6 Female Authors to Bring out Your Inner-Feminist

This week has seen the one-hundred-year anniversary of some British women gaining suffrage, from the efforts of the Suffragettes and Suffragists, who dedicated their time and lives to this cause. Personally, I think this anniversary serves as a reminder of the amazing women who came before us, and the power that women can have. However, society still has a way to go until gender equality is truly enshrined, and it is important to remember that not all women worldwide have the same opportunities as those we have gained.

This list of inspirational female authors, which spans four centuries, provides recommendations for feminist literature that will bring out your inner-feminist. All of these authors have influenced my life in different ways, reminding me of the power of women and what we can overcome.

1. Mary Wollstonecraft

“Was not the world a vast prison, and women born slaves?” – Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman.

Writing way back in the late 18th century, Mary Wollstonecraft has often been viewed as the mother of British Feminist thought, and rightly so. Wollstonecraft lived and wrote in England during the turbulent period of the French Revolution. She is most well-known for her Vindication of the Rights of Women in 1792, but the two novellas that she wrote are sometimes forgotten in the presence of this powerful political manifesto.

Wollstonecraft’s main argument regarding the condition of women within 18th century England was their lack of education. The need for female education is explored in her two novellas. Wollstonecraft’s first novella was Mary: A Fiction (1788). This narrative follows the life of Mary, who is forced to marry a man she does not love. Her life as a married woman is never really addressed, as her husband leaves to travel. Wollstonecraft depicts the close bond between Mary and her friend, and through this argues for the importance of female friendship in a patriarchal society.

My favourite of the two novellas is Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman. Beginning in an asylum, Wollstonecraft explores the lives of various classes of women who have been oppressed within England. She again advocates for the importance of female friendship and reminds her readers that women must rely on each other. This fragmentary story raises many questions about the fate of women living in patriarchal England. Maria’s story was left with several alternate endings, due to Wollstonecraft’s death, following her giving birth to her daughter, Mary. This Mary would go on to become Mary Shelley and pen Frankenstein, one of the most famous pieces of English literature.  

2. Jane Austen

 “The quarrels of popes and kings, with wars or pestilences, in every page; the men all so good for nothing, and hardly any women at all—it is very tiresome” – Northanger Abbey.

No one can argue that Jane Austen is an understated author. Her fame spans the world and multiple television and film adaptations, along with prequels and sequels of her books, highlight the international presence Austen has as a female author. However, until the 1980s onwards, Austen was not always considered a feminist figure. The subtle nature of her comedy and the importance of her female characters has become recognised more and more. Beyond the feminist nature of Austen’s texts, her life is an example of a woman who chose to remain unmarried, despite having options, to pursue her passion for writing.

The praises of Pride and Prejudice have been sung far and wide, but for this article, I want to draw attention to Northanger Abbey. Austen has six wonderful novels, but Northanger Abbey is one of the lesser-read ones, and I think this needs to be rectified. Originally completed for publication in 1803, but revised in 1816, and eventually published shortly after Austen’s death. Catherine Morland is our heroine in this novel, and she is young, naïve, and loveable. She is an avid reader herself and relishes in the world of Gothic fiction. This novel is one of Austen’s most (subtly) political novels, as she engages with many contemporary debates. She mocks and critiques conduct literature, argues for the status of the novel, and questions the importance of learning history when history seems to ignore the role of women.

Catherine is just one example of a heroine who defends her own beliefs. All of Austen’s heroines are examples of women with the strength to follow their hearts, and pursue what they want, even if the world they live in restricts their agency. The marriage plot has often been critiqued by feminist critics, but Austen’s novels present marriages of equals and do not promote the oppression of women within the institution.

3. Anne Brontë

“How odd is it that we so often weep for each other’s distresses, when we shed not a tear for our own!” – The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

Anne Brontë is often swept aside and left in the shadows of her sisters, Charlotte and Emily. Having read one novel from each of these authors, I can say with total confidence that Anne is my favourite. Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights are wonderful pieces of literature, but there is something about The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, and its heroine, that really drew me in.

This novel begins with the narrative of Gilbert Markham, and tracks the implications of the arrival of Helen in their village. Helen moves to Wildfell Hall with her young son and servant, and this sparks a series of rumours about Helen’s past. Brontë later introduces Helen’s own narrative, which explains her past and how she came to Wildfell Hall. This middle section of the novel is my favourite as it explores Helen’s psyche and we see her growing in strength as a woman. Brontë explores the condition of women within early 19th century England and highlights the cruel realities that many women faced within their marriages.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall can be categorised as a female trauma narrative, and Brontë, in her preface to the second edition, argued for why she had chosen to write this novel. Brontë says that her aim was to educate the young about the realities of life in Victorian Britain, and this aim follows us into the 21st century, as Brontë’s account of the abuses within marriage can be harrowing at points. What makes this more shocking, is the fact that the abuses and traumas the female characters suffer within this novel, is that this was all legal. This narrative raises questions about ownership within marriage, and these issues are still prevalent in areas of the world today.

4. Charlotte Perkins Gilman 

“It is the same woman, I know, for she is always creeping, and most women do not creep by daylight.” – The Yellow Wallpaper.

Until I undertook a 19th century American Literature on my year abroad last year, I had never heard of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. She was an American feminist, who was a writer and an editor, who is most well-known for her semi-autobiographical short story, The Yellow Wallpaper (1892).

Gilman suffered with her mental health, and was subjected to various experimental forms of treatment such as confinement - as is depicted in The Yellow Wallpaper. The heroine/narrator of this text suffers from fatigue, which in modern society would probably be defined as depression. This leads to her and her family moving to the countryside, and her being confined to her bedroom, which has eerie yellow wallpaper.

The psychiatric nature of the narrative the reader receives is so captivating, and evidences the misogynistic views surrounding women’s health and bodies within the late 19th century. Gilman plots the mental breakdown of her heroine, and through this argues for the diminutive effects of lack of activity for the female mind.

I cannot praise this text enough, as it is so well written, and explores important issues that are relevant to feminist thought of the past and of today. The length of this short story means it’s the perfect form of escapism, and can be read in one sitting – so read it!

5. Margaret Atwood

“Don't let the bastards grind you down.” – The Handmaid’s Tale.

I read The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) during my first year of studying English at university, and it blew me away. We read this as part of our ‘Reinventions’ module, which considered how literary traditions had been reinvented in more modern texts.

This dystopian novel explores some of the fears about the role of women in society, which will hopefully never become exploited like this. Atwood writes so wonderfully, and I was hooked from the beginning of the novel. This world-famous narrative was recently turned into a popular television show, but I think it is important for people to read the literary source of the show.

One of the most haunting aspects of this book is how easily American society was overhauled to create a society in which women are oppressed. The handmaids are treated like servants, obliged to bow down to the commands of their masters, and by extension, their mistresses. Beyond this, they are forced to birth the children of the families in power. This complete control that the patriarchal system gains over the female body is only battled by the female mind, through secret subversive actions. The power of the patriarchy over female bodies has several impacts: it serves a reminder of the past, it is indicative of the fears in the present, and of those which could come in the future.

6. Dorothy Koomson

“I'd spent so long trying to fit in, trying to be someone I wasn't, that I had no idea who I was any more.” – The Rose Petal Beach.

Dorothy Koomson is one of my all-time favourite authors, and often one people haven’t heard of. Her first novel was published in 2003, and she has continued to publish since. Although her novels aren’t particularly radically feminist, the strong female characters that she writes about and the troubles we see them overcome make her a great read for anyone.

Throughout her career as a novelist, Koomson has had her heroines face a variety of struggles, ranging from murder, sexual assault, heartbreak, and grief. I have read almost all her novels, having not quite gotten around to her most recent two, and they never fail to move, entertain and inspire me. Her novel The Ice Cream Girls (2010), tells the story of two girls who were witnesses to a murder, and explores their involvement in the events that perpetuated the crime, and how this impacted on their futures. This book was gripping, shocking, incredible, and in 2013 ITV made a television version of the novel, which did just the same.

The quote I chose to begin my recommendation is from The Rose Petal Beach (2012), which is another captivating piece of literature by Koomson. The complicated narrative, and the shift between narrators kept me guessing and showed the strength of the various female characters, all of whom suffered in different ways. I have only picked two of Koomson’s books, but I have loved and cherished all of them, and cannot but recommend them to everyone.

Looking forward to new publications, the next book that I am planning to read - which I believe will continue to inspire my feminist nature - is The Power (2016) by Naomi Alderman, which was the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Winner of 2017. I received this book as a gift for my birthday, and am excited to find the time to read it! This book looks incredible, and is said to explore what would happen if women suddenly gained complete power over men.