Monday, November 12, 2012

Bookish: Michael5000's Provisional Top Ten Classic Novels by Woman Writers

...a list I had cause to drum up last night.  "Classic" defined herein as "more than 50 years old."

1. Charlotte Bronte, Villette -- Extremely well-written, and marvelous for its (shall we say) interrogation of Victorian high culture through the eyes of a practical, intelligent observer who hasn't been taught the rules of the game. A good woman's-eye view of Victorian romance, education, and career.

2. Murial Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie -- Late for this list (1961) but just too damn good.

3. Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm -- A spoof of the romantic rural novel in specific and high-concept melodrama in particular, and a book that makes me chortle a lot.

4. E.M. Delafield, Consequences -- A hard-to-find gem. A friend describes it as the "world's worst romantic comedy," because it continually messes with your genre expectations. Unusually, a non-comic novel with a very human but genuinely stupid heroine.

5. George Elliott, Middlemarch -- Casaubon is one of the greatest unlikeable characters in all of literature.

6, 7. Jane Austen, Emma or Pride and Prejudice -- Because the settings are removed in time and place, people sometimes read Austen without understanding that it is supposed to be funny... and is. Emma and Elizabeth are lovable  but they are also incredibly narrow in their thinking, and Austen makes fun of them in almost every sentence. The first time I read Pride and Prejudice, I had the impression it was set someplace on the northern rural fringes of England. In fact it is set a modest day's walk from the heart of London; the life in Austen is only provincial because those living it make it so.

8. Virginia Woolf, To the Lighthouse -- Not an easy read, but a remarkable and rewarding one.

9. Anne Bronte, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall -- In 1848, a woman takes the persona of men writing about a woman whose circumstances lend few palatable options.

10. Mary Roberts Rineheart, The Amazing Interlude -- Another hard-to-find gem, and a rare beast: war and combat from a woman's point of view. Interesting insights into the default cultural assumptions of the 1910s as well.

* Leaving out Dorothy Sayers and Agatha Christie in the crime genre serial department, because we try to maintain certain standards around here.

** And yeah, yeah, Jane Eyre would be 11th or so.

Thoughts?  Alternative lists?  Impassioned advocacy?


PB said...

I must admit, I couldn't stand To the Lighthouse; one of my least favorite reading experiences. Of course, that was back in 11th grade, and I might appreciate it more now, but I still doubt I'd actually enjoy it, so I don't think it will get a second chance.

Two missing from here that would definitely make my list: To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (just squeaks by, published in 1960)
The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy - because it's just so fun.

Eavan Moore said...

I had no idea that The Scarlet Pimpernel had been written by a woman.

To Kill A Mockingbird is certainly a curriculum classic, if not a Bronte-style classic. Great book.

Michael5000 said...

To Kill a Mockingbird belongs on that other list, "Books Everyone Has Read That I Have Never Read." I confess that I have been hesitant to approach "The Scarlet Pimpernel" due to some cognitive dissonance involving my dislike of heavy rye breads.

Morgan said...

I'm so glad that I didn't have to read To Kill a Mockingbird for class, because I think I enjoyed it a lot more as a recreational read. It's definitely one of my top five favorite books though.

mrs.5000 said...

To Kill a Mockingbird is a good one. Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein would both be on my list also. Jane Eyre would be in my top three, over Villette, but Wuthering Heights probably wouldn't make my cut. Others that come to mind, but I've read too long ago to champion: Willa Cather's My Antonia, Kate Chopin's The Awakening. I wonder enough about Little Women that I just reserved it from the library. And if you want a long, bleak trilogy set in the Middle Ages, Sigrid Undset's Kristin Lavransdatter is for you!

The Calico Cat said...

At first, just a hearty thanks for a good list...

But I have to second: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God

Jenners said...

How did you have cause to come up with such a list?

Michael5000 said...

Well, I have a friend who has a friend who likes "classic literature" and has noticed that much of such seems to be written by the menfolk, and had asked her if she could recommend some books by women. (I thought an amusing answer to this question would be "No, I really can't.") In the meantime, the question rattled around in my head, and before I knew it I had a list for my friend to forward on to her friend. And then I was like, OMG I can use this on the blog!

Michael5000 said...

Oh, incidentally the friend is Eavan Moore, commenter #2 up there. Hi Eavan Moore! And I was going to say something else too but I've forgotten what.

DrSchnell said...

To the Lighthouse = one of my all-time favorite books by anybody, estrogen or no!

And I'm also glad that somebody else admits to never having read "To Kill A Mockingbird" - and me with a literature degree and all.....