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.

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber

Edna Ferber (August 15, 1885 – April 16, 1968), American novelist and playwright, is a name perhaps less known today than other classic women authors.  In her heyday, she was considered one of the most successful writers of the time—primarily the 1920s through the early 50s. Her sprawling stories may be better known today than she herself is; it could be argued that she’s a forgotten author to be revisited.

Born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, Ferber came of age in Appleton, Wisconsin. There, she started her writing career as a newspaper reporter at age 17. That led to a similar post at the Milwaukee Journal.  She stored many of the experiences she encountered to use in her books.

Complete devotion to writing

Ferber’s life was completely devoted to writing, almost to the exclusion of all else. She was constantly asked by readers if her novels were telling the story of her own life, because the characters, events and settings were so real to them. She considered these tales her “inner life” as they came to reality in her mind and by her pen.  Read More→

Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë: Alike or Different?

Cassandra Austen's portrait of Jane Austen (ac.1810)

Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë might be linked by their early 19th-century British backgrounds and legions of devotees, but, according to James Edward Austen-Leigh, nephew of the former, “No two writers could be more unlike each other than Jane Austen and Charlotte Brontë; so much so that the latter was unable to understand why the former was admired, and confessed that she herself ‘should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.’”

A distinct talent

Born in 1775 in Hampshire, England, Jane Austen was part of a convivial middle-class family consisting of five brothers and an elder sister, Cassandra, with whom she was very close. The Austens valued education; the two girls briefly attended boarding school and continued to receive further education at home. Read More→

Classic Women Authors on Fame and Fortune

Harriet Beecher Stowe

We all know that writing, in its essence, isn’t about publishing. At the risk of stating the obvious, writing is a journey, one that, if you follow it with passion and heart, will take you where you need to go. But admit it. You’ve fantasized at least once about what it would be like to be a famous, bestselling author. I’ll admit that I’ve daydreamed about it at least once or twice—per day, that is.

Fame has its pleasures and advantages, but has its down side, too. Many of the classic authors on this site admitted to craving recognition — and the financial independence that was rare for women of their times. Few were “overnight successes,” though it may have appeared so to the world. Hard work, setbacks, and disappointments most often preceded their breakthroughs. Read More→

Dorothy Parker’s review of Ice Palace by Edna Ferber

Ice palace by Enda Ferber

It’s always fascinating to come upon  a review by one classic author of the work of another. In this case, Dorothy Parker’s review of Ice Palace by Edna Ferber, one of her behemoth later novels, gets the acid-penned treatment. Of the two authors, Parker is the one who has been more enduring; in their time, Ferber was one of the richest, most successful writers, something to which Parker hilariously eludes.

Parker was the book reviewer (Constant Reader) for The New Yorker for a number of years; later, she was the reviewer for Esquire, where this review was published. Keep in mind that when Ice Palace was published in 1957, Alaska was not yet a state (that would imminently happen in 1959). Read More→

How can I find my unique writing voice?

Willa Cather as a young woman

Dear Literary Ladies,
My desire to be a really good writer exceeds nearly all else. But like a lot of artists, I fear what I want most. It’s like I’m tripping over my own feet. I’m self-conscious and that “trying too hard” style shows up in my writing. How can I get out of my own way and find my unique voice?

The business of writing is a personal problem and must be worked out in an individual way. A great many people ambitious to write, fall by the wayside, but if they are the discourageable kind it is better that they drop out. No beginner knows what [she] has to go through with or [she] would never begin. Read More→

National Velvet (1944 Film) Comes to the Big Screen

From the original 1944 review by Jack O’Brien, AP Drama Editor: The new MGM film, “National Velvet,” is enchantingly reminiscent of “Lassie Come Home.” Like the latter, it concerns an animal —  this time a racehorse. Unlike it, however, the principal role is not the animal’s. A little girl, Elizabeth Taylor, wraps up the picture and walks away with it right under the nose of a great film larcenist, Mickey Rooney.

“National Velvet” is an adaptation of the novel of the same name by Enid BagnoldThe theme is simple: a young girl acquires a horse and eventually enters it in the Grand National Sweepstakes. Read More→