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.

Jane Austen

Jane Austen

Jane Austen (December 16, 1775 – July 18, 1817), the renowned British author, led a writing life of the inimitable artist. Despite her charm and modesty, she continually hints that she was in full mastery of her gift and cared deeply about getting published despite myths to the contrary.

Though only a small portion of her letters survive, she left enough material in her first-person narratives to reveal a sense of the woman behind the pen. She sought to create perfection and grace, no matter what the outcome.

Born in Steventon, Hampshire (England), 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 Austen family valued education and sent the two girls briefly to boarding school in addition to receiving further education at home. Read More→

Why is Mr. Darcy So Attractive?

Mr. Darcy

“Darcy is Still the Ultimate Sex Symbol” is the title of a recent article by Katy Brand in The Telegraph. The article features a photograph of Colin Firth and his famous wet shirt from the 1995 A&E/BBC Pride and Prejudice series.

I can’t reproduce the image here, because I’ve promised to try very hard not to talk about the “white noise” of popular culture that surrounds Pride and Prejudice. This is fourth in a series of ten articles on ‘Rereading Pride and Prejudice’; find all ten here. But now that I have your attention, I want to ask for your help in identifying what it is that makes Mr. Darcy so attractive — in the novel. Read More→

No Time, Privacy, or Self-Discipline: Blasting Through Writing Excuses

Harriet Beecher Stowe, 1852

Too much to do and too little time, no room of one’s own, and no willpower to simply sit down and write—those are the Big Three of “why I’m not writing” excuses. Those obstacles were as true for women writers in earlier generations as they are for today’s writers, if perhaps even more valid and not just excuses to dawdle.

Sure, you’re busy, but you may feel less overwhelmed when you learn that Harriet Beecher Stowe (at right) had seven children, and was in charge of all the household duties, aside from being responsible for bringing in at least half of its income. Not to mention some of the crushing losses she endured.

Still, she somehow found the wherewithal to complete Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a book that’s been credited with shifting public attitude about slavery when it was published in 1853. In times past, a writer was truly alone with the blank piece of paper. Read More→

Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather (1927) – a review

Death comes for the archbishop

Original review of Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather in the Decatur (IL) Herald, September 1927: A new book by Willa Cather constitutes the literary news of the month.

When she gave us My Mortal Enemy a year ago, it was apparently in the mood of experimentation, an essay in condensation. Now she is experimenting again but with a different view. She is attempting the final achievement of realism, in creating a novel that can with difficulty be distinguished from biography. Read More→

How can I tell if what I’m writing is any good?

eudora welty

Dear Literary Ladies,
While in the midst of writing, how can you gauge if your work is any good? It’s so hard to be objective, and see the forest from the trees. Should I compare my writing with that of other writers I admire?

Since we must and do write each in our own way, we may during actual writing get more lasting instruction not from another’s work, whatever its blessings, however better it is than ours, but from our own poor scratched-over pages. For these we can hold up to life. That is, we are born with a mind and heart to hold each page up to and to ask: Is it valid? Read More→

Wit and Wisdom from L.M. Montgomery’s Novels

L.M. Montgomery in her 30s

L.M. Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables and its sequels, beloved by generations of readers. While struggling with lifelong bouts of depression, she was keenly conscious of bringing joy to those who read her novels, which were filled with gentle wisdom and wit. Here are some favorite witty and wise quotes from a few of her many books:

“It’s not what the world holds for you. It is what you bring to it.” (Anne of Green Gables, 1908)

“Next to trying and winning, the best thing is trying and failing.” (Anne of Green Gables, 1908)

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.” (Anne of Green Gables, 1908 ) Read More→