Thursday, 15 October 2015

The Women's Classic Literature Event

After I saw Mallory @ The Local Muse talking about this event, I knew I had to join in - thanks for bringing it to my attention, Mallory!

Basically, The Classics Club are hosting an event that's going to run through to the 31st December 2016 where readers everywhere are being invited and encouraged to read classics written by women. You can check out the announcement here!

I love classics, and I especially love classics written by women, so this is right up my street!

Introduce yourself. Tell us what you're most looking forward to in this event.

I'm Jess, and I'm a writer and English graduate from the UK. This past year I've been working at an independent publishing house in south Wales, but I'm currently working at moving back to the city where I went to university so I can be closer to friends. One day I'd love to return to university and pursue a PhD.

I think I'm most looking forward to discovering some writers I've never heard of before, and I'm looking forward to reading alongside other people who are really enthusiastic about classics that have been written by women.

Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not?

I've read quite a few, but there are always going to be women writers who've been forgotten, and there are some staples of classic literature written by women that I still haven't read; I still haven't read any Sylvia Plath or any Ann Radcliffe. Because I did English at university I encountered a lot of women writers, especially as I primarily focused on 19th century literature, so I'm looking forward to reading more.

Pick a classic female writer you can't wait to read for the event, and list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works.

Aphra Behn was born in Canterbury on the 10th July 1640. She was a prolific writer of poetry, prose and plays in a time when it was not at all usual for women to write; she's particularly remembered as a playwright, and even dedicated one of her plays to her close friend Nell Gwynn, the famous 17th century actress and mistress of Charles II. She was also employed by Charles II as a spy in Antwerp, just in case she couldn't get any cooler. She's probably most famous for Oroonoko.

Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her.

I've always thought Shakespeare wrote women pretty well for the time he was living in. I'm not a huge lover of Romeo and Juliet - mainly because I had to study it so much in school - but while Romeo is a bit of a limp noodle, Juliet has these amazing, violent monologues that are so much fun to read or see performed. 

Tell me not, friar, that thou hear'st of this,
Unless thou tell me how I may prevent it:
If, in thy wisdom, thou canst give no help,
Do thou but call my resolution wise,
And with this knife I'll help it presently.
God join'd my heart and Romeo's, thou our hands;
And ere this hand, by thee to Romeo seal'd,
Shall be the label to another deed,
Or my true heart with treacherous revolt
Turn to another, this shall slay them both: 
Therefore, out of thy long-experienced time,
Give me some present counsel, or, behold,
'Twixt my extremes and me this bloody knife
Shall play the umpire, arbitrating that
Which the commission of thy years and art
Could to no issue of true honour bring.
Be not so long to speak; I long to die,
If what thou speak'st speak not of remedy.

Then there are women like Lady Macbeth and Viola who are also very vibrant characters, and are probably the most memorable characters from their respective plays.

Favourite classic heroine?

Oh no, that's such a hard question! I'm sure this is a completely unoriginal answer, but I really love Jane Eyre. She's intelligent and strong-willed and sensible. Maybe I'm boring, but I love sensible classic heroines; the ones who are written like actual women, and not written as swooning male fantasies. I love Mary Lennox, too. I've always had a soft spot for Mary Lennox.

We'd love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list?

Like Mallory said, Persephone Books are a great publisher to take a look at, as are Virago. There's also the very underrepresented Honno Press, who are a small independent publishing house in Wales who specialise in publishing work by Welsh women which includes a bunch of Welsh classics written by women.

I also recommend checking out booktubers like Ron Lit, WordsofaReader and Beyond the Pages, all of whom frequently read classics. Ron Lit in particular is a fabulous resource, as she's a PhD student who specialises in 18th century classics written by women.

Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event.

Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë, Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier and We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson.

Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts?

Well I've already read nine classics this year, and seven of them were written by women, so I'm going to jump straight on board!

Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make a preset list?

Like Mallory, I'll be doing a bit of both. I'd like to make a list just so I can keep an eye on how many classics by women I own, or would like to own, that I still haven't read, but I'm not going to force myself to read any - classics are never fun if they're forced.

Are you pulling to any particular genres?

I'm much more likely to read novels than anything else.

Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women?

No, not really. My first love will always be 19th century literature, but I'd like to read some 18th century work and 17th century work, and I want to read some more 20th century literature, too!

Do you hope to host an event or read-a-long for the group?

Considering I only just discovered this event, I have no idea yet!

Is there an author or title you'd love to read with a group or a buddy for this event?

Maybe The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë? That could be a good buddy read book.

Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, and then answer it.

Which books would you like to read for this event?
Will you be taking part?


  1. Yay! I'm so glad to see you are joining in Jess! I really hope you pick up some Plath because she is one of my all-time favorites. Juliet is a great pick for the female character written by a male, as Juliet is so much more mature than Romeo and so well spoken, way beyond her years for sure. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall is on my TBR list too, maybe we can pick it up together? Good luck with the event!

    1. Thanks, Mallory! ^_^ I definitely plan on picking up The Bell Jar soon (and The Handmaid's Tale, you'll be glad to know!) and I have a collection of Plath's poetry, too - I need to be in the right mood to read poetry, though, so I'm more likely to read The Bell Jar first. A Tenant of Wildfell Hall buddy read sounds like a great idea! :)

  2. Gosh, I love your discussion of Shakespeare. When I first started reading the classics, I didn't even think about how women were depicted. I agree that his females are interesting. I'm thinking of Rosalind in As You Like It, alongside Lady Macbeth and Viola. Also Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew (I don't think her speech at the end is sincere. I think she's playing Petruchio, so I LIKE her.) Certainly not one-dimensional ladies!

    Your "I want to read" list is so much like my own!! You've never read Anne of Green Gables? Oh, my. You'll have to get to that one. It's a charmer. I like Mary Lennox too. If you like a feisty heroine, you might like Gone with the Wind (if you haven't read it yet.) She's about the feistiest character in literature I think.

    Anyway, welcome! I've joined too. Here's my opening entry (which I only share because it's fun to read one another's.) :-)

    1. Thank you! Yes, I like Rosalind (I also have something of a soft spot for Phebe) and I like Katherina, too. I find it hard to believe that her final speech is sincere, and I think the best thing about The Taming of the Shrew is that every director can adapt it into an entirely different play depending on how they read Katherina. :) Perhaps that was Shakespeare's intention all along. ;) And without The Taming of the Shrew we wouldn't have 10 Things I Hate About You, which is just unthinkable.

      I know, I never have! I'm afraid it just never interested me when I was little, but I have the lovely Puffin in Bloom edition so I would like to read it soon. I've also never read Gone with the Wind, mainly because it's a chunker that really intimidates me! One of these days I'd like to conquer it, though.

      Thanks for stopping by!