considered an important work of early American feminist literature due to its portrayal of women’s mental and physical health. It’s also considered a great work of horror fiction.

I find it’s a short story you can keep re-reading, getting something new from it each time.

Summary (from Storygraph):

First published in 1892, The Yellow Wall-Paper is written as the secret journal of a woman who, failing to relish the joys of marriage and motherhood, is sentenced to a country rest cure. Though she longs to write, her husband and doctor forbid it, prescribing instead complete passivity. Narrated with superb psychological and dramatic precision, this short but powerful masterpiece has the heroine create a reality of her own within the hypnotic pattern of the faded yellow wall-paper of her bedroom–a pattern that comes to symbolize her own imprisonment.

This key women’s studies text by a pivotal first-wave feminist writer, lecturer, and activist (1860-1935) is reprinted as it first appeared in New England Magazine in 1892, and contains the essential essay on the author’s life and work by pioneering Gilman scholar Elaine R. Hedges.

Links:

3. The Awakening (1899)

by Kate Chopin

  • Year Published: 1899
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Landmark of early feminism

The Awakening is considered a precursor to American modernist literature, due to its blend of social commentary, a realistic narrative, and psychological complexity. It’s also one of the earlier American novels that discussed women’s issues without condescension (surprise surprise it took a woman to accomplish that).

It was considered quite controversial at the time of publication, mostly due to its open discussion of female marital infidelity.

Chopin faced many barriers when she tried to publish stories after she published this novel, and unfortunately she did not write another novel after this one.

Summary (from Goodreads):

When first published in 1899, The Awakening shocked readers with its honest treatment of female marital infidelity. Audiences accustomed to the pieties of late Victorian romantic fiction were taken aback by Chopin’s daring portrayal of a woman trapped in a stifling marriage, who seeks and finds passionate physical love outside the confines of her domestic situation.

Aside from its unusually frank treatment of a then-controversial subject, the novel is widely admired today for its literary qualities. Edmund Wilson characterized it as a work “quite uninhibited and beautifully written, which anticipates D. H. Lawrence in its treatment of infidelity.” Although the theme of marital infidelity no longer shocks, few novels have plumbed the psychology of a woman involved in an illicit relationship with the perception, artistry, and honesty that Kate Chopin brought to The Awakening.

Links:

4. The Golden Notebook (1962)

by Doris Lessing

  • Year Published: 1962
  • Storygraph Categories: fiction, classics, literary, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Realistic depiction of women’s lived experiences

The Golden Notebook is considered as a companion volume to Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. It also became popular with feminists due to its realistic depiction of women’s lived experiences.

This 1962 novel by the British writer Doris Lessing is considered one of the best English-language novels since 1923 (according to Time Magazine).

Margaret Drabble describes Lessing’s writing style as “inner space fiction” because Lessing’s work explores a combination of mental and societal breakdown.

Doris Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 for being “that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Anna is a writer, author of one very successful novel, who now keeps four notebooks. In one, with a black cover, she reviews the African experience of her earlier year. In a red one she records her political life, her disillusionment with communism. In a yellow one she writes a novel in which the heroine relives part of her own experience. And in the blue one she keeps a personal diary. Finally, in love with an American writer and threatened with insanity, Anna tries to bring the threads of all four books together in a golden notebook.

Links:

  • Find out more on:
  • You can read the book online here.
    • This was an experiment where seven women read the book online, while also commenting on the book and discussing it together. Each page/website has a short part of the book with the comments from the seven women below. You can read along the book together as if in a group.
    • Chapter 1 starts here.

5. The Bell Jar (1963)

by Sylvia Plath

  • Year Published: 1963
  • Storygraph Categories:
    fiction, classics, literary, dark, emotional, reflective, medium-paced
  • Check trigger warnings before reading this book
  • Importance:
    Powerful depiction of mental health and Plath’s only novel

The Bell Jar is the only novel written by Sylvia Plath, an American writer and poet. It was originally published under a pseudonym (”Victoria Lucas”) as it is semi-autobiographical.

The novel portray’s the main character, Esther Greenwood, as she descends into mental illness. The book is often considered a roman à clef as the protagonist’s experience tends to mirror the author’s, with Plath dying by suicide only a month after its publication in the UK.

I think it’s important to acknowledge and warn individuals that there are racists parts of the book. I personally don’t think that those parts are enough to negate the rest of the book, but I completely understand if you don’t want to read the book because of this.

Summary (from Goodreads):

We follow Esther Greenwood’s personal life from her summer job in New York with Ladies’ Day magazine, back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: “patched, retreaded, and approved for the road” … Esther Greenwood’s account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.

Links:


Final thoughts

I couldn’t help to think that so many of the books considered to be “feminist texts” are just a genuine portray of women’s experiences.

Most of them are just women written as fully developed characters dealing with normal life experiences. Or, if they were considered controversial at the time, it might just be women going through experiences that society didn’t want to know about (like mental health and unfulfilling marriages).

I know that older male authors are not known for writing strong or well-rounded women characters, but I didn’t realize that the bar was so low.

I recently read Kafka’s novel The Trial and I was astounded at how terrible the women characters were. Now, I understand that his stories were groundbreaking and powerful commentaries on society, but the one-dimensional female characters were such a turn off, and made it extremely difficult to finish the book.

All that to say, I think we need to understand what it means to be considered a feminist text within the literary context of that era. It’s unlikely for it to match with what we consider feminism to be today.

Five classics: Nonfiction feminist texts written before the 1980’s

As April is Women’s History Month, I’ll be sharing book lists with a focus on books considered classic feminist texts and other books by women authors.


Are you interested in learning more about the history of women’s movements and gaining tools to think critically about how society is shaped by the patriarchy?

Here are five older nonfiction books considered classic feminist texts from a range of eras, from as early as 1792 up until the 1970’s. They each had a considerable impact on women and society.

However, as these are older, they may lack the depth of insight provided by intersectionality (considering more than just gender to affect one’s experience). I’ve listed them in order of when they were published.

It’s important to note that these books are primarily focused on the women’s movements in the Western societies (including North America and the UK). They are also all written by white women, who tend to have a limited understanding of gender.

If you have suggestions for books that focus on women’s movements from elsewhere around the world, especially from early in the 20th or 19th century, please let me know in a comment below!

Photo by Sharon Pittaway on Unsplash

Five books from White Women Feminists

Here’s a list of five classic feminist books with white women authors.

  1. A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
  2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf (1929)
  3. The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir (1949)
  4. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan (1963)
  5. The Female Eunuch by Germaine Greer(1970)

Keep reading to find out more about each one.

1. A Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792)

by Mary Wollstonecraft

  • Year Published: 1792
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, classics, feminism, philosophy, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    One of the earliest feminist philosophy works

Mary Wollstonecraft argues in this work that women should have access to education and that we are depriving society of their contributions. It’s considered on the of the earliest feminist philosophical works.

The book was generally well received when it was first published in 1792.

Wollstonecraft’s work ended up having significant impacts on the women’s rights movements, especially those in the 19th century. The influence of her work can be seen during the suffragette movement in the US, particularly at the 1848 Seneca Falls Convention.

Summary (from Goodreads):

In the present state of society, it appears necessary to go back to first principles in search of the most simple truths, and to dispute with some prevailing prejudice every inch of ground. To clear my way, I must be allowed to ask some plain questions, and the answers will probably appear as unequivocal as the axioms on which reasoning is built; though, when entangled with various motives of action, they are formally contradicted, either by the words or conduct of men.In what does man’s pre-eminence over the brute creation consist?The answer is as clear as that a half is less than the whole; inReason.

Links:

2. A Room of One’s Own (1929)

by Virginia Woolf

  • Year Published: 1929
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, classics, essays, feminism, informative, inspiring, reflective, medium-paced
  • Importance:
    Highlights the importance of space for women

This book is actually a collection of lectures she delivered to two women’s colleges in October 1928, which is important to note to better understand the audience and context of the work. She was addressing women enrolled in higher education, which would be quite privileged women of that era.

This quote sums up her key message:

“A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.”

Virginia Woolf
Source: A Room of One’s Own

The book highlights the need for women to have space to create, both a physical space (a room) with sufficient needs ($) to alleviate stress from daily tasks, along with a metaphorical space to be accepted in the literary world.

The book also highlights the lived experiences of different women authors in fiction, along with theorizing what would happen if Shakespeare had an equally talented sister.

I found this book quite enlightening and interesting. However, it does come with limitations. The book is primarily focused on a certain demographic (white, privileged and educated women), limiting her analysis.

Summary (from Goodreads):

A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on the 24th of October, 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled Women and Fiction, and hence the essay, are considered nonfiction. The essay is seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.

Links:

3. The Second Sex (1949)

by Simone de Beauvoir

Translated by: Sheila Malovany-Chevallier & Constance Borde

  • Year Published: 1949
  • Storygraph Categories: nonfiction, classics, feminism, philosophy, challenging, informative, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Groundbreaking work of feminist philosophy

Simone de Beauvoir is a famous philosopher who was part of the existentialist movement in France.

The Second Sex is a feminist philosophical work that discusses the treatment of women both now and throughout history. The book had a huge impact on the second wave of feminism and inspired The Feminine Mystique among other feminist texts.

Simone de Beauvoir was one of the first to identify the sex-gender divide, meaning the difference between biological sex and the societal/social construct of gender.

Simone de Beauvoir was bisexual and had an open relationship with fellow philosopher Jean Paul Sartre. She had many lovers throughout her life. However, her relationships with young women, many of whom were her students, are questionable, with some sexual abuse allegations.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Newly translated and unabridged in English for the first time, Simone de Beauvoir’s masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a groundbreaking exploration of inequality and otherness. This long-awaited new edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as it was back then, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.

Links:

4. The Feminine Mystique (1963)

by Betty Friedan

  • Year Published: 1963
  • Storygraph Categories: nonfiction, feminism, challenging, informative, slow-paced
  • Importance: Credited with sparking second-wave feminism in the USA

The Feminine Mystique is considered to be one of the most influential nonfiction books of the 20th century. It is also commonly associated with sparking the second wave of feminism in the US.

Betty Friedan was asked to conduct a survey of her former classmates only to find that many were unhappy with their lives as housewives. This inspired her to began researching what would ultimately become this book.

In this book, Friedan challenges the concept that women could only be fulfilled as a “housewife-mother.” Rather she showed that many felt unfulfilled in this role.

The book was a best seller, and sold over a million copies. It drew many women to the feminist cause, specifically white, middle class women.

Despite its huge influence and significance, the message is clearly aimed at a specific demographic: the white suburban housewife. I think it’s important to both acknowledge its influence and its limitations.

Summary (from Goodreads):

Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire. This 50th–anniversary edition features an afterword by best-selling author Anna Quindlen as well as a new introduction by Gail Collins.

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5. The Female Eunuch (1970)

by Germaine Greer

  • Year Published: 1970
  • Storygraph Categories:
    nonfiction, feminism, gender, philosophy, adventurous, reflective, slow-paced
  • Importance:
    Made shockwaves within the feminist movement

The Female Eunuch made shockwaves within the feminist movement in 1970 as it focused on how women are taught to repress their sexuality.

Greer’s focus of the book is to show that a “traditional” (read as white), suburban nuclear family sexually represses women, which also devitalizes them and turns them into eunuchs.

I am looking forward to reading this book, as I think it will have interesting points to make. However, I also expect this to have limited applicability because women who aren’t white tend to either be overly sexualized or exoticized, which are just different ways to control women’s sexuality.

Summary (from Goodreads):

The clarion call to change that galvanized a generation.

When Germaine Greer’s “The Female Eunuch” was first published it created a shock wave of recognition in women, one that could be felt around the world. It went on to become an international bestseller, translated into more than twelve languages, and a landmark in the history of the women’s movement. Positing that sexual liberation is the key to women’s liberation, Greer looks at the inherent and unalterable biological differences between men and women as well as at the profound psychological differences that result from social conditioning. Drawing on history, literature, biology, and popular culture, Greer’s searing examination of women’s oppression is a vital, passionately argued social commentary that is both an important historical record of where we’ve been and a shockingly relevant treatise on what still remains to be achieved.

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Final thoughts

I know these books are all by white women authors and their limitations may make them less appealing. However, I do know these books were still hugely influential and affected the course of history.

Personally, I think it’s worthwhile to read these landmark books to understand how they affected society and see how things have changed over the years. I know it can be frustrating to read some of these books from a 21st century perspective as the intersectionality gaps seem huge.

Nevertheless, there is still useful information and arguments in these books that can help us understand the evolution of women’s movements and where we need to go in the future.

History can be a great teacher, as we can learn from our past mistakes and move towards a better future. Looking back, it’s not surprising to see how limited the audiences were for some of these books, but we can also make sure we don’t regress back to that state.