England recently released a new ten-pound note, featuring beloved author Jane Austen. She will become the second woman only to the Queen to grace the front of an English bank note, which is clear evidence in her continuing fandom and the enduring interest in her work.
The author of the classics Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Northanger Abbey published her work anonymously and did not claim notoriety until her siblings took it upon themselves to publish two previously unprinted books following her death. It was, therefore, not until the mid-19th century that she gained widespread notability. Continue reading Jane Austen
Madeleine L’Engle, author of the groundbreaking children’s novel A Wrinkle in Time, was a clumsy girl, born to older parents who loved her and wanted her but weren’t sure quite what to do with her after twenty years of childless marriage. Her father, Charles Camp, was a journalist who had been exposed to mustard gas during WWI and caught pneumonia frequently. Her mother was often in frail health. When Madeleine was born in New York City in 1918, antibiotics hadn’t been discovered. Madeleine was over-protected and sent off to boarding school for most of her lonely childhood. Continue reading Madeleine L’Engle: A New Perspective on Science and Girls
A precocious red-headed orphan from Prince Edward Island captured the world’s heart in 1908. Anne Shirley, otherwise known as Anne of Green Gables, has withstood the test of time and to this day remains a beloved literary heroine. What about the woman who made her? In many ways, Lucy Maud Montgomery has been overshadowed by her popular creation. Little is known about the story behind the story- the orphan raised by strict grandparents in rural Cavendish, fighting loneliness with the world inside her head. Lucy Maud Montgomery most certainly qualifies as a shero in her own right. Continue reading Lucy Maud Montgomery
Eleanor Marx has been called the ‘mother of socialist feminism’. She was a political agitator, literary translator, actress and campaigner for workers’ rights – deserving of accolades in her own right as more than just the daughter of her more well known father. Continue reading Eleanor Marx: ‘Mother of socialist feminism’
Dame Freya Stark is legendary for her daring and unorthodox travel throughout the Middle East. She was an observant and prolific writer who became an accomplished cartographer mapping previously uncharted territory in the deserts of Southern Arabia in the 1930’s. Continue reading Freya Stark: a life of daring travel
Christine de Pizan has a strong claim to being the first professional author of any gender. Born in 1364, she was the daughter of an astrologer at the court of Charles V of France. She grew up in a highly cultural and intellectual society, and could have made use of the royal library. She married a court secretary and had two children by him, but was widowed at just 25. It was at this point that her writing career began, with ballads dedicated to her husband’s memory. These drew the attention and patronage of the French aristocracy. For the rest of her life she would be obliged to continue writing in order to support herself and her family. Continue reading Christine de Pizan
Julian of Norwich (approx. 1342-1416) is thought to have been the first woman to write a book in the English language.
Very little is known about her, not even her real name. She was an anchoress (a kind of religious hermit, someone who retires from the world for spiritual reasons) and got her name from living in a cell at the Church of St Julian in Norwich. Some believe that she may have come from a rich family in the area and that she might have lost her family during a plague epidemic, but almost no definite information about her personal life still exists. Continue reading Julian of Norwich
Sappho was the original female singer-songwriter, an Ancient Greek Carol King or Joni Mitchell, whose songs were so memorable that people were still writing about them and passing them on centuries later.
Today her name is synonymous with lesbianism – indeed the very word ‘Lesbian’ comes from the name of the island where Sappho lived, Lesbos – due to the many lines of her poetry where she expresses strong, and sometimes sexual, feelings for other women. But there was more to Sappho than just her interest in women. Continue reading Sappho
“I am obnoxious to each carping tongue/ That says my hand a needle better fits.”
These are the word of Anne Bradstreet (1612-1672), from the Prologue to her first collection of poems, published in London in 1650. With its publication, Anne became the first published woman poet writing in the English language. Also, as she had emigrated to America with her family at the age of eighteen, she became America’s first published poet, of either gender. Anne correctly foresaw that many would argue that poetry was not a fit occupation for a woman, and had prepared herself in advance to stand up to the critics. Continue reading Anne Bradstreet – Poet and Feminist
South African writer Olive Schreiner was born in what is now Lesotho on 24 March 1855. The ninth of twelve children born to Rebecca Lyndall and her husband, Gottlob Schreiner (1814–1876), a German-born missionary, she and just six of her siblings survived childhood. In adulthood, she suffered debilitating ill-health, exacerbated for a time by grinding poverty.
For a time, Schreiner earned a living as a governess and teacher, but she devoted her free time to writing The Story of an African Farm, a radical feminist novel informed by her experience of growing up in Africa. As soon as she could afford to, she sailed for Britain where she hoped to train as a doctor. Unfortunately, although she attended lectures at the London School of Medicine for Women, established in 1874 by an association of pioneering women physicians, ill-health prevented her from completing her training. Continue reading Olive Schreiner