Female-Focused Fiction

Compared to decades ago, today there is more fiction written by women and more literary works in which female characters significantly outnumber the male ones. Still, like almost everything else, much of literature unfortunately remains a majority-male world. So it’s especially nice when one stumbles on, or deliberately seeks out, fiction with a female focus.

And some of that literature isn’t very recent. I just read Dorothy L. Sayers’ interesting 1935 mystery Gaudy Night, which is set at a British women’s college and thus features many female students, alumnae, professors, and staffers. One of the alumnae is Harriet Vane, a well-known crime author who is asked by the college to investigate some weird goings-on in its hallowed halls.

Gaudy Night‘s frequent feminist elements are among the novel’s pleasures — which reminds me that female-dominated literature often strongly or subtly addresses women’s rights, patriarchy, sexism, mother-daughter relationships (good and bad), gender issues in the workplace, and more — usually to a greater extent than male-centric lit does.

And given that women often act differently when they’re around women rather than men, it’s interesting to see how that manifests itself in female-centric lit. (Men also often act differently when they’re around men rather than women, but that’s another story…)

Another school-set novel featuring many females is Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, in which the unconventional teacher of the book’s title is assigned six girl students who become known as “the Brodie set.”

Many other female-focused novels star sisters — whether it be two, three, four, or five of them. Among the most famous are Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women, Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, and Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Those and other multi-daughter books often feature memorable mother characters, too. (By the way, Happy Mother’s Day!)

Friendships between women also play a large role in various female-focused novels — including Terry McMillan’s Waiting to Exhale, Toni Morrison’s Sula, and Margaret Atwood’s The Robber Bride. While those relationships are often positive and nurturing, there are obviously some marked by jealousy and worse. For instance, The Robber Bride spotlights the wonderful long-term friendship of three women, even as a fourth woman they all know makes life hell for the trio.

Of course, novels featuring characters who are lesbian (such as Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle) or who are experimenting with lesbianism (such as Colette’s Claudine at School) usually have a strong female focus.

Then there’s Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe, in which the friendship between co-workers Idgie Threadgoode and Ruth Jamison has a lesbian subtext that’s understated — partly because the characters are interacting in the pre-World War II American South. Fannie Flagg’s book also includes the wonderful cross-generational friendship between Evelyn Couch and Ninny Threadgoode, who meet in the novel’s 1980s present-day.

And women are the focus of many plays — including Wendy Wasserstein’s The Heidi Chronicles and Anton Chekhov’s Three Sisters, to name just two.

What are your favorite female-centric works of fiction?

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else.)

I’m writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

86 thoughts on “Female-Focused Fiction

  1. Dave, you mentioned “Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe” by Fannie Flagg. All of Fannie Flagg’s books are memorable, and they all have strong female characters. She is a fantastic writer. I would recommend any of them!

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    • Thanks, lulabelle! I’ve read Fannie Flagg’s “The All-Girl Filling Station’s Last Reunion” — which, while not as good as the outstanding “Fried Green Tomatoes…,” is nonetheless excellent. Will definitely read more of Ms. Flagg’s work. What a great author she is!

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    • Right there with you, lulabell. Loved FGT and loved Fannie! The relationships from that book, as portrayed in the movie, gave even more enjoyment, as we only had a “guess” at what was really the relationship between Ruth and Idgie. I did love the relationship of Ninny and Evelyn. My high regard of the elderly was only further nurtured by reading, and watching this one on the screen. More of our nation should be focused heartily on encouraging young people to become involved with the elderly. Learning about life could be the goal, and it would only enhance the lives of those involved. Enjoyed your post and Dave’s article. As always, Dave delivers awesome.

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  2. Straddling the topic would be Virginia Wolf’s Orlando, written by a woman from a female point of view, until, midway, the perspective changes, as does the sex of the narrator– but not the narrator.

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    • A great addition to this discussion, jhNY! And “Orlando” is a novel that, in certain ways, may be even more relevant today than it was when it was written. The governor of North Carolina might not like it though…

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  3. Hi Dave,
    I hope your mum had a wonderful birthday a couple of weeks back, and that you enjoyed your time in Florida.

    I want to start by thanking you for recommending Tolstoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata” which I’ve just finished reading. Definitely a more pleasurable read than the much, much, much longer Tolstoy novels. While there were parts of both “W&P” and “Anna K” that I enjoyed, the shorter story seemed to have omitted the 900 pages of unnecessary story, and just delivered the good stuff – the jealousies and paranoia and insecurities of people. And if “Middlemarch” was an advertisement for divorce, then this novella must be an advertisement for The Pill. Very thought provoking (as is this week’s blog) though definitely not female-friendly. It was kind of female-focused though, so I’m not entirely off topic…

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    • Thank you, Susan! The Florida trip was mixed (long story) but did have some very nice moments. 🙂

      You’re welcome re “The Kreutzer Sonata”! Tolstoy certainly packed a lot into a short story/almost-novella, didn’t he? And, as you allude to, no “slow” passages compared to certain lengthy novels.

      “The Kreutzer Sonata” is a shocking, depressing, weird tale, but VERY readable (as was your comment!). “…the jealousies and paranoia and insecurities of people” — exactly! And, as you say, not female-friendly, but most definitely female-focused (from a male viewpoint).

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  4. Hi Dave and jhNY, I’m coming out of my stupor somewhat so I hope to make some sort of comment that will make some sense to people who know something about literature I love my new home and am setting up my second bedroom as an office/den. The rest of my books, DVDs and CDS will have to wait for a little while.

    and CDS

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    • Is that you, Kat Lib? The best of luck adapting to your new home, and it’s great that one bedroom will be an office/den! Hope you have access to your DVDs and CDs soon. I look forward to your next comment(s)!

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      • Hi Dave it’s me. I just wiped out a rather long comment back to you, but oh well, what can I do? I hope to hear from you tomorrow night with a new column, so I hope to get back to you then with a somewhat coherent comment then.

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        • So sorry about your long comment being wiped out, Kat Lib. 😦 I know you put a lot of work into your comments, and they are of course always interesting to read.

          I will definitely post a new column tomorrow evening, and look forward to hearing from you again after that!

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  5. Hi Dave, I’m so sorry that this topic ended up on one of weekends that I am so distracted from my move and settlement that I barely know how to respond. Of course that’s not your fault, just the way things work in this day and age. I am very much interested in female focused literature or just female friendly books. I am now in my new home and reunited with my kitty Jessie. She’s still not sure she likes it, but she’ll come around. I was driving home yesterday from settlement to go pick up Jessie and there was a pretty bad accident in the other side of the highway and I was very glad not to have to deal with that, and I only hope no one was seriously hurt. OK, I’ve been rambling on and on about things other than books. I hope tomorrow I’ll be able to discuss the topic at hand that I find so interesting.

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      • jhNY, I was telling Dave above that I’d missed some of the comments from you both. I hope I can get to your thoughts on Cranford sometime soon but please remember that it might take a few days to get to.

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    • Kat Lib, I totally understand how busy you are this week! (Bad timing for my topic. 😦 ) I moved just 23 months ago, so I well remember just how crazy that scenario is. Luckily, I wasn’t doing this blog then; I started it about a month after I moved.

      Wonderful that you’re now reunited with Jessie! She must be thrilled to be back with you, even as she gets used to your new place. Cats definitely don’t like change.

      Sorry about that accident, but glad you weren’t involved or affected.

      I look forward to your future comment(s), but only when you have the time to write it/them!

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  6. As I know you have an abiding interest in comic strips, I report a find that, though, off-topic for the week, is worth noting, and it certainly must be the most intimate of all connections between comic strips and writers with literary heft:

    Turns out Ring Lardner collaborated on a daily strip with two artists (Dick Dorgan [bro of Tad], Will Johnstone) over a two year period, titled You Know Me Al — the copy was his, and not merely taken from his 20+ stories of that name in the Saturday Evening Post, but fresh for the strip. Of course, it centers on a clueless yet boastful pitcher who scrawls out all sorts of stuff for laughs, whether he knows it or not.

    Lardner quit writing for the strip in January 1925– at which point he was earning $30,000 yearly for it alone!

    I found a reissue of 292 of the 700 strips he wrote, which came out in 1979. Surprised to discover the strip, and surprised I had no idea it existed. Ever hear of it?

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    • Wow — totally unfamiliar with that comic, jhNY. Thanks for the info about it! Impressive that a writer like Ring Lardner was involved. And that’s quite a salary for that time. Obviously, newspapers were a heckuva lot healthier then, and of course Lardner was a big name who might have gotten more money than the average cartoonist Joe or Josephine.

      I’m trying to think if any other writers with literary heft were involved with a comic strip. Might have happened, but can’t think of anybody offhand.

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      • jhNY, it occurred to me that novelist and New York Times reporter Matt Richtel wrote the syndicated “Rudy Park” comic strip (under an alias).

        Also, novelist Neil Gaiman has authored comic books — which I realize are not quite the same medium as newspaper comics. 🙂

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        • No novelist he, but I recall film director Fellini drew a strip (maybe not his own, maybe as a hired hand) in Italy before getting his chance at film-making.

          And I’ve often thought that the development of comic strips and film have many parallels, and took place during the same historical period– storyboards are so much like strips, and vice versa.

          Harvey Pekar’s collaboration with R. Crumb and others may qualify, depending on how much one thinks of Pekar.

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          • Re your astute comic strip/motion picture comparison, famed cartoonist Milton Caniff (1907-1988), who I had the pleasure of meeting a number of times during the last five years of his life, was often compared to a movie director with the way he drew and framed his massively popular “Terry the Pirates” comic strip during the 1930s and ’40s. Long shots, close-ups, shadow, etc. It didn’t hurt that comic strips had a lot more space for that kind of thing back then.

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            • As if to prove my point re movies and strips, I was gazing at the cover of my reprint of the You Know Me Al the strip just now, when I noticed in the intro to the strip, where the major character, Jack Keefe, is introduced in portrait, that the last panel reads: “first reel tomorrow”!

              Reading the introductory notes, I now see that Lardner, who came up as a sports reporter, enjoyed a “friendly sports-page feud” with Sidney Smith of The Gumps fame– their contributions to the Chicago tribune were printed close together, and from that close range they insulted each other. Another famous cartoonist Fontaine Fox (Toonerville Trolley) illustrated Lardner’s contributions to Redbook between 1914-18, and to Bib Ballads, a book of Lardner’s comic poetry. Doubt any writer with (eventual) literary stature spent more time among the cartoonists of his day….

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              • I’m impressed with Ring Lardner’s many cartoon connections! Sidney Smith and Fontaine Fox were definitely cartoonist celebrities of their day. And the word “reel” used in a comic-strip context — that’s indeed quite cinematic. 🙂

                Many years ago, in 1990, I wrote an article for Editor & Publisher magazine about the 75th anniversary of King Features Syndicate — which of course distributed/distributes many comics. I was leafing through 1915 E&P issues to find the first mention of King, and saw an article about the coining of the term “movies” — which of course relates to films having moving pictures. Not sure the term was actually coined in 1915…

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  7. “Of course, novels featuring characters who are lesbian (such as Rita Mae Brown’s Rubyfruit Jungle) or who are experimenting with lesbianism (such as Colette’s Claudine at School) usually have a strong female focus.”

    Also Radclyffe Hall’s The Well of Loneliness, first published in 1928 in Britain, and banned there after. I believe it’s considered a classic of the genre.

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    • Thank you, jhNY! “The Well of Loneliness” (which I wasn’t familiar with) sounds really interesting. Great title, too. And definitely a much earlier example of that genre than Rita Mae Brown’s 1973 classic. Colette’s “Claudine at School” was published in 1900, but the lesbian relationship was partly played for laughs and didn’t totally dominate the book. Plus, Colette wrote it in more sexually open-minded France.

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      • Stumbled on an early copy while moseying around Aunt Sally’s years ago; ‘privately printed’ in Paris, 1928. Never have found its exact match on the interwebs, but I’m sure it’s not alone. Have yet to read it though…. but it’s handy.

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          • Things ‘privately printed’ in Paris are not so uncommon– Ulysses being but a step above that designation. I think Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood began life in this way. I used to own a set of 1001 Arabian Nights, printed in the 1920’s, featuring many poorly-imagined vulgarities in a quasi-Beardsley illustrating style set among unexpurgated fables, which was also printed privately in the City of Light.

            Those fables were replaced by a better set from better sources, sans illustrations. I don’t miss ’em.

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              • Poe’s Tamerlane too, I think, though as I looked around the ‘nets for info, the job was a small one, as few as 40 copies, and was undertaken by a printer whose previous experience may have been limited to apothecary labels….

                Bet most things were privately printed most places, the further back into the history of printing presses one delves.

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                • Thanks for the information about “Tamerlane,” and I’m sure you’re right about the history of private printing.

                  Many years ago, I vaguely remember reading a book from one of those YA series aimed at boys (“Tom Quest”? “Tom Swift”?) in which the mystery plot centered on a very rare copy of “Tamerlane.”

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                  • Tried to find it but the interwebs won’t let me.

                    But I did see that a copy of Poe’s Tamerlane sold for $662,500 a few years ago– any copy, I’m guessing, of the original printing would be very rare….

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  8. This week’s theme is a handy hook on which to hang

    CRANFORD

    From my edition’s introduction:

    ‘”Thank you for your letter,” Charlotte Bronte writes to Mrs. Gaskell in 1853. “It was as pleasant as a quiet chat, as welcome as spring showers, as reviving as a friend’s visit; in short, it was very like a page of Cranford.”‘

    Elizabeth Gaskell is not read nowadays by many, and much of her present fame is bound up with her friend and occasional visitor Charlotte Bronte, as Gaskell wrote the only biography of her not only approved, but solicited by the Bronte family.

    Cranford is a made-up town, and a small one, its significant population entirely female (at least in the opinions of the females). “In the first place, Cranford is in possession of the Amazons; all the holders of houses, above a certain rent, are women.”

    The town is not so far from the country; at least one of its citizens keeps a cow to which she is extraordinarily attentive, to the point that when it loses a portion of its hair after an unfortunate tumble into a lime-pit, she has flannel drawers made to preserve the animal’s dignity and warmth. The chief arbiter of proper conduct for the area is one of the sisters Jenkyns, who after enduring an acquaintance’s (a man!) enthusiasm for Dickens’ Pickwick Papers, has Samuel Johnson’s Rasselas brought to her, from which she reads aloud, by way of undebatable refutation.

    The ladies make their appointed rounds of calls among themselves, at which the news of the day gets a thorough going-over, and small portions of plain food and tea are served. There is no one really rich, so clothes are also plain, and the current fashions only occasionally trouble the thoughts of those most sensitive to appearance. There is, however, among the Cranford ladies much consideration of textiles for caps, which are changed sometimes several times during a day, of which no one ever seems to have a sufficient number; there are also petty rivalries and moments of unexpected tenderness, of unadorned heroism, and many of simple gentility and quiet, if insistent, decency. In short, Cranford is a novel which seeks to delight its readers in the small affairs and occupants of an English town in the mid-19th century. There is sweet humor in it, and an unassuming sort of fellow-feeling that wears well from beginning to end.

    As you might recall, I thought Jane Eyre ran on too long and ties up too many things too nicely. Cranford is too short, and rather than having a definitive ending, seems to suddenly peter out. We learn our charming narrator’s name only in the last pages, and though there are a few hints she might pair up with a reformed and returned prodigal some years her senior, the narrative ends without our knowing. Several of the ladies who figure in much of Cranford are likewise left hanging in mid-life, as it were, though in no crises either. Cranford seems like a place one would like to revisit, and often. But the author made no return trip herself, and those of us who would return must content ourselves by going over the same ground.

    Recommended.

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    • Thank you, jhNY, for all that very interesting material on “Cranford”! It does sound like a rather intriguing novel, even though the ending could be stronger.

      I also wouldn’t mind reading Elizabeth Gaskell’s biography of Charlotte Bronte one of these days. That book (like many other biographies) might not be objective, but the fact that Gaskell knew C. Bronte firsthand is invaluable to any lover of “Jane Eyre” and C. Bronte’s other work.

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      • I think it would make an interesting read, though it does seem to restrain itself from plain writing on some topics pertinent to subject, according to the wikipedia entry– “Gaskell had to deal with some sensitive issues. She toned down some of her material: in the case of her description of the Clergy Daughters’ School, attended by Charlotte and her sisters, this was to avoid legal action from the Rev. William Carus Wilson, the founder of the school. The published text does not go so far as to blame him for the deaths of two Brontë sisters, but even so the Carus Wilson family published a rebuttal with the title “A refutation of the statements in ‘The life of Charlotte Bronte,’ regarding the Casterton Clergy Daughters’ School, when at Cowan Bridge”.

        I’ve obtained a paperback of Cranford (cheap, off a blanket on the street), and plan, if you wouldn’t mind, to mail it to you soon….

        I shouldn’t have made so much of the ending, but it was rather like having a favorite dessert taken from the table while one’s spoon was in mid-air, to say nothing of the impossibility of seconds. Better to leave them wanting more than wanting less, I guess.

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        • Fascinating what is put in, what is kept out, and what is “spun” in biographies and autobiographies. That Clergy Daughters’ School tussle/legal threat sounds very fraught.

          Thank you for the “Cranford” offer, jhNY! Would be happy to mail it back after I read it. 🙂

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  9. Howdy, Dave!

    — What are your favorite female-centric works of fiction? —

    Talk about your broad questions! Arranged by their creators’ names from A to Z and excluding those already mentioned specifically this week by either you or others among the DAOLiterati the last time I checked, these works include but are not limited to the following:
    — Aristophanes’ “Lysistrata”
    — Badfinger’s “Day After Day”
    — Carlos Drummond de Andrade’s “Apparition of Love”
    — D.H. Lawrence’s “Women in Love”
    — Eudora Welty’s “Why I Live at the P.O.”
    — Flannery O’Connor’s “A Good Man Is Hard to Find”
    — Gustave Flaubert’s “Madame Bovary”
    — Henry James’ “Washington Square”
    — Immanuel of Rome’s “A Little Thought”
    — Jane Austen’s “Persuasion”
    — Katherine Anne Porter’s “Pale Horse, Pale Rider”
    — Lawrence Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet*
    — Mary Gordon’s “Final Payments”
    — Nelly Furtado et al’s “Maneater”
    — O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi”
    — Pablo Neruda’s “One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII”
    — Queen’s “Crazy Little Thing Called Love”
    — Robert A. Heinlein’s “The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress”
    — Stephen Dunn’s “Leaves”
    — Truman Capote’s “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”
    — U2’s “Mysterious Ways”
    — Virginia Woolf’s “Orlando: A Biography”
    — William Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily”
    — X.J. Kennedy’s “Nude Descending a Staircase”
    — Yevgeny Yevtushenko’s “Mother”
    — ZZ Top’s “Legs”

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith)

    *“Justine,” “Balthazar” “Mountolive” and “Clea”

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    • J.J., a VERY impressive list of a lot of literature and a little music — using all 26 letters of the alphabet, no less!

      I’m practically speechless, but anyone seeing your list will not be read-less. 🙂

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  10. Hi Dave, I thought I’d written a response to you yesterday, but apparently not. You know how difficult it is for me to type on tablets or smartphones. I’ve been an administrative assistant/office manager/secretary/accounting clerk/etc. all my working life, and there were times that I felt that I should have done more with my education. The thing that stood out to me from reading Gaudy Night was when Harriet was talking with the Oxford dons about doing “one’s proper job.” Then I realized I was doing my proper job, because I Iiked what I was doing, and I did it well. From it all I have a small pension, a 401k and social security. Will I ever be in a position to not worry about finances? Of course not, but right now I feel good and somewhat hopeful for the future.

    I am moved into my new home, and other than not having my cat Jessie with me, I am very happy with how everything came together. The settlement isn’the until Thursday but I hope it will go ok.

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    • Thank you, Kat Lib! Sorry your comment didn’t make it yesterday.

      So glad you liked the work you were doing, and that your finances are now adequate even though not plentiful.

      I agree that the excellent “Gaudy Night” is a very “instructive” novel in a way. And Dorothy L. Sayers’ 1935 book was really ahead of its time in its depiction of women. It’s a novel I can’t imagine being written by a man.

      Congratulations on being in your new home! What a relief that must be! I hope your cat can join you on Thursday after the settlement?

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      • Hi Dave, I think everything is going as planned with a settlement tomorrow , although a few glitches with privacy issues. I love my home, even though much needs to be done. It was cute today that I got an email from Jessie, telling me how much she missed me but was having a lot of fun at the kennel, and they attached a photo of her. So adorable! I hope I can pick her tomorrow, but we’ll have to see.

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        • Great that the settlement seems to be on track, Kat Lib, and that you really like your new home! And I love the way you were emailed by your cat (aka the kennel). 🙂 Keeping my fingers crossed that you and Jessie can be reunited tomorrow.

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  11. All the classics I have read before most of them are female Authors Dave. Agatha Christie, Margaret Mitchell , Jane Austin, Daphne du Maurier, Bronte sisters, Zadie Smith , Ayn Rand to name some.

    Now you mention…lately all I have read was Jhumpa Lahiri, Toni Morrison and of course Harper Lee. But so many of male authors the protagonists are powerful female characters.
    Lisbeth Salander was the first one comes to my mind.

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    • Yes, countless great women writers, past and present. Thanks, bebe, for naming so many of them!

      And excellent point about memorable female characters created by male writers. Lisbeth Salander is a terrific example — as are Madame Bovary, Isabel Archer (“The Portrait of a Lady”), Ma Joad (“The Grapes of Wrath”), etc.

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      • Also “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “The Glass Menagerie” by Tennessee Williams American playwright and author.

        Hi Dave have not seen Ana for sometimes must be busy these days..so Hello Ana , during Marathon season I thought of her brother hope all is well.

        And now during political season nothing is surprising still was shocked to see an editorial column by Ted Cruz in NYT.

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  12. A great writer, certainly worthy of a mention under this topic, is Willa Cather. I’ve read two books by her: “Death Comes to the Archbishop” and “O Pioneers!” Both very good novels, but “O Pioneers!” fits in nicely with your theme. The book, which takes place in the early 20th Century, follows the main character, Alexandra Bergson, who as a child moves with her homesteading family to a farm in Nebraska. After her father’s death, she takes over the farm, despite having three brothers. As many farms in the area fail, she has the grit and foresight to be successful, despite many personal tragedies. A great novel about the American spirit with this very strong female character.

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    • Thanks, drb, for the mention of the great Willa Cather, who created some excellent female characters (also in novels such as “My Antonia” and “The Song of the Lark”). Loved your description of “O Pioneers!” and its main character.

      By the way, I took out “On the Beach” — which you had recommended a few weeks ago — from the library yesterday. Looking forward to reading it!

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  13. Dave,
    I find the sub genre of “cozy mystery” to be wonderful reads that are well written and entertaining. I don’t get why a story that has mystery, a bit of romance, and a female lead has to be called “cozy” and gets to the heart of the male-centric writing world. Many of these books read at the level and speed of Agatha Christie, they involve murders, plot twists, and comedy. Just like “chick lit” (another term I just don’t get) the books are not really that different than any other mystery. They just have different sub-plots and are written by women (or at least female sounding pen-names).

    Fantasy literature also moves any book where romance is more prominent than the hero gets the girl to a lower shelf. The stories might get mis-classified as “supernatural romance” because a female protagonist and romance isn’t fantasy.

    The small number of female authors with female leads have to write nearly identical books to the men to be taken seriously in both genres. It is a rare author who can write a book that doesn’t fit the narrow format requirements and get a big publishing contract.

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    • Thank you, GL! Very astute, eloquent, and interesting thoughts. There are indeed still double standards in book publishing — even if the sexism might be more subtle and less blatant than it used to be. In addition to such matters as the way books are categorized/marketed (as you observed), sexism also rears its ugly head when contemporary male authors are more often credited with writing something approaching “The Great American Novel” (such as Jonathan Franzen and “Freedom”) when contemporary female authors (such as Donna Tartt and “The Goldfinch”) have also written novels that are just as or more masterpiece-y.

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  14. I have ‘The Fortunes and Misfortunes of the Famous Moll Flanders’ by Daniel Defoe on my TBR list (on Project Guttenberg). Apparently, she is supposed to have written it as an autobiography, according to Defoe, who first published it in 1722. It was after Defoe’s death in 1731 that the attribution was given to him by Francis Noble, a bookseller, in his 1770 version. I just wish my TBR list was getting shorter instead of longer, I don’t think I’ll ever catch up, lol.

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    • Thank you, Jean! I didn’t know that interesting information about “Moll Flanders,” which I read way back in college and still have on my bookshelf, waiting to be reread one day. 🙂

      Coincidentally, I just started a book last night that you had recommended — James Joyce’s “Dubliners” collection, of which I had only read “The Dead” in the past. A few minutes ago, I finished the excellent/melancholy story “The Sisters” that opens the collection.

      And I know what you mean about having a to-read list that will never be finished. By the time I’ve read a book, several more books have been added. 😦 But a nice “problem” to have, I suppose!

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    • I read “Moll Flanders” not too long ago. This was one of the earliest English language novels ever written, and I find it fascinating that this early novel had, as its focus, a strong female character trying to use whatever limited power and opportunities she had to be successful in her own right as a woman.

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    • Thank you, Bill! That IS a great novel — and one of the few Twain works with such a prominent female character. I’ve read that it was Twain’s favorite of his novels, even though it was of course not as famous as some of his other books. And he spent a number of years researching and writing it.

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    • Fantastic, invaluable list, jhNY. Thank you!

      It does have a few quirks, though (as many lists do). Emily Bronte “perhaps” best known for “Wuthering Heights”? The “perhaps” was not necessary. 🙂 And I would say Anne Bronte is best known for “The Tenant of Wildfell Hall,” not “Agnes Grey.”

      But most of the content seems accurate, and I’m very glad a list like this exists.

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  15. I don’t read many female authors. Not a conscious bias. A recent discovery was Lionel Shriver. “So Much for That.” One my favorite novel reads in the last five years. Then an earlier one, “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Disturbing portrayal of unprovoked evil. Film version done in 2011.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Joe, for mentioning Lionel Shriver! She has been praised by several commenters here in the past few months, and I will give her a try (perhaps today; I’m going to the library later 🙂 ).

      Do you plan to read Don DeLillo’s new novel “Zero K”? I remember you recommending his “Underworld” to me a couple of years ago; turned out to be a VERY impressive book.

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    • I loved many of Lionel Shriver’s books. The two mentioned are probably her two best in my opinion, My sister loved So Much for That, as did I, but she couldn’t get into We Need to Talk About Kevin, as she couldn’t get into a book which put a mother at odds with her son. I of course had no such qualms but found it fascinating as it was disturbing

      Liked by 1 person

      • Thanks, Kat Lib, for your take on those two Lionel Shriver novels! I have high expectations for “So Much for That.” 🙂

        As for “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” some of the best novels can be very disturbing. (I know I’m stating the obvious there!)

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  16. This is a very timely and relevant post considering the fact that I just finished reading ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ a few minutes ago (review forthcoming within the next day or two). I thought of the radically different sisters in that novel and how they reacted to a common experience (nightmare) that they all lived through. In fact, the book I read just before ‘Poisonwood’, the memoir ‘The Liar’s Club’, deals with two radically different sisters and how they reacted to a common experience that they both survived. It’s non-fiction and yet there are similarities to the fictional siblings. It’s been a trend in my reading over the last couple of years that I’ve been reading far more female authors than I ever have in my life up to this point. Even delving back to previous eras we have Jane Austen and her sets of sisters, the real-life Bronte sisters and their different fictional responses to their common homeland and the amazing George Eliot and Edith Wharton, who could almost effortlessly depict the states of mind of male characters as well as they could their female characters. Even my non-fiction of the past year has been very female-dominated. I feel that I have to travel back to my side of the gender fence to get a good dose of male testosterone and remind myself of that other volatile half of the population. I feel like I’ve discovered another country that I never really explored in depth in the past. But without delving into some monotonous self-analysis I will agree with you that these bodies of work are extremely significant and provide a distinctly different perspective. Despite the ubiquitous presence of all those great, old dead white males, the females have certainly given them a run for their money over the centuries. Whatever social and political power they may have lacked in the real world they have certainly exerted dominion over their fictional (and non-fictional) realms.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That IS a coincidence, Brian. 🙂 Can’t wait to read your review of “The Poisonwood Bible” — an outstanding novel, and your reviews are always outstanding as well. Yes, Barbara Kingsolver depicted very different sisters who shared a mostly awful experience, thanks to their thoroughly unlikable and selfish missionary dad.

      Like you, I tend to read a lot of fiction by women — maybe 60% of the books I get to? And I agree that the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot, and Edith Wharton created memorable, three-dimensional characters of both genders. Jane Eyre, Anne Elliot, Dorothea Brooke, and Lily Bart; and Heathcliff, Mr. Darcy, Adam Bede, and Ethan Frome — to name just a few.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!

      Like

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