Top 10 Female English Writers That Made History by Breaking Stereotypes

Tags: #HarperLee ,   #AgathaChristie ,   #VirginiaWoolf ,   #BronteSisters

Scarlett Goldstein

Scarlett Goldstein

Last updated:  2020-11-16 10:32:27

Being a woman and a writer used to be much harder than today. Women had to hide behind pseudonyms that sounded more like male names, and many of them didn't have support from people around them. Without anyone having your back and telling you that you can succeed, it's hard to go on. Still, some women were brave, ready to break the stereotypes and live their dreams. All of them on our list made history, and their contribution to the world of literature is highly appreciated in today's culture.

10. George Eliot

Learn more about Eliot’s life on Podcasts for Curious Minds

No, George Eliot isn't a man, though it sounds so. Behind this name is Mary Ann Evans, who used it as a pseudonym. Many female artists had to do this to avoid gender prejudices and disguise their social positions. Her gender was an obstacle, but the problem was also her complicated relationship with a married man. She was, at that moment, one of the most influential writers of the Victorian era.

Virginia Woolf named Eliot's novel "Middlemarch" "one of the few English novels written for grownup people." "The Mill on the Floss" and, for example, "Daniel Deronda" are only a few of her essential novels, and she wrote poetry, too.

Must-read: "The Mill on the Floss"

9. Mary Shelley

BBC on how Shelley created “Frankenstein” in her head

When you think of Gothic stories, filled with suspicious and gloomy moments that make you shiver, the first writer that comes to your mind is Edgar Allan Poe. But a few years before him, one woman was born in London. One afternoon she came up with the idea of a scholar who is obsessed with the desire to find the "principle of life." That's the day he turned into a monster himself. 

Shelley created this character in her dreams. Playing with the Doppelgänger effect in her capital work "Frankenstein," Mary Shelley established one of the Gothic novel's most influential features. Although Lord Byron said "Frankenstein" is a "wonderful work for a girl of nineteen," it's now much more than that. It's one of the essential British classics. It's also considered the first true science fiction story, which was quite ahead of her time. Now it's one of the most beloved genres.

Must-read: "Valperga" or "The Life and Adventures of Castruccio, Prince of Lucca" and "Frankenstein," obviously.

8. Ann Radcliffe

LigeiaResurrected shared her thoughts on Ann Radcliffe’s famous novel

Her name might not ring the bell, but this author from the 18th century is one of the most famous English literature writers, especially in her genre. She is often called "The mighty enchantress and the Shakespeare of romance-writers" while considered the most popular female Gothic literature author.

Influential names from Europe like Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Honoré de Balzac, and Victor Hugo admitted that Radcliffe's novels influenced their work as well. While Dostoyevsky was still a child, his parents used to read aloud Ann's stories to him. Ann also created her female characters as brave women who don't differ from men in any way. Her women were dominant, far from the "weaker sex," and able to be heroines. That wasn't the situation in previous novels of her time.

Must-read: "The Mysteries of the Udolpho"

7. Emily Brontë

“Emily Brontë: A Day In The Life” shows the way Emily used to spend her days at home

This list wouldn't be complete without the beloved Brontë sisters. We're kicking off with Emily, the sister that wrote the high-acclaimed novel "Wuthering Heights," one of the most famous English classics. Little is known about Emily, but she started writing about her imaginary worlds with her sisters when she was still a child. She attended Héger Pensionnat, the girls' academy when she was 24, and her teacher was impressed by her intelligence and character.

Héger himself said that "Emily should've been a man" because of her brilliant mind and her own sense of right. However, Emily wrote a novel about love and madness, destructive behavior, and stubbornness, portraying life-like characters. "Wuthering Heights" didn't have to be written by a man; it's already perfect.

Must-read: This is her only novel, but it's worth reading. It's essential, actually.

6. Charlotte Brontë

Watch this funny animation that follows Charlotte’s life path

Let's move on to the older sister, Charlotte. Just like Emily used the pseudonym "Ellis Bell," Charlotte wrote under the name "Currer Bell." In this way, they tried to prevent prejudices concerning female authors. Her most crucial character, Jane Eyre (from the novel of the same title), is a revolutionary, young heroine ahead of her time. The themes revolving around her character's development are religion, class, feminism, and sexuality, which were problematic and somewhat taboo.

You might think that the older Brontë sister's major work, "Jane Eyre," isn't as famous as "Wuthering Heights" because Emily's legacy is more praised. Still, "Jane Eyre" is (along with Jane Austen's "Pride And Prejudice") the most popular romance novel of all time. Many critics say that Charlotte's style went even further than her sister's.

Must-read: "Villette", and "Jane Eyre", of course.

5. Anne Brontë

Have you read “Agnes Grey?” If not, maybe you should listen to the audio book!

Anne used to be rarely mentioned when critics discussed the Brontë sisters' legacy. Still, as time goes by, it seems that "the other sister" finally gets the recognition she deserves. Anne was the youngest among them, but she was a writer from a young age. She wrote a volume of poetry with Charlotte and Emily and issued her first novel, "Agnes Grey," simultaneously. Nonetheless, she received less recognition.

However, "Agnes Grey" asks important questions about feminism, living life the way you want, finding love, hurting people, and making your dreams come true. At the same time, her heroine stays relatively quiet and friendly. She's an overthinker, just like quite many people of our generation. Grey is much more relatable than Jane Eyre or Emily's Cathy.

Must-read: "Agnes Grey" and her second novel, "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall."

4. Jane Austen

A heartwarming documentary about Austen and places where she lived

She might not be everyone's cup of tea for her happy endings and delicate emotions. Still, her contribution to female psyche analysis and self-awareness in literature is evident. Love, romance, heartbreak, and other experiences are the main features of her female characters' life path, through which they experience life itself. Still, her characters are witty, sarcastic, and intelligent as well.

In "Pride and Prejudice," the young girls believe in marrying for love and don't want to put money or social status above their feelings. While this theme might seem strange in our century, remember that Austen portrayed 19th-century society, which revolved around social position, money, and prestige. Her novels also influenced many contemporary works of art, with many adaptations of Austen's books and many other stories inspired by her wit, irony, and realism above all.

Must-read: "Pride And Prejudice" and "Emma"

3. Harper Lee

Get to know and see Harper Lee promoting “Go Set a Watchman”

Lee's revolutionary novel, "To Kill a Mockingbird" won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize. Despite publishing only two books, her name remains one of the most influential in literature. Her other book, "Go Set a Watchman," actually was a first draft of "To Kill a Mockingbird." The themes that Lee covered in this single book of her career make it revolutionary. It teaches about the importance of education, morality, the existence of good and evil, seen through the eyes of young and innocent people still meeting the world. These are the first things a young person should learn.

One of Lee's most important ideas is that one topic separates the whole world – social inequality and racism, caused by our society's prejudices. One of the main goals should be breaking the prejudices and living free from them – if art can help, artists like this should do.

Must-read: "To Kill a Mockingbird" is a must, but "Go Set a Watchman" makes it complete, so why not both?

2. Agatha Christie

The intriguing story about Agatha’s mysterious end

If the stereotype that the crime genre is made for men ever existed, this woman made it look funny. Often called "The Queen of Crime," Christie actually held the title of "dame" and is the best-selling author of all time, excluding the Bible and Shakespeare. Having their own perfectly developed features, her two most popular characters, Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple, are as iconic as if they actually existed.

Her importance is shown by "best-selling," "the most translated writer of all time," and other labels. It all makes the adjective "female" in "one of the best female writers" unnecessary – she is one of the greatest, regardless of her gender, and that's how things should be.

Must-read: "Murder on the Orient Express"

1. Virginia Woolf

Iseult Gillespie on the importance of Woolf’s legacy

Virginia Woolf is obviously the one who made history. She is now considered one of the establishers of the now-popular stream of consciousness as a narrative method. This technique, established in the 20th century, helped Woolf's characters have their thoughts and memories highlighted and better explained. This made her protagonists sensitive and nostalgic, which makes the narrative flow anywhere the mind goes. 

Considering that she's the author of "A Room of One's Own," an extended essay of extreme importance, Woolf is one of the most vital females in literary history. That's not only for her extraordinary novels but also for her contribution to female rights and raising the awareness of the things women were (not) allowed to do. It was a way to go, and her contribution made it into the popular culture.

Must-read: "Mrs. Dalloway," or all of them.

Besides the heroines on this list, we should be thankful to every brave female that chose the road less traveled by and opt for writing as her primary occupation. Small steps of a single person became the giant steps for the whole womankind.

Which female writer that made history is your favorite? What's your most-beloved novel written by a woman?

Photo: Pixabay


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