My Ántonia (1918) by American author, Willa Cather (1873 — 1947), was considered Cather’s first masterpiece. My Ántonia is the last book of her “prairie trilogy” of novels, preceded by O Pioneers! and The Song of the Lark.
The novel takes place in 19th-century Nebraska and tells the stories of an orphan boy from Virginia, Jim Burden, and the eldest daughter in an immigrant family from Bohemia, Ántonia Shimerda, who were each brought to be pioneers. There in the lifeless prairie, Ántonia makes friends and improves the condition of the land.
The first year in the prairie leaves lifelong impressions in both children, a theme that’s explored throughout the novel. Cather was highly praised for My Ántonia, giving life to the American West and making it fascinating to readers.
Wouldn’t it be great to get writing advice from women authors — some of the most iconic voices in literature — even (or especially) those who are no longer with us? Here’s your chance! In this first of a multi-part series of roundups we call “Dear Literary Ladies” We’ve “asked” classic women authors some of the universal questions about writing and the writer’s life, and found the answers in their first-person musings.
Peering through the lens of the past is an intriguing way to examine issues and questions that linger into the present. It’s now easier and more acceptable for women to write both for pleasure as well as profit, to be sure. However, it’s still challenging to find the will and focus to do so while raising children, to get that first work published, to make a living by writing, and above all, to have courage to send one’s words into the world. Read More→
The Member of the Wedding (1946) was Carson McCullers’ third novel, published when she she was just twenty-eight. It followed the incredibly successful The Heart is a Loney Hunter (1940), published when McCullers was just twenty-three.
The story centers on a lonely twelve-year-old girl, Frankie Addams, who prefers to be known as F. Jasmine. Her mother has died, and her father, a jeweler, treats her with benign neglect. The story takes place during a hot summer in a small Georgia town, finding Frankie consumed with worry that she doesn’t belong anywhere or with anyone. Read More→
Charlotte Brontë (1816 – 1855) outlived all five of her siblings, including her literary sisters, Emily and Anne. The grief at losing her sisters at ages thirty and twenty-nine, respectively, may have been easing with the happiness she found as the wife of Arthur Bell Nichols, and the widespread recognition of her talents as a writer.
Jane Eyre, Shirley, and Villette had all been published, and Charlotte was recognized as a major talent. Her books sold well, too. And though she was still known as “Currer Bell,” the male pseudonym she’d use to break into the publishing world, her true identity had been established. Read More→
The Mandarins by Simone de Beauvoir is a semi-autobiographical novel published in her native French in 1954, and in English translation in 1956. The same year it was published in France, it won the prestigious literary prize, the Prix Goncourt. When it was published outside of France, de Beauvoir was best known (as she is still today, perhaps) for her 1949 nonfiction book, The Second Sex, a feminist classic.
The Mandarins encompasses many of de Beauvoir’s favored themes, including existentialism, feminism, political structures (including communism), and morality.
The novel portrays a group of a close-knit group of friends who call themselves “the Mandarins” — referring to the scholar-bureaucrats of imperial China. The core group of characters identify as intellectuals, and grapple with what kind of role they might play in post World-War II Europe. Read More→
Little Women, the beloved 1868 novel by Louisa May Alcott (1832 – 1888), follows the lives of the four March sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy. The 1994 film adaptation of Little Women highlighted the coming of age of strong-willed, tomboyish Jo, who was as much of its standout character as she was in the novel.
With a screenplay by Robin Swicord, and directed by Gillian Armstrong (also the director of the wonderful 1979 film version of My Brilliant Career) , this was the fifth feature film adaptation of Alcott’s classic Little Women. It followed silent versions released in 1917 and 1918; director George Cukor’s 1933 film; and a 1949 adaptation by Mervyn LeRoy. The film was released nationwide on Christmas Day of 1994 by Columbia Pictures.
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 – 1894) is one of the most enduring and beloved of Victorian poets. Born in London, she was youngest of four artistic and literary siblings, the best known of whom is the pre-Raphaelite poet and painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.
Her long poem Goblin Market, is perhaps her most famous work. She was praised by her contemporaries, including Alfred, Lord Tennyson, and was considered by some as the natural successor to Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Christina Rossetti’s poetry reflected her devotion, passion, pensiveness, and occasionally, playfulness. Read More→
Though Jessie Tarbox Beals (1870 – 1942) wasn’t a literary figure, we’ve been highlighting pioneering female journalists here on Literary Ladies Guide, and she was a true trailblazer. Though she rarely contributed the texts to the news stories she took, she was a storyteller with her camera. As America’s first woman news photographer, she broke many barriers and encouraged other women to follow suit.
Jessie was the first woman to be hired as a staff photographer on a U.S. newspaper and the first American woman to get a byline as a photojournalist. She herself found nothing extraordinary about the pursuit, claiming that photography was a profession that could be mastered by any woman who “has good health, perseverance, and a nose for news.”