Today is International Women’s Day.
We are celebrating Womankind with these beautiful watercolour literary heroines, all of them written by our literary heroines, from Samantha Hahn’s Well-Read Women.
Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Wuthering Heights is Emily Brontë’s only novel it was published in 1847 under the pseudonym Ellis Bell; Brontë died the following year, aged 30.
Although Wuthering Heights is now widely regarded as a classic of English literature, contemporary reviews for the novel were deeply polarised; it was considered controversial because its depiction of mental and physical cruelty and it challenged strict Victorian ideals, including religious hypocrisy, morality, social classes and gender inequality.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“Sometimes just being a woman is an act of courage.”
The Bell Jar is the only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath. Originally published under the pseudonym Victoria Lucas in 1963, the novel is semi-autobiographical, the protagonist’s descent into mental illness parallels Plath’s own experiences with what may have been clinical depression. Plath committed suicide a month after its first UK publication. The novel was published under Plath’s name for the first time in 1967 and was not published in the United States until 1971, pursuant to the wishes of Plath’s mother and her husband Ted Hughes.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women was originally published in two volumes in 1868 and 1869. The novel follows the lives of four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy March—detailing their passage from childhood to womanhood, and is loosely based on the Alcott and her three sisters.
In the pages of Little Women, you read the normalisation of ambitious women. This provided an alternative to perceived gender roles. Little Women repeatedly reinforces the importance of individuality and female independence.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin
The Awakening, originally titled A Solitary Soul, was first published in 1899.
Set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century American South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women’s issues without condescension. It is also widely seen as a landmark work of early feminism, generating mixed reaction from contemporary readers and criticism.