Women in fiction

Female writers have contributed some of the most popular works of literature to the English literary canon. The first and second waves of feminism during the 20th century contributed to a growing interest in the complexities of women’s writing in the English language.

Bronte Sisters

In the 19th Century the Bronte sisters were responsible for some of the most loved works of literature in modern times. Born in Yorkshire in the early 19th century Anne, Charlotte and Emily are examples of female writers who had to resort to publishing some of their work under pseudonyms. These alternate names were used both to preserve secrecy and to avoid the prejudiced treatment that they believed many book reviewers gave to women. Charlotte and Emily are the most celebrated of the three sisters, with Anne perhaps the lesser known of the three in modern times. Charlotte is famous for writing Jane Eyre, whilst Emily’s only novel Wuthering Heights, has come to be considered one of the greatest novels in the English language. Wuthering Heights was not a critical success when it was published in 1847, but has gone on to be adapted for film and television many times proving it has a great appeal and longevity. Female novelists such as the Bronte sisters are particularly important because of their ability to write with such imagination about the experiences of women in Victorian England. They shed light on the complexities of love and life in middle classed society whilst demonstrating a dry sense of humour whilst using vivid imagery inspired by their life on the Yorkshire Moors.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen is another good example of a great female novelist who initially published her work anonymously, so critics and readers would not be prejudiced because the writer was a woman. Female writers in the 19th and 18th century had to compete with the great male writers of their era such as Charles Dickens, as well as prejudiced critics who doubted a woman’s ability to write as well as a man. Austen’s novels are famous for their realism, and the way in which they examine how women had to depend on marriage to improve their social standing and financial wellbeing. The realism of her writing came to be a more widely used writing style during the late 19th century, as novelists began to focus on moral issues and the realities of Victorian life. Some of her most famous works include Emma, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Pride and Prejudice, with several of these titles being made even more popular in modern film and television adaptations. Although the many adaptations of Austen’s work vary in their faithfulness to the original source material, they have ensured that her novels have a permanent place in modern popular culture.

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