As some of you may now, feminism is literature is one of my favorite things. I still often read books on feminism or that have a feminist theme. But, have books always been feminist? Clearly, there’s several feminist classics that exist you might not know about. These books clearly paved the way for so many great feminist authors that are being published today. All the way from 1792 to present, we’ve been given feminist literature and non-fiction. So, without further ado, here’s some of the most essential feminist classics that were so influential for their time.
I put the date they were originally published so you can think about the time in which they were and why they would’ve been written and published. I also want to state that there are so many other feminist classics that didn’t make it on the list. I’m sure I’ll make more lists but as far as I’m concerned, these are some of the most popular ones!
1. A Vindication of the Rights of a Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft
“Writing in an age when the call for the rights of man had brought revolution to America and France, Mary Wollstonecraft produced her own declaration of female independence in 1792. Passionate and forthright, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman attacked the prevailing view of docile, decorative femininity, and instead laid out the principles of emancipation: an equal education for girls and boys, an end to prejudice, and for women to become defined by their profession, not their partner. Mary Wollstonecraft’s work was received with a mixture of admiration and outrage – Walpole called her ‘a hyena in petticoats’ – yet it established her as the mother of modern feminism.”
2. The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins
“‘The color is hideous enough, and unreliable enough, and infuriating enough, but the pattern is torturing.’
Written with barely controlled fury after she was confined to her room for ‘nerves’ and forbidden to write, Gilman’s pioneering feminist horror story scandalized nineteenth-century readers with its portrayal of a woman who loses her mind because she has literally nothing to do.”
3. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
“A Room of One’s Own is an extended essay by Virginia Woolf. First published on the 24th of October, 1929, the essay was based on a series of lectures she delivered at Newnham College and Girton College, two women’s colleges at Cambridge University in October 1928. While this extended essay in fact employs a fictional narrator and narrative to explore women both as writers of and characters in fiction, the manuscript for the delivery of the series of lectures, titled Women and Fiction, and hence the essay, are considered nonfiction. The essay is seen as a feminist text, and is noted in its argument for both a literal and figural space for women writers within a literary tradition dominated by patriarchy.”
4. The Second Sex by Simone De Beauvoir
Newly translated and unabridged in English for the first time, Simone de Beauvoir’s masterwork is a powerful analysis of the Western notion of “woman,” and a groundbreaking exploration of inequality and otherness. This long-awaited new edition reinstates significant portions of the original French text that were cut in the first English translation. Vital and groundbreaking, Beauvoir’s pioneering and impressive text remains as pertinent today as it was back then, and will continue to provoke and inspire generations of men and women to come.
5. The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
“Landmark, groundbreaking, classic—these adjectives barely do justice to the pioneering vision and lasting impact of The Feminine Mystique. Published in 1963, it gave a pitch-perfect description of “the problem that has no name”: the insidious beliefs and institutions that undermined women’s confidence in their intellectual capabilities and kept them in the home. Writing in a time when the average woman first married in her teens and 60 percent of women students dropped out of college to marry, Betty Friedan captured the frustrations and thwarted ambitions of a generation and showed women how they could reclaim their lives. Part social chronicle, part manifesto, The Feminine Mystique is filled with fascinating anecdotes and interviews as well as insights that continue to inspire. This 50th–anniversary edition features an afterword by best-selling author Anna Quindlen as well as a new introduction by Gail Collins.”
6. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“We follow Esther Greenwood’s personal life from her summer job in New York with Ladies’ Day magazine, back through her days at New England’s largest school for women, and forward through her attempted suicide, her bad treatment at one asylum and her good treatment at another, to her final re-entry into the world like a used tyre: “patched, retreaded, and approved for the road” … Esther Greenwood’s account of her year in the bell jar is as clear and readable as it is witty and disturbing.”
7. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
“The Handmaid’s Tale is a novel of such power that the reader will be unable to forget its images and its forecast. Set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States and is now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men in its population.
The story is told through the eyes of Offred, one of the unfortunate Handmaids under the new social order. In condensed but eloquent prose, by turns cool-eyed, tender, despairing, passionate, and wry, she reveals to us the dark corners behind the establishment’s calm facade, as certain tendencies now in existence are carried to their logical conclusions. The Handmaid’s Tale is funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing. It is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and a tour de force. It is Margaret Atwood at her best.”