We all know that knowledge is power. Without knowledge, anyone would be powerless. Reading inculcates knowledge. Yet, up until the very recent 20th century, women were discouraged from reading. In fact, it was a common notion that reading would give “ideas” to women. As women were deemed to be high-strung second-class humans, the very idea of empowering women with knowledge was laughable.
In the 19th century, ladies who preferred books to soirees were derided as bluestockings. It was unthinkable for a woman of gentle birth to take up any sort of respectable profession, let alone being an author. People from all strata of society believed well-educated and career-driven ladies would never get any kind of tangible success. The true place of a woman was at the home with her husband and children. Yet, there were many dauntless women who subverted society’s archaic notions. A number of women defied social conventions and took up the pen. These ladies not only showed that a woman could do anything she put her mind to but also made tremendous contributions to the world of literature.
Let us have a look at some amazing female authors of the 19th century who continue to enchant us with their words.
Genre: Regency Literature
Who has not heard of the inimitable Jane Austen? Born in 1775 England, Austen weaved a plethora of masterpieces that still manages to still our hearts centuries after their first publication. All of her novels including Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Mansfield Park, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion give us a nuanced portrait of the British gentry. We also get to see how women were judged on the basis of their marriageability. With multiple adaptations and screen renditions, her works continue to inspire millions of bibliophiles around the world.
Would you believe that Jane Austen had little fame during her lifetime? To escape the social derision of being a female author, Austen published anonymously. Her book covers usually bore the title “By a Lady.” It was only after her death did her brother, Henry Austen, published Persuasion and Northanger Abbey under her own name. Austen’s works soared in popularity after her nephew published her biography, Memoir of Jane Austen in 1870. Nevertheless, we will be forever grateful to her for all of her amazing novels.
The Bronte Sisters
Genre: Gothic Fiction
The Bronte family was truly blessed in the talent department. The three Bronte sisters, Charlotte, Emily, and Anne were all prolific authors. Though confident in their writing skills, the sisters knew that they would not be taken seriously in the literary world as they were merely women. In fact, Charlotte received a scathing reply from Robert Southey when she sent her poetry to him. Hence, the sisters began their careers by assuming male nome de plumes. Charlotte became Currer Bell, Emily took on the name of Ellis Bell while Anne chose Acton Bell. In 1846, the sisters published their first collection, Poems of Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Soon, each of the sisters came up with their masterpieces. Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights still manage to send a chill through my spine. While Jane Eyre portrayed the precarious position and rocky pursuit of love of a governess, Wuthering Heights delved into the darkness of love and humanity. Charlotte also came out with The Professor, Shirley, and Villette. Anne Bronte’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall stunned contemporary society. It showed women in a new light and challenged Victorian morals. Her first novel, Agnes Grey has managed to stand the test of time as well. Though having led a difficult life, the Bronte sisters’ influence in the world of literature is undeniable.
Genre: Victorian Literature
Don’t get baffled by the name George Eliot. Mary Anne Evans adopted the masculine pen name to forgo being stereotyped as a female author. George Eliot is one of those rare writers who remained famous both during and after her lifetime. All seven of her novels are works of great merit. Middlemarch, one of her most acclaimed books, has been hailed as the greatest book in English Literature by many renowned writers. Virginia Wolfe thought it to be a magnificent piece. Apart from Middlemarch, she penned Adam Bede, Mill on the Floss, Silas Marner, Romola, and Daniel Deronda. She also came up with the political novel, Felix Holt, the Radical.
Genre: Gothic Science Fiction
It can easily be asserted that Mary Shelley is one of the progenitors of science fiction. She started working on her ground-breaking novel, Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus, when she was merely eighteen-year-old. The story of Victor Frankenstein, who inadvertently created a sapient creature, is one of its kind. Apart from Frankenstein, Mary pended a number of intriguing books including Valperga and Rambles in Germany and Italy. She was also a talented editor who devoted her skills to the work of her renowned husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley. Even surrounded by famous people like her father, William Godwin, mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, and husband, Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary was able to come out of their shadows and assert a presence of her own.
Genre: Psychological & Sociological Novel
Elizabeth Gaskell was a popular Victorian author and social reformer. Gaskell became an author by quite an accident. She found an interest in writing while chronicling the childhood of her eldest child. Soon, she began to pen articles. Then came a time when she came up with her first novel. The devastating death of her son prompted her to write Mary Barton, a book portraying the deplorable conditions of the labor class of the time. This first book immediately propelled her popularity. She was welcomed into the literary circles of her time with open arms. Her interest in social issues like prison reform and poverty helped her build a great relationship with Charles Dickens and Samuel Rogers. Her novel, Cranford, delved into the life and psychology of females. It was Gaskell who wrote Charlotte Bronte’s first biography, The Life of Charlotte Bronte, at the behest of her father. Some of her works like, Wives and Daughters, North and South, and Cranford were turned into movies. Interestingly, Gaskell used the pseudonym Cotton Mather Mills before deciding to publish her works under the name of Mrs. Gaskell.
It was due to the pioneering work of the early female writers that today’s girls have the privilege of dreaming to be authors. At one point their works were not taken seriously and were thought to be the product of inferior minds. Today, their books are studied worldwide. Even hundreds of years after publication, these amazing women and their enthralling books continue to mesmerize us.
Do comment and let me know your favorite female author from the list.
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One thought on “Top 5 Evergreen British Female Authors from the 19th Century”
Will try these books soon!
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