The portrayal of women in literature has evolved through ages. But, it wasn’t long ago, that most published writers were mostly men and role of women in books were without oblique prejudice. And who exactly is to be blamed when our history is vitiated with instances of limited or no literacy for women.
We’ve moved from an era which was hegemonised by writers who viewed women as innocent, weak and apt for household chores to the one with women in pursuit of consciousness and realization only limited to men (where they subsequently inebriated the womanhood in them). Then, came the modernist age where women in literature transfigured to independent, coming-of-age and skillful depictions. No longer they had remorse or guilt when they didn’t conform to moral restraints.
Contemporary women writers showcase the post-modern women in their books where they speak of changes in the society and equality but have their own agony and discomfort. Over the past few decades, more female voices have arisen from various walks of life to share their memoirs, thoughts, and unique stories.
Such works have empowered women [readers] over generations to develop their own perceptions of self, reinforcing through fantasy and imagination, tales of identity and power struggle. All these books have a strong female lead with a strong agenda who have questions and concerns with womanhood that take the center stage. Thus, driving the story forward.
This list of books will open your mind to the debate of sexes and bring an intimacy to your relationship with the trailblazers of women writings. What makes these texts great is the right values associated with them. But it also needs sufficient sense, foresight, enthusiasm and sensitivity to bring change beyond its time, perhaps beyond the fascination of its creator. Our list is not exhaustive but an essential read which will make you restive for a change in the society and a change within.
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Every male character who confronts the Jane, the protagonist of Charlotte Brontë’s novel tries to subjugate her but she never completely falls to them. In a move unheard of in her era, she continued to work after getting married, becoming financially independent from her husband Rochester.
A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf
In the opening to her the 1929 novel, Virginia Woolf unravels that Shakespeare possibly had an equally talented sister, but that we never got to know of her talents because she was never afforded the same education and acknowledgment Shakespeare, as a man, was. The entire book elucidates the need for a gender discourse in literature.
The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing
Doris Lessing’s 1962 novel raised the consciousness in women and deals with women’s sexuality and questions assumptions about their relationships with men. Lessing wishes for it to be a humanist, rather than a feminist text, and was surprised that, for years women had been saying what she said, but had never written it down.
The Bell Jar
Poet Sylvia Plath’s only book, released under a pseudonym of Victoria Lucas in 1963, is a story of female rites of passage. It also broke stereotypes of female mental instability, simply in that this was one of the first novels written about female depression written by a woman.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Maya Angelou’s autobiography mainly deals with how knowledge and strength of character can help one overcome racism and abuse. However, the 1969 novel also shows a woman overcoming much adversity to become self-possessed and dignified.
The Handmaid’s Tale
Written in 1985, in the midst of Reagan’s presidency, Margaret Atwood’s Booker Prize shortlisted book is a warning against the anti-feminist extremism that was seeping through from the Right following the second wave of feminism.
The Color Purple
Alice Walker’s genre-defining novel about Southern women of color in the 1930s is both brutal and beautiful. The story of Celie, her abusive husband, and his gentler (though insecure) son and the powerful women that move throughout their lives is a slice of Southern life and also a testament to the power of strong women.
Sense & Sensibility
Navigating Jane Austen with a feminist lens can be tricky because of the social mores of the time, but in the end, you always come out with a strong sense of the depth, nuance, and texture offered by a women-led cast of characters. Sense & Sensibility is a story that ends in love and marriage with a male partner — but it’s also a testament to the ways different types of women dream about and define love, to the importance of female friendship and the strength of women even in a time when their gender was marginalized and trivialized.