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This International Women’s Day, we celebrated the female authors that pioneered the literary world, sharing this year's important message: Choose to Challenge. Literature has been a tool for women throughout history to both anonymously and publicly express their voice with the rest of society. As more and more women entered the literary sphere, the boundaries of femininity and gender norms are continuously challenged. In light of this years theme, here are just a few of our favourite pioneering female authors that make a great addition to any bookshelf:
The Brontë sisters entered the literary scene under male aliases. Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë (otherwise known as Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell) came from a 19th century background, where society placed women in the private sphere, and men in the public.
The sisters challenged the view on gender and finance in Victorian society as the earnings they received from their novels placed them as the family breadwinners. Today, their novels use the women’s real names but remain just as successful. Their stories favourited autonomous heroines, used as escapism for the girls - a hopeful vision of the future.
The Brontë sisters offer a modest introduction into the world of women’s literature. We recommend starting with Charlotte’s classics and reading further literature from Anne, whose novels are perhaps lesser known, but just as influential.
Woolf was arguably more obvious and direct with her challenge towards the preconceived idea of a woman’s role in society. As a huge feminist icon in the 20th century, Woolf wrote books and literary criticism on gender and politics that debunked the concept of gender norms and is still discussed in literature today. The author made a name for herself as one of the first female writers to use a stream of consciousness as a narrative style. This ultimately gave her writing personality; a singular voice that was unusual for female authors, rather than another book that followed canonical styles.
Beatrix Potter can be found on most childhood bookshelves. Her books have found a place not just in the family home, but have also been adapted into films, showcasing the scale of her success. As the case for most of our writing women however, the literary sphere was not easy for Potter to navigate.
Having lived in a society where women were ostracised for working, she pitched her books to many publishing firms and received multiple rejections. Potter then earned the title of a pioneering woman on the literary scene by refusing to shrink to the size society expected. Instead, she challenged the male dominated literary world and self published her own work. Her courage and determination resulted in her huge success, as well as demonstrating to women across the nation the strength and opportunities that independence can give them.
Like Potter, Du Maurier’s more classic literary work has been made into a film adaptation and many of her narratives are successful plays. Whilst Du Maurier was fortunate enough to be born into a theatrical setting, the content of her writing was particularly challenging to its time.
Although speculated, the author’s sexuality and gender is often disputed. There are many readings into the sexual tones of Du Maurier’s narratives, but whether true or not, we admire the ambiguity of Du Maurier’s novels and its ability to strike imperative discussions. By delving into her novels, you will explore unique forms of passion, relationships in turmoil and a challenge to gender norms that was ahead of its time.
Through prose and poetry, women have used literature as an instrument to challenge gender inequality. Their novels provide a needed means to express themselves and are important to read as they mark significant milestones in history, shaping new novels that are published today.
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