The Literary Ladies’ Guide to the Writing Life

Welcome to a site celebrating classic women authors who wrote enduring literature. Here you’ll find their words of wisdom for readers and writers. Enjoy their life stories and quotations; learn more about their books; read their advice on the writing life; and enjoy contemporary voices on the writing process.

Virginia Woolf wants you to write “For the good of the world”

Virginia Woolf

“I would ask you to write all kinds of books, hesitating at no subject however trivial or how vast. By hook or by crook, I hope you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.

For I am by no means confining you to fiction. If you would please me—and there are thousands like me—you would write books of travel and adventure, and research and scholarship, and history and biography, and criticism and philosophy and science. By so doing you will certainly profit the art of fiction. For books have a way of influencing each other. Read More→

Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys

Jean Rhys (August 24, 1890 – May 14, 1979) was born Ella Gwendolyn Rees Williams  in Roseau, Dominica, Jean Rhys is best known for her last novel, Wide Sargasso Sea, prequel and what modern critics consider a post-colonial response to Charlotte Brontës Jane Eyre. Published when Rhys was 76 and shaped by her Dominican heritage and reoccurring themes of exile, loss, alienation, sexual inequality, and enslavement, it imagines the descent into madness of Rochester’s white-Creole wife Antoinette (Bertha, “the madwoman in the attic”). It won the W.H. Smith Literary Award in 1967.

Rhys described her childhood as one spent “alone except for books” and with voices “that had nothing to do” with her. Her father, William Potts Rees Williams, was a Welsh doctor. Her mother, Minna, a third generation Dominican with Scottish ancestry, was cold and disapproving towards her daughter, creating a sense of abandonment for Jean that haunted her throughout her life. Although an Anglican Protestant, Rhys attended a convent school, was fascinated by the Catholic rituals and also the integration of blacks and whites in church. The servants in her household offered the companionship her mother didn’t, while pulling her into the magic and mayhem of their Caribbean culture. Read More→

Virginia Woolf: The Most Self-Critical Author of All Time?

Virginia Woolf

Despite (or because of) her brilliance, Virginia Woolf was continually beset with self-doubt. It’s now widely believed that she suffered from bipolar disorder. There were scant options for treatment at this time, and so, during particularly bad bouts of mania or depression, she withdrew, unable to participate in her active social life, and found it difficult to focus on writing. In The Marriage of Heaven and Hell: Manic Depression and the Life of Virginia Woolf, author and psychiatrist Peter Dally discerned a pattern by which Woolf appeared excited yet stable when starting a new book; then, when shaping and revising, her mood gave way to exhaustion and depression. Read More→

How Do I Become a More Effective Reader?

Doris Lessing by Roger Mayne

Dear Literary Ladies,

It’s important for someone who wants to be a good writer to be a good reader, right? Do you have any thoughts on becoming a more effective reader?

There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag — and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty-and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. Read More→

The Golden Notebook (1962) by Doris Lessing

The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing

From the original review of The Golden Notebook in the Tucson Daily Citizen by John Barkham, June 1962:  Doris Lessing has long impressed me as an underrated novelist. Her stories of southern Africa, The Grass is Singing, and of lower-class English life in Five, combine form with expression in a manner perfectly suited to the respective environments. The Golden Notebook is far and away her most ambitious work to date — a long and complex novel which draws on all the talents and insights of this gifted woman.

It is no ordinary work of fiction, either in manner or matter. The publisher compare its heroine, Anna, with the “new woman” of Ibsen and Shaw. This is going further than I would, but unquestionably The Golden Notebook is going to be debated and analyzed by students of the novel for a long time to come. Read More→