Bookends to treasure: Ten Women’s Day classics that you ought to read today
This Women’s Day, Indulge picks ten novels by ten women writers, who made a difference to the world through the might of their pen. By sharing their own stories or that of the others, they brought the world close together and created awareness about all things public and private that needed attention or care.
Pride and Prejudice
Austen popularized the drawing room fiction among the succeeding generations through her most famous fiction, Pride and Prejudice. Austen depicts the plight of women in Victorian society, where women are supposed to follow a social construct, in order to win over a suitor. But she also introduces characters that go against the grain, to flout those laws and provide for her family. Through the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy, Austen puts forth with irony, wit and humour, the prevalent societal norms about the companionship between a man and woman, which is very born, not out of affection but the economic transactions between the families.
The novel is usually considered a gothic fiction, besides the story of two lovers, Catherine and Heathcliff, who are torn apart by fate. The novel contains vivid descriptions of nature and Emily’s accurate character sketches, which are very different from other characters portrayed during that era. While Catherine and Heathcliff both love each other, it is their estrangement that becomes the crux of the novel, propelling the narrative in devious ways which eventually ends on an unhappy note.
Charlotte used her experiences as a governess to tell the story of Jane Eyre, a ‘new woman’ character who flouts social codes and conventions to make her own choices- which includes falling in love with a married man. While the text has been criticised for the ‘the madwoman in the attic’ stereotype in the form of Bertha, the first wife of Rochester; many scholars have interpreted her as a former self of Jane, before her emancipation. Through the contrasting characters, Bronte wanted to convey the divide between the older moral codes and conventions of the society, with a new one.
Harry Potter and the Philospher’s Stone
J K Rowling, who gave the world the biggest fandom ever, in the form of the Harry Potter series, is a story of inspiration herself. The Harry Potter series was born when she was on a four-hour train journey from Manchester to London. The story revolves around a 11-year old orphan who is destined to be a wizard, like his parents and the first book introduces the readers to the fantasy world of Hogwarts and all its charms. Hermione, who continues to be everybody’s favourite, after all these years was loosely based on Rowling’s childhood self.
The novel Rebecca has been eternalised in our memory as the depiction of two different stereotypes of women, the conniving and manipulative Rebecca de Winter and the timid and self-reflective narrator/ second Mrs M de Winter. Daphne du Maurer introduced the absurdity and evils of the world in a diluted form through her novels, all of which had strong woman characters are observant and thought provoking, unlike the other female characters in fiction of that era.
The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side
Miss Marple is one of the most famous detective characters created by Agatha Christie. Miss Marple was inspired from her step grandmother’s friends, whose observations about people and situations never faltered. The Mirror Cracked from Side to Side is one of the most famous novel featuring Miss Marple, a spinster detective who solves the mystery of death by probing the clues and bringing together the different versions by each of the witnesses.
The Bell Jar
Sylvia Plath gave to the world a small glimpse of her deep emotional turmoils and steadily declining mental health, through the journey of a fictitious character, Esther Greenwood in The Bell Jar. The novel is about Esther Greenwood’s search for her own identity, amidst the oppressive patriarchal society of mid-20th century America. Unlike Plath’s own life, the story ends on a positive note with Esther finding a different approach to deal with life, after being inspired by many others who are struggling with the societal roles imposed upon them.
Known primarily for her poems, Aurora Leigh can be called the most remarkable work by Browning. Written in blank verse, Aurora Leigh is the coming-of-age story of a woman artist’s journey. It starts from her childhood in Florence, and traverses Malvern, London and Paris- till all Aurora’s dream come to fruition. The narrative throws open all the difficult choices a woman must make, in order to be socially acceptable and happy.
Mrs Dalloway brought notice back to the workings of the female mind by depicting how different a woman’s point of view of a situation might be. The novel has takes place in the post-World War I era, and uses stream of consciousness to provide the interior monologues of each of the characters. The story is a day in the life of Mrs Dalloway, but captures to perfection, the haunting images which World War had cast over the mind and heart of people in London. Woolf’s fiction turned the gaze of the reader to their inner most feelings, as they learnt to acknowledge the differences between the interior and exterior world around them.
Persepolis I and II
Persepolis is another coming-of-age story etched in our memory through the black and white comic panels, which Satrapi uses to tell her story. There are two books- while the first one deals with the 10-year-old Marji experiencing the social political upheaval of Iran under Ayatollah Khomeini, who has imposed strict laws and social codes for men and women; the second part deals with the subtle complexities of a teenager growing up in an alien land and desperately trying to fit in. Persepolis traces the trajectory of girl into womanhood, who learns to choose happiness, but without emotional dependence on others.