Historically men have dominated the canon of classic literature, and for centuries, the talent of women writers was not recognized or celebrated. But the truth is women have been writing great books for centuries, and you could probably spend a lifetime just reading great classics by women and never run out of reading material.
While this list is just a dent in classics by women authors, you’re bound to find something on this list to pique your interest.
RELATED CLASSIC BOOK LISTS:
A luminous and haunting novel about Janie Crawford, a Southern black woman in the 1930s whose journey from a free-spirited girl to a woman of independence and substance.
A classic work of short fiction, a story remarkable for its combination of subtle suspense and pitch-perfect descriptions of both the chilling and the mundane.
The visionary author’s masterpiece pulls us–along with her Black female hero–through time to face the horrors of slavery and explore the impacts of racism, sexism, and white supremacy then and now.
In this vivid portrait of a single day in a woman’s life, Mrs. Clarissa Dalloway is preoccupied with the last-minute details of preparation for a party while in her mind she is something much more than a perfect society hostess.
This Gothic-style romance is among the first of true science fiction novels, if not the first. A young scientist named Victor Frankenstein, after going through his own near-death experience, decides to play God and create life in the form of a grotesque creature, which turns into a nightmare.
Sethe, its protagonist, was born a slave and escaped to Ohio, but eighteen years later she is still not free. She has too many memories of Sweet Home, the beautiful farm where so many hideous things happened. And Sethe’s new home is haunted by the ghost of her baby, who died nameless and whose tombstone is engraved with a single word: Beloved.
In Margaret Atwood’s dystopian future, environmental disasters and declining birthrates have led to a Second American Civil War. The result is the rise of the Republic of Gilead, a totalitarian regime that enforces rigid social roles and enslaves the few remaining fertile women.
Edith Wharton’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Age of Innocence, is both a poignant story of frustrated love and an extraordinarily vivid, delightfully satirical record of a vanished world.
A powerful cultural touchstone of modern American literature, The Color Purple depicts the lives of African American women in early twentieth-century rural Georgia. Separated as girls, sisters Celie and Nettie sustain their loyalty to and hope in each other across time, distance and silence.
Last Night I Dreamt I went to Manderley Again…
With these words, the reader is ushered into an isolated gray stone mansion on the windswept Cornish coast, as the second Mrs. Maxim de Winter recalls the chilling events that transpired as she began her new life as the young bride of a husband she barely knew.
Just after midnight, the famous Orient Express is stopped in its tracks by a snowdrift. By morning, the millionaire Samuel Edward Ratchett lies dead in his compartment, stabbed a dozen times, his door locked from the inside. Without a shred of doubt, one of his fellow passengers is the murderer.
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings captures the longing of lonely children, the brute insult of bigotry, and the wonder of words that can make the world right. Maya Angelou’s debut memoir is a modern American classic beloved worldwide.
First published in 1959, Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House has been hailed as a perfect work of unnerving terror. It is the story of four seekers who arrive at a notoriously unfriendly pile called Hill House: Dr. Montague, an occult scholar looking for solid evidence of a haunting; Theodora, his lighthearted assistant; Eleanor, a friendless, fragile young woman well acquainted with poltergeists; and Luke, the future heir of Hill House.
Clare Kendry is living on the edge. Light-skinned, elegant, and ambitious, she is married to a racist white man unaware of her African American heritage, and has severed all ties to her past after deciding to pass as a white woman. Clare’s childhood friend, Irene Redfield, just as light-skinned, has chosen to remain within the African American community, and is simultaneously allured and repelled by Clare’s risky decision to engage in racial masquerade for personal and societal gain.
Only eleven of Emily Dickinson’s poems were published prior to her death in 1886; the startling originality of her work doomed it to obscurity in her lifetime. Not until the 1955 publication of The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, a three-volume critical edition was compiled. This book, a distillation of the three-volume Complete Poems, brings together the original texts of all 1,775 poems that Emily Dickinson wrote.
My Ántonia is considered one of the most significant American novels of the twentieth century. Set during the great migration west to settle the plains of the North American continent, the narrative follows Antonia Shimerda, a pioneer who comes to Nebraska as a child and grows with the country, inspiring a childhood friend, Jim Burden, to write her life story.
Wonderfully sardonic and slyly humorous, the writings of landmark American feminist and socialist thinker Charlotte Perkins Gilman were penned in response to her frustrations with the gender-based double standard that prevailed in America as the twentieth century began.
The classic Anne of Green Gables; where Anne, an eleven-year-old orphan, is sent by mistake to live with a lonely, middle-aged brother and sister on a Prince Edward Island farm and proceeds to make an indelible impression on everyone around her.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin was revolutionary in 1852 for its passionate indictment of slavery and for its presentation of Tom, a man of humanity, as the first black hero in American fiction. Labeled racist and condescending by some contemporary critics, it remains a shocking, controversial, and powerful work — exposing the attitudes of white nineteenth-century society toward the peculiar institution and documenting, in heartrending detail, the tragic breakup of black Kentucky families sold down the river.
As relevant now as when it was first published, Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South skilfully weaves a compelling love story into a clash between the pursuit of profit and humanitarian ideals.
In this charged collection of fifteen essays and speeches, Lorde takes on sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, and class, and propounds social difference as a vehicle for action and change. Her prose is incisive, unflinching, and lyrical, reflecting struggle but ultimately offering messages of hope.
Indeed Lorraine Hansberry’s award-winning drama about the hopes and aspirations of a struggling, working-class family living on the South Side of Chicago connected profoundly with the psyche of black America–and changed American theater forever. The play’s title comes from a line in Langston Hughes’s poem Harlem, which warns that a dream deferred might dry up/like a raisin in the sun.
What do you think about this classics by women book list?
Have you read any of the books on this list? What are some of your favorite books written by women authors? What books would you add to the list?