The 1913 novel O Pioneers! by Willa Cather is written in the spare yet lyrical prose that came to define her style. One of her earliest novel, and one of the most successful on many levels, it explores themes of fate, love, perseverance, family ties, and community. The novel’s central character, Alexandra Bergson, is the daughter of Swedish immigrants who pioneer the harsh, unforgiving land of the Nebraska prairie.
In an unusual move, Alexandra’s father tasks her, in his dying wish, with taking the lead on managing the family farm. He tells his sons to honor the decisions of their sister. Of course, a novel doesn’t move along without conflict, but Cather delivers it without the sentimentality and overwrought prose characteristic of novels of that era. Read More→
One of the earliest works of feminist philosophical literature, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman: With Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects was written by Mary Wollstonecraft and published in 1792.
In this classic, Mary Wollstonecraft (not to be confused with her daughter, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, author of Frankenstein) argues for equality of men and women: Men and women are both born with equal ability to reason, and therefore power and influence should be available to all regardless of gender.
Wollstonecraft believed that regardless of wealth and social status, males and females should have the same educational opportunities. She sought radical reform of the 18th-century education system, believing that a society where females are offered the same opportunities as males would bring only beneficial change to the future of humanity. Read More→
The Awakening (1899) by Kate Chopin focuses on the struggle against societal expectations for women in their roles as wives and mothers. The novella follows the story of Edna Pontellier, a woman with unfulfilled sexual desires who questions the sanctity of motherhood. The theme of marital infidelity is approached from the unique perspective of the wife.
Because critics reacted negatively to its taboo subject matter, The Awakening was widely banned, and even fell out of print for several decades before being rediscovered in the 1970s. It’s now considered a classic of feminist fiction.
In her analysis of this novella on this site, Sarah Wyman writes that it “came under immediate attack when published and was banned from bookstores and libraries. The author died virtually forgotten, yet The Awakening has been rediscovered and holds a secure and prominent position as a watershed text in U.S. literature and feminist studies.” Read More→
Emma by Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) was first published in December, 1815. Before she began the novel, Austen wrote, “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”
In the first sentence she introduces the main character as “Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich.” Emma is privileged and headstrong, greatly overestimating her matchmaking abilities, her imagination often leading her astray.
Emma was the last novel to be completed and published during Jane Austen’s life, as Persuasion, the last novel Austen wrote, was published posthumously. Emma has been adapted for several films, many television series, multiple stage plays, and has been the inspiration for several novels. Following are a collection of quotes from Emma, a novel that has been said to have “changed the face of fiction”: Read More→
Vita Sackville-West (1892 – 1962), the British author best known for All Passion Spent and The Edwardians was nearly equally known for her passion for gardening and garden design. The gardens at her ancestral home, Sissinghurst, are masterful. Though she considered herself an amateur, she remains a respected name in garden design.
She had a voice that was at once authoritative yet never bossy, often acknowledging that the garden can become the master of its caretaker, rather than the other way around. Something that always comes through is her passion for gardens, gardening, and beauty in bloom. According to The Telegraph in a recent appraisal of Vita’s gardening legacy: