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
Gaspara Stampa was born in 1523 to a bourgeois family. Her parents were known for hosting cultural salons, and they ensured that Gaspara and her siblings were educated in Latin, literature, and music.
She became an excellent lute-player and singer, as well as an exceptional lyric poet. When she began to host her own cultural salons, she often performed her own work. Modern Western poetry was born from the Medieval culture of performance; poets would sing their own compositions, since most people were illiterate. However, in the later middle ages, there was a shift towards writing and reading rather than singing and listening. Gaspara was one of the last poets who was equally skilled at writing and performing, and she quickly became a much-admired figure in the cultural circles of her native Venice. Continue reading Gaspara Stampa
Lillie Devereux Blake, a 19th century American writer and women’s rights reformer, played an important, though often overlooked, presence in social movements in the United States.
In 1833, Elizabeth Johnson Devereux was born in Raleigh, North Carolina to southerner George Pollock Devereux and northerner Sarah Elizabeth Johnson. Following her father’s death in 1837, her mother moved her two daughters back to her home in New Haven, Connecticut, where the young Lillie attended the Apthorp School for Young Ladies. Continue reading Lillie Devereux Blake
They say not to judge a book by its cover, however in this case I’d disagree. I really love the cover of Wilde’s Women by Eleanor Fitzsimons, a gorgeous rendereing of Oscar Wilde, his mother Jane, wife Constance & friend Lille Langtry in purple & green hues reminiscent of the Suffragettes. I think it’s brilliant, and as it turns out, so too is the content that lies within.
This is a book about Oscar Wilde, it is also not a book about Oscar Wilde. Wilde’s Women follows the story of Oscar’s life, giving many wondeful details along the way, brilliantly interwoven with the lives of a multitude of fascinating women who influenced him. It is every bit as much about them as it is about him. Continue reading Wilde’s Women – by Eleanor Fitzsimons