Shirley was the second published novel by Charlotte Brontë. Published in 1849 under the pseudonym Currer Bell, the author had already become famous with the success of Jane Eyre (1847). While Charlotte was at work on this book, her remaining siblings died. The first to go was her troubled brother Branwell, followed by sisters Emily and Anne, who would also come to be celebrated for their literary accomplishments.
The lengthy novel has two female protagonists — the eponymous Shirley Keeldar, as well as Caroline Helstone. Set in Charlotte’s native Yorkshire, it takes place against the background of the textile industry’s Luddite uprisings of 1811 and 1812.
Shirley: A Tale, as it was originally titled, is considered an example of the mid-19th century “social novel.” The social novels that emerged from that period were works of fiction dealing with themes like labor injustice, bias against women, and poverty. Read More→
Anzia Yezierska (1880 – 1970) was a writer whose body of work spoke to the immigrant experience in America in the early 1900s. Born in an area that’s now Poland but which was part of the Russian Empire when she was was a child, her family arrived in New York City’s Lower East Side during the immigration wave of the late 1800s. Anzia, then ten years old, never shed the feeling of being an outsider looking in.
All of Yezierska’s short stories are collected in How I Found America: Collected Stories of Anzia Yezierska, 1991. In her introduction to the book, literary critic Vivian Gornick wrote:
“She was a misfit all her life. Throughout the years, she saw herself standing on the street with her nose pressed against the bakery window: hungry and shut out. No matter what happened, she felt marginal. Not belonging was her identity, and then her subject. After she began to write, it was her necessity.” Read More→
Jane Eyre (1847) is Charlotte Brontë’s best known novel, the story of the title heroine’s love for the mysterious and reclusive Mr. Rochester and her quest for independence. Though it has been considered a feminist work, it also fits into the genre of the gothic novel due to that pesky little detail of Rochester’s mad wife locked away in an attic. Through the concise plot summary of Jane Eyre that follows, the reader will get an overview of the book that made Charlotte Brontë famous.
Jane, a young woman of unassuming background and appearance, searches for love and a sense of belonging while preserving her independence. The book sparked a fair amount of controversy when first published, which was fueled by critics and the public suspecting that “Currer Bell” (the author’s ambiguous pseudonym) was a woman. Still, the novel was an immediate success, securing for Charlotte a place in the literary world of her time and for generations to come. Read More→
Willa Cather (1873 – 1947) was a masterful American author of fiction whose spare yet evocative prose has held an enduring place in American literature. Life on the prairie and the immigrant families she had encountered inspired some of her earlier novels, including O Pioneers!, The Song of the Lark, and My Antonia. Death Comes for the Archbishop is considered one of her finest, and One of Ours won the Pulitzer prize.
After abandoning her initial ambition to study medicine, Cather embarked on a life of letters, first working as a journalist, critic, and editor. Her first published book was a collection of poems titled April Highlights (1903), remaining her only volume of poetry. Next came The Troll Garden (1905), a collection of short stories. Her first novel, Alexander’s Bridge, was published in 1912. Read More→
Most often, book clubs (aka book groups) choose recent publications for discussion, many straight off the current bestseller list. And this is understandable, given all the great books coming out. It’s hard enough to keep up with all the new publications, but can we make the case for discussions of classic literature by women authors?
Some suggestions in this post are by authors of the past that are still well known, while others have fallen under the literary radar. Either way, these novels make for fantastic reading and stimulating discussion. Books remain classics for a reason, after all. With universal themes of what it means to be a woman — and what it means to be human — these great stories are timeless. Read More→