Some Blog Posts Have Staying Power

If you’re a blogger, I’m sure you periodically go “backstage” on your site to look at viewership statistics. When I do that, I see a recurring thing I’d like to mention this week.

My most-read posts at a given time are of course the most recent ones. But continuing to lurk in second, third, or fourth place every week and month is a piece I published three-and-half years ago — on June 3, 2018. You’d think most people would have read it by now, but WordPress users (perhaps newer ones?) keep finding it, as do people searching the Internet for that topic. 

The post is “Strong Female Characters in 19th-Century Fiction,” and I guess it struck a nerve. Many people are fascinated with real and fictional women in the arts, and the 1800s certainly had plenty of iconic female authors and protagonists such as the Bronte sisters, Jane Austen, George Eliot, Mary Shelley, and their creations. Some male authors of that era created memorable women characters, too. All during a time that was sadly ultra-patriarchal.

In addition, the novel as a genre really came into its own during the 1800s — so there’s a LOT of interest in fiction books of that era. The large number of great, iconic 19th-century novels is hard to count. 

Anyway, here’s a link to that 2018 blog post, which I also cut-and-pasted after the next paragraph.

If you’d like to add any new comments about the 2018 post under today’s post, please do. And if you’re a blogger, which of your posts keep getting read the most — months or years after you first published them? Also, why are those pieces popular, if you have any theories about that.

Strong Female Characters in 19th-Century Fiction

June 3, 2018

We look back on the 1800s as a time of rampant sexism, patriarchy, male dominance, gender inequality — whatever you want to call it. And it was indeed that sort of time. But a number of 19th-century female novelists, and a few male ones, managed to directly or indirect speak against that in some of their books.

I thought of this last week while reading Lelia by George Sand (born Amandine Lucile Aurore Dupin). In that fascinating 1833 novel, the independent, intellectual, skeptical, cynical, depressed, world-weary, God-doubting title character in some ways sounds like she could be living in 2018 — if the eloquent language used in Sand’s philosophical book were more casual and not densely rich like a lot of 19th-century prose was. Lelia is not always an easy book to read, but you’ll rarely see better writing than penned by Sand.

Anne Elliot of Jane Austen’s Persuasion (1818) is another strong heroine. The capable Anne is in love with Captain Frederick Wentworth, but lives a very useful life even as the relationship between her and Wentworth is thwarted for years.

The star of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1847) has strong feminist leanings that come out in various ways — including her pride in being smart, her need to work, and her insistence that she be an equal in marriage.

Helen in Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall (1848) courageously leaves her abusive/alcoholic husband to save both her son and her own self-worth. It’s a novel so feminist that Anne’s not-quite-as-feminist sister Charlotte unfortunately helped prevent wider distribution of it after Anne’s death.

Of course, some of the 19th century’s male critics and readers slammed works that dared depict women as equal to men. Undoubtedly one of the reasons fewer women back then tried to write novels — and a number of those who did write them used male or gender-neutral aliases.

Another author with a George pseudonym, George Eliot (born Mary Ann Evans), created a number of strong women — including lay preacher Dinah Morris of Adam Bede (1859). And Eliot lamented the second-class citizenry of female characters in novels such as The Mill on the Floss (1860), in which Maggie Tulliver’s less-brainy brother is treated much better than her by their parents and society as a whole.

Jo March, who thirsts to be a writer, is another non-stereotypical 19th-century female — in Louisa May Alcott’s 1869 novel Little Women.

And Kate Chopin’s The Awakening (1899) depicts Edna Pontellier’s memorable rebellion against her constricted role as a wife and mother.

Can 1900 be considered the last year of the 19th century? If so, Colette’s Claudine at School belongs in this discussion with its assertive, mischievous, hilarious protagonist.

Some male novelists of the 1800s also created female protagonists who didn’t act like stereotypical women of their time. Examples include Jeanie Deans in Sir Walter Scott’s The Heart of Midlothian (1818), Judith Hutter of James Fenimore Cooper’s The Deerslayer (1841), Becky Sharp of William Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847), Hester Prynne of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter (1850), Marian Halcombe of Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White (1859), the title character in Thomas Hardy’s The Hand of Ethelberta (1876), journalist Henrietta Stackpole in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady (1881), and the martyred protagonist in Mark Twain’s historical novel Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896).

Of course, there were also strong women in pre-1800s novels, with just two examples being the very different stars of Daniel Defoe’s Moll Flanders (1722) and Frances Burney’s Evelina (1778). Moll has a tougher exterior than Evelina, but the latter protagonist also has lots of inner strength.

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com. The latest weekly piece — about a coming “Greenway” and some local leaders treating my town’s library in a mean way — is here.

119 thoughts on “Some Blog Posts Have Staying Power

  1. Okay Dave!
    I’ve decided to read the George Sand novel you have mentioned here, “Lelia” .
    I have read the Brontes’ books, Louisa May Alcott, Jane Austin….. now you have me pushing past women, and into Black, Asian and other women not from European descent.
    What do you have to suggest here?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Resa!

      “Lelia” has some of the best writing I’ve seen in a 19th-century novel. I’d be very interested to hear what you think of the book!

      Your question is a wide one. 🙂 Not from the 19th century, but I like almost anything by South American-born Isabel Allende as well as India-based author Arundhati Roy’s “The God of Small Things” and Nigerian-born Buchi Emecheta’s “Second Class Citizen,” to name a few off the top of my head. Plenty of depressing moments in those novels, but compelling.

      Like

  2. Dave, I would say Bela Mitra, a strong female character in Jhumpa Lahiri’s ” The Lowland” .is the biological daughter of Udayan and Gauri, though she is raised in Rhode Island by Gauri and Subhash.
    Gouri moved to the States to advance her studies, and stayed with her Brother in law. Subhash,,
    Bela grew up knowing Subhash was her father. Then one day Gouri let her five year old daughter, by herself, to advance herself with an unknown address.

    Bela is politically-minded, socially conscious, and fiercely independent
    Subhash is so overwhelmed by the ways in which Bela is unknowingly repeating her own history that he reveals the truth of her parentage.
    Though shocked at the news, Bela reminds Subhash that it is he who is her true father, displaying the loyalty and gratitude she has felt toward him all along.

    The ending was my favorite part of the book when her Biological Mother Gouri came to visit Bela.
    The way Bela set her straight is the best part of the book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, bebe!

      GREAT example of a strong women character. Bela is very impressive. And I agree that that was an amazing scene in which she tells off her mother — who had at least some admirable qualities but seemed to be missing the being-a-decent/responsible-parent gene. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Dave, In your 2018 post on “Strong Female Characters in 19th Century Fiction” I mentioned Margaret Hale from the novel “North and South”. She tends to be just as strong but more conventionally virtuous than Hardy’s heroines. The most interesting thing about this novel is that it probably has one of the first descriptions of a labor strike in fiction (I have not done any research in this area so I don’t know definitely).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Tony!

      I’m hoping that my local library will have “North and South” during my next visit or two. Very interested in reading it.

      And fascinating to hear that a labor strike is depicted in it. Must indeed been one of the earlier mentions of such an action in a novel. The earliest one I can think of, off the top of my head, is the mining strike in Emile Zola’s riveting 1885 novel “Germinal.”

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave, that is a great and informative post and I’m not surprised it is getting constant viewings – deservedly so!

    I have a post, also from 2018, that seems popular for viewings which features Ely Cathedral’s Museum of Stained Glass Windows. I think the unusual topic, history going back hundreds of years as well as beautiful colourful windows help to make this popular.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Some of Thomas Hardy’s female protagonists such as Bathsheba Everdene “Far from the Madding Crowd” and Eustacia Vye “The Return of the Native” are strong, independent characters even if they were written as being flawed especially in the case of Eustacia.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I can see why a post like that would get a lot of hits! 🙂 🙂 It’s been nice for me to see so many people taking an interest in women’s contributions (many of them overlooked or forgotten) not only to literature but also the world at large. And I know what you mean about posts that just keep getting hits. The one I wrote about the spring at Andersonville gets new hits every single week, even though I wrote it a couple years ago already! My ghost story ones also get pretty frequent hits, but I know ghosts are a fascinating subject for a lot of people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, M.B.!

      I’m very glad there’s so much interest in women authors and women characters.

      I can understand why your Andersonville post keeps racking up viewers. A powerful piece — as are all your posts relating to military history. And, yes, ghost stories have such appeal. Perhaps because they can be scary but the reader is not in danger. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Dave,
    This post is timely for me. Last week I read your original post on JK Rowling’s unsavory views and thought I’d like to comment but didn’t, given it was pretty old, and it seemed out of place to do so. I think some blogs do have staying power.
    From my blog, the post that seems to get the ongoing drip of visitors is “We Hear When We’re Ready”. https://190days.com/2021/07/21/we-hear-when-were-ready/
    I have no idea why. It doesn’t have the most likes or engagement, but from a monthly visitor perspective it seems to perform.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Donna!

      I just read the post of yours you linked to and can see why it has enduring appeal — not noticing things (or not remembering things) is so universal. Interesting how children can at times be oblivious to things until they suddenly become…un-oblivious. Plus the post is very well-written, with a nice measure of humor. 🙂

      Like

  8. I started out as a smoking blog when I gave up smoking and this part of my blog, the first year (2014 – 2015) is still to this day the most read part of my blog. You are right, some posts have saying power, while others, the ones I thought were worth reading, are basically ignored. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, nonsmokingladybug!

      I can see how discussing smoking/stopping smoking would attract a lot of attention. A very important topic. Then, as attention on that topic continued, you followed that with all kinds of other interesting topics over the years.

      I also started my WordPress blog in 2014. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Good Morning Dave….June 3 2018 blog

    bebe
    JUNE 10, 2018 AT 5:04 PM
    Not to change the topic Dave, where is that powerful Woman of today, who could get the American Scoundrel out of the office ?
    Who is she ?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Bill Tammeus
      JUNE 3, 2018 AT 5:49 PM
      The real question for us this coming week, Dave, is whether any 19th Century strong women lived in Cincinnati. See you there.

      Liked by 2 people

      Reply

      Liked by 1 person

      • Bill Tammeus
        JUNE 3, 2018 AT 5:49 PM
        The real question for us this coming week, Dave, is whether any 19th Century strong women lived in Cincinnati. See you there.

        Liked by 2 people

        Reply

        Liked by 1 person

        • Thank you, bebe, for those “reprints” of comments from under the 6-3-2018 blog post. Yes, at the time, I was about to fly to Cincinnati for a National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference. It was a great meeting, as NSNC conferences always are. And it was nice seeing Cincinnati for the first time, though I’m sorry we didn’t get a chance to meet. Those conferences can be all-consuming.

          Strong female politicians in the U.S. who I admire greatly include Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, and Cori Bush, among others. Not sure how powerful they are, but I hope they’ll continue to have at least some clout.

          Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Dave, I have waxed very lyrical in my comments above about the role of sexism in books and modern lifestyles. I just wanted to add here that I have no idea which of my posts endure and which don’t. When I post them, I have a general idea about how they perform from likes and comments. I write c. 5 posts a week, three on Roberta Writes and two on my art/baking/poetry blog. I have never checked the stats page in all my years of blogging. It would make no real difference to me as I blog for about my own inspirations and thoughts and I hope people benefit from them, but I can let it go if they don’t.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. I think this post –and it is great to see it again– would be interesting because it is exactly the time you describe, a time where women writers emerged, and male authors created female characters who as you say broke the mould and we’ve all got great favorites in that respect.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Shehanne!

      The 1800s were indeed a great, formative time for literature — and women authors and women characters were a huge part of that. It’s impressive what was created in that century under the constraints of such a male-dominated world.

      Liked by 3 people

  12. The strong female character in a 19th-century novel who immediately comes to mind is Emma Bovary–not in the sense of a person with strength of character and intestinal fortitude, but from the perspective of being a fully-formed, three-dimensional character.

    Liked by 3 people

  13. Hi Dave, great to see this post thank you. Can I please put in a bid for the magnificent Margaret Hale, from Gaskell’s North and South. She is absolutely my favourite strong 19th century literary heroine (well, so far anyway – I haven’t yet read all the books haha!).

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Liz!

      I definitely would like to read “North and South,” and your enthusiasm for the Margaret Hale character is a big reason for that. So far, the only Gaskell work I’ve gotten to is her “Cranford” novel.

      “I haven’t yet read all the books” — great quip! 😂 Ain’t that the truth for all of us literature fans. 🙂 😦

      Liked by 3 people

  14. Dave – an excellent post and I imagine that this discussion will be excellent so I will come back again. This post has come at a serendipitous time for me as I am considering how writing has changed over the centuries influenced by societal factors. This came to my mind as I finished the #KaramazovReadalong. What I discovered was very interesting especially as it related to strong female characters and writers. Your wrote: “Of course, some of the 19th century’s male critics and readers slammed works that dared depict women as equal to men. Undoubtedly one of the reasons fewer women back then tried to write novels — and a number of those who did write them used male or gender-neutral aliases.” This is from one of the articles that I read from the Smithsonian Magazine that speaks to your thought:

    “The Transformation of Gender in English-Language Fiction,” published this week in the journal Cultural Analytics, analyzed the presentation of gender in more than 100,000 novels, finding a paradox when it came to novels of the 20th century: as the rigid gender roles seemed to dissipate, indicating more equality between the sexes, the number of women characters— and proportion of women authors—decreased….The first novels to use modern English were viewed more as entertainment and less as a legitimate literary endeavor. But “as the novel becomes more and more respectable,” says Jarvis, “it becomes less associated with female authorship.” In other words: men got in on writing novels when it started to look like a “serious” pursuit.”https://www.smithsonianmag.com/arts-culture/what-big-data-can-tell-us-about-women-and-novels-180968153/

    You always give me something to think about!! Many thanks!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca!

      Depressingly fascinating to hear that the proportion of female authors and characters decreased — at least for a while — when novels started being considered more as literary endeavors than “just” entertainment. Sexism rears its ugly head in various ways. 😦 I wonder if that trend started to reverse itself at some point later in the 20th century. Hope so.

      You find so many interesting facts and links!

      Liked by 5 people

      • I am a great believer in realignment. I believe that this trend is reversing as we become more open to diversity and inclusion. I find looking back into history essential for when I understand what was, I can seek a better way forward. You give me so many interesting things to research, Dave!!!

        Liked by 2 people

      • Hi Dave, as per my comment above, I like to take the positive road on this change and attribute it to a change in societal issues and less sexism against women. If its not topical, it’s not an interesting writing theme. I think women have made excellent progress in the equality arena. I also note that when given a choice, many women step back in their careers in order to nurture their children. In other words, many women, like me, make a deliberate decision not to pursue the top posts in their field of work, but rather to have a balanced work and family life. You cannot have your cake and eat it too, unfortunately.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you, Robbie!

          I agree that there has been much progress in gender equality — certainly since the 1800s — even as there has been some backsliding in some cases and some countries.

          And it’s indeed true that a number of women choose the work (and it’s of course work in addition to giving much joy) of raising children over career or full-time career, at least for a certain amount of time. Some men, too; I’ve been the stay-at-home parent for my younger daughter since her adoption came through in 2009, while still freelancing. Fortunately for my wife, her professor job has rarely involved traveling to her college five days a week, especially since COVID began.

          Liked by 2 people

          • Hi Dave, it is lovely that you have been able to do that for your daughter. There are some men who play a very big role in the upbringing of their children. I am thinking more of women who want limit their work activities and responsibilities so that they can spend more time with their children. Some women can’t, of course, because they are the sole earner in a household or the breadwinner.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Absolutely, Robbie. Women, more often than men, are the ones adjusting career expectations to care for children. And, yes, single/divorced/widowed mothers have to “do it all.” My mother was in that situation during my teen years.

              Liked by 2 people

    • “as the rigid gender roles seemed to dissipate, indicating more equality between the sexes, the number of women characters— and proportion of women authors—decreased…” This is a most interesting discussion point, Rebecca. Here are my thoughts about it: The novels that have endured generally have a common trait in that they contain a strong point of view about a perceived social issue. In the past, gender inequality has been a significant social issue and many people, male and female, wrote about it. Some of the books in Dave’s article are the products of this thought process. In our more modern times, there is a lot more equality between the sexes and so the social issues have evolved. Modern writers write about racism, LBGTQ issues, climate change, and disingenuous governments. Men and women are affected by, and have strong feeling about, these topics equally. Thus, in my opinion, it would be reasonable to see a change in the themes of great books and a shift in the authorships of books. There are also many more authors that we are exposed to from different backgrounds and cultures than a 100 years ago. A benefit of modern technology.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Indeed, an excellent benefit. As well, more people have the technology to self-publish which allows the rich experience of storytelling to endure. I know that you and Dave will appreciate this article from the Guardian by MA Sighart. Something to consider:
        “Margaret Atwood, a writer who should be on the bookshelves of anyone who cares about literary fiction, has a readership that is only 21% male. Male fellow Booker prize winners Julian Barnes and Yann Martel have nearly twice as many (39% and 40%)’

        https://amp.theguardian.com/books/2021/jul/09/why-do-so-few-men-read-books-by-women

        Thank you Robbie for your thoughtful comments and thank you Dave for providing a brilliant venue for our discussions.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Thank you, Rebecca, for the kind words and that depressing/eye-opening link. I knew there was some reluctance on the part of male readers to read books by women, but I didn’t realize how bad the statistics were. What a shame that many men haven’t experienced novels by Margaret Atwood, Toni Morrison, Liane Moriarty, George Eliot, Jane Austen, etc., etc. They are missing so much insight into women’s psyches, great stories, excellent entertainment, and more — and missing the opportunity to be spared some machismo and misogyny. I would guess that about 60% of the novels I read are by women.

          Liked by 1 person

        • Hi Rebecca, thank you for this link, I shall read this article. Maybe men prefer the writing style of other men. Certainly, the men in my life use words differently to me and share a lot fewer too. Maybe genre also makes a difference. It would be interesting to see whether more women than men read Hemingway, given his penchant for internal reflection and emotional love stories that end badly. I shall have to look it up.

          Liked by 2 people

  15. The topic of your post “Strong Female Characters in 19th-Century Fiction” seems to me highly challenging, Dave, and I am not suprised that it is so also for many others!:) I will read it as soon as possible! Personally, I do not usually count the numbers of my readers, but I shall maybe do it for once. In the meantime I have to think, if I can think of another famous woman not named by your! Many thanks for this very special post!

    Liked by 4 people

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