Regiment of Women by Clemence Dane (1917)

Regiment of Women (Clemence Dane novel)

This introduction to Regiment of Women (1917), a proto-lesbian novel by the pseudonymous Clemence Dane, is is excerpted from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in mid-20th Century Women’s Fiction by Francis Booth, reprinted with permission:

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928 ), usually said to be the first English-language novel containing veiled lesbianism was just beaten to the title by Rosamond Lehmann’s Dusty Answer, 1927. But ten years before even that was Regiment of Women, 1917, the debut novel of Clemence Dane, the pseudonym of Winifred Ashton (1888-1965), London-born novelist, playwright, and early feminist.

Clemence Dane’s 1921 play, A Bill of Divorcement, was made into a film three times and Dane went on to write screenplays herself, including Anna Karenina, starring Greta Garbo. Read More→

Francie Nolan: Coming of Age in A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

The coming of age of a strong  female protagonist was a surprisingly common theme in mid-20-century literature by women authors. At a time when women’s progress suffered setbacks, perhaps the pages of books were an  outlet for repressed ambitions and desires. Francie Nolan, the gentle, relatable heroine of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith is considered in this excerpt from Girls in Bloom: Coming of Age in mid-20th Century Women’s Fiction by Francis Booth. Reprinted with permission:

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), the first published novel by Betty Smith (1896-1971) is a wonderful example of the female bildungsroman, following the central character Francie Nolan in an epic sweep from age eleven to seventeen. Beginning in summer 1912, the story centers around Francie and her Irish immigrant family, living in a Brooklyn slum where the children pick rags to make a few cents. Read More→

Merci, Colette: How the Legendary French Author Continues to Inspire

Sidonie Gabrielle Colette

This heartwarming essay by Tyler Scott is an homage to Colette (1873 – 1954), the bold and fearless French author, and discusses how she continues to inspire writers at any stage of practice:

In the fraught year of 2020, I had been too addled and worried to write very much. After a career as a freelancer, I started to wonder if things had ground to a halt. Was this the end of the line for me? After all that work? All that research? All those accolades? As Claudia Emerson, the late Pulitzer Prize-winning poet and onetime classmate told me, “Sometimes it’s just easier to quit.”

So, what opened my eyes, jolted my imagination, made me grab a pen and pick up my dusty journal? Colette. Thanks to a famous French author, I am writing again for the first time in months. Read More→

The Scandalous, Sexually Explicit Writings of Aphra Behn

Aphra Behn, scandalous English author

Aphra Behn (1640 – 1689), was far ahead of her time as the first Englishwoman to earn a living by the pen as a playwright, poet, and novelist. She was also considered scandalous not just for thriving in a profession generally closed to women, but for the sexually explicit nature of her writing. This aspect of her artistry is explored in this excerpt from Killing the Angel: Early British Transgressive Women Writers ©2021 by Francis Booth. Reprinted by permission:

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf espoused Aphra Behn’s cause as the great precursor of free women writers — though the first book in English was written by Julian of Norwich, the first autobiography was written by Margery Kempe, the first playwright and female poet since antiquity was Hrotsvitha and the first professional woman writer was probably Christine of Pizan. Read More→

Tomorrow Will Be Better by Betty Smith (1948)

Tomorrow Will be Better by Betty Smith

Betty Smith’s first novel, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (1943), was a tough act to follow. And while her subsequent novels were all solid efforts, they didn’t achieve the phenomenal success of her debut. Tomorrow Will Be Better (1948), Smith’s second novel, is still very much worth discovering.

The families depicted in Tomorrow Will Be Better — the Shannons and the Malones — might be fictional neighbors of the Nolan family of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.  Set in the tenements of Brooklyn in the 1920s, it’s a quintessentially American tale of pursuing dreams in the face of obstacles — not the least of which is poverty. 

Margy Shannon, a young woman filled with hope, is central to the narrative. In search of happiness and a better life, she faces disappointment with fortitude and dignity. As the review that follows noted, “Miss Smith has written a quiet, warm book about people she obviously knows and loves well.” Read More→

Elinor Wylie

Elinor Wylie

Elinor Wylie (September 7, 1885 – December 16, 1928) was a popular American poet and novelist in the 1920s and 1930s. She was a celebrated author in her lifetime, with a cult following in her pinnacle years. She was well known for her passionate writing, fueled by ethereal descriptors, historical references, and feminist undertones.

During her short span of eight years as a writer, Elinor published four volumes of poetry and four novels, all garnering praise.

She was also widely known for her tumultuous personal life, which often made its way into her writings. Many of her works offered insight into the difficulties of marriage and the impossible expectations that come with womanhood. Read More→

Advice to Young Ladies on Reading Novels — From Early Female Authors

lady montagu

Is it possible that early female authors actually warned their target audience —female readers —against the practice of reading novels? It’s not only possible, but seemed to be a fairly common occurrence. 

Excerpted from Killing the Angel: Early British Transgressive Women Writers ©2021 by Francis Booth. Reprinted by permission.

When Madame Bovary first commits adultery, Flaubert tells us that it was her early reading of novels that was to blame: “she recalled the heroines of the books that she had read, and the lyric legion of these adulterous women began to sing in her memory with the voice of sisters that charmed her.”

In his A Plan for the Conduct of Female Education of 1797, Erasmus Darwin warns that ‘many objectionable passages’ are to be found in novels and Rousseau said ‘no chaste girls ever read a novel.’ But even groundbreaking literary ladies who wrote novels themselves were in two minds about letting their daughters, granddaughters and nieces read them. Here’s a sampling:

Read More→

Giannina Braschi in the World of Contemporary Latinx Literature

Giannina Braschi portrait

This introduction to Latinx literary figure Giannina Braschi is excerpted from Poets, Philosophers, Lovers: On the Writings of Giannina Braschi, edited by by Frederick Luis Aldama and Tess O’Dwyer. © 2020 University of Pittsburgh Press. All rights reserved, reprinted by permission.

Scholar, playwright, spoken-word performer, award-winning poet, and avant-garde fiction author, since the 1980s Giannina Braschi has been creating up a storm in and around a panoply of Latinx hemispheric spaces.

Her creative corpus reaches across different genres, regions, and historical epochs. Her critical works cover a wide range of subjects and authors, including Miguel de Cervantes, Garcilaso de la Vega, Juan Ramón Jiménez, Gustavo Adolfo Bécquer, Antonio Machado, César Vallejo, and García Lorca. Read More→

Subscribe to The Literary Ladies Guide weekly newsletter

Celebrating women’s voices
with inspiration for readers and writers

  • Find your next great read
  • Get writing advice from authors you love
  • Enjoy fascinating facts and quotes
  • Discover women’s literary history

... and lots more (look for a bonus in your welcome letter!)
Email address
Secure and Spam free...