Women of Words

As a woman whose life is focused ever more on the art of writing, I have decided to embark on a new project. I would like to have a better understanding than I do of the lineage of female writers whose powerful and persuasive words parted the dominantly patriarchal waters to forge a drier path for young women writers such as myself today. Having been educated at an all women’s college, Mount Holyoke, I have had the fortune of glimpsing the accomplishments of many great women, both contemporary and historical. But also in my education, both at Mount Holyoke College and now at the California Institute of Integral Studies, I have found most of the dominant influences on my own studies and those around me to be from men, and I often find myself craving a female perspective on the subjects about which I care the most.

Women of WordsThis project was in part inspired while reading a chapter of Genevieve Lloyd’s book A Man of Reason, in which she addresses the role of gender in the history of philosophy. Lloyd draws on Mary Wollstonecraft’s powerful rebuttal of Rousseau in Vindication of the Rights of Women, bringing question to human rights and the gendering of the soul. After reading this I wanted to read Wollstonecraft for myself, but also wanted to see where the lineage went from there. I am undertaking this project to begin to see the development of women’s words and thoughts over the last few centuries alongside the gradual, and eventually rapid, rise of feminism. The women whose works I will be drawing on will be from many subjects—from philosophy, to poetry, to literature—to see the many different genres through which their self-expression came.

To help me in this project I will be drawing on a beautiful little book that was given to me over a decade ago, upon my 8th Grade graduation, by someone who is now one of my dear professors. The title  of my project is drawn from the title of this book: Women of Words: A Personal Introduction to Thirty-Five Important Writers, edited by Janet Bukovinsky Teacher.

The thirty-five women whose works I will be exploring, chronologically, are:
Mary Wollstonecraft                           Vindication of the Rights of Woman
Jane Austen                                           Mansfield Park
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley             The Dream The Heir of Mandolfo
Elizabeth Barrett Browning               Up next. . . Sonnets from the Portuguese
Elizabeth Gaskell
Emily Brontë
George Eliot
Emily Dickinson
Sarah Orne Jewett
Kate Chopin
Edith Wharton
Willa Cather
Gertrude Stein
Virginia Woolf
Isak Dinesen
Marianne Moore
Edith Sitwell
Katherine Mansfield
Agatha Christie
Jean Rhys
Vita Sackville-West
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Dorothy Parker
Stevie Smith
M.F.K. Fisher
Anaïs Nin
Simone de Beauvoir
Eudora Welty
Doris Lessing
Nadine Gordimer
Flannery O’Connor
Ursula K. Le Guin
Toni Morrison
Edna O’Brien

I will pick one work by each of these authors to read and discuss on this forum. Some, although certainly not the majority, of these authors I have already read, in which case I will choose a work of theirs I have not yet encountered. In the case of those authors whose works I have yet to read, I will likely choose their most famous work, or a piece that connects with the thread of what has been developed by the previous writers.

I would be thrilled to receive suggestions, comments, feedback, engagement in this project of any kind. If there is an author that must be in this line-up please tell me (I have thought of a few missing already, but as it is thirty-five writers will take me some time to go through while still continuing my graduate studies.)

Mary Wollstonecraft is the first. I am already nearly halfway through Vindication of the Rights of Women and am bursting with things to say, praises and opinions to share.

Stayed tuned…

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  1. Richard Tarnas

     /  February 24, 2013

    This is great, Becca, really excellent! Well written, well conceived, and now I’m sure well anticipated by many. 🙂 Love, Dad

  2. Hi Becca, I second your dad! This is an exciting and timely project. I hope you are going to get graduate credit for it! I have three off-beat suggestions re: Doris Lessing, one of my most favorite women writers, who is really a more radical visionary than people seem to realize: “Prisons We Choose To Live Inside” (nonfiction social commentary), “The Marriages Between Zones Three, Four and Five” (book two of her visionary Canopus in Argos space trilogy, and one of the most masterful novels I’ve ever read – it is about women and marriage), and “The Memoirs of a Survivor” (a novel on the breakdown of civilization).

    Other suggestions: Barbara Kingsolver’s Prodigal Summer (novel) and Linda Hogan’s novel “Power.” Both Kingsolver and Hogan are very environmentally aware and oriented, and these novels reflect that orientation. Hogan is Native American. Needless to say, women writers who are eco-feminists are one of the most generative forces in pushing back against the patriarchy. At least they have been for me.

    I look forward to your reviews/discussions of the books you read!

    • Suzanne, what great suggestions! I’ll research these authors to find their chronological places in the line-up. I’ve read a couple books by Kingsolver—”The Poisonwood Bible” and “Animal, Vegetable, Miracle”—and really enjoyed and was moved by her writing. I’ve heard of both Dorris Lessing and Linda Hogan but haven’t yet read either of them. Although I may have read an excerpt from Hogan when I was in college in a great course called “Perspectives on American Environmental History.” We read Terry Tempest William’s powerful book “Refuge” in that class, which had a major impact on me. Truly a great ecofeminist voice.
      Thanks again for the suggestions and support!
      PS. I won’t technically be getting graduate credit for this, but since I am going on to write a PhD any work of this sort I do feeds into my academic work ultimately!

  3. Cheryl Ann Fulton

     /  May 2, 2013

    How about To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee?
    Wonderful project! – Cheryl


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