12 Lesser-Known Classic Women Novelists Worth Rediscovering
By Nava Atlas | On | Comments (4)
On the subject of classic women novelists worth rediscovering, we could make the argument that ninety percent of the authors on this site are ripe for rediscovery. Some authors are still read and considered, even if only in the academic realm of women’s studies classes. These include Zora Neale Hurston who was indeed rediscovered after falling into obscurity, and Charlotte Perkins Gilman, whose story The Yellow Wallpaper is an iconic work of feminist literature.
A few (not enough!) women authors’ books are still staples in and out of the classroom including To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck. Then there are the ever-respected Virginia Woolf, and of course, the beloved Jane Austen and the Brontë sisters.
Sadly, though, there are quite a number of women who were once widely read but have fallen under the literary radar. Here are 12 of them — classic women novelists who whose books deserve to be read and enjoyed just today as much as they were in their time.
Jessie Redmon Fauset (1882 – 1961) was an American editor, poet, essayist, and novelist who was deeply involved with the Harlem Renaissance literary movement. She wrote four novels about race and class, the best known of which was arguably Plum Bun.
Edna Ferber (1885 – 1968), American novelist and playwright, was considered one of the most successful mid-20th-century authors Her sprawling novels each captured a slice of Americana, and several became famous films, including Giant and Show Boat.
Miles Franklin (1879 – 1954) was an Australian author with a feminist bent. Her best-known novel, My Brilliant Career, is the story of a teenage girl growing up in the Australian bush in the late 1800s still seems fresh and relevant today. It was adapted into a charming 1979 film.
Rumer Godden (1907 – 1998), the British-born novelist and memoirist, was raised mainly in India at the height of colonial rule. A mid-20th-century favorite whose novels melded the commercial and literary; nine of them, including In This House of Brede, became films.
Laura Z. Hobson (1900 – 1986) is an author whose name has been eclipsed by her best-known novel, Gentleman’s Agreement. The film version went on to win multiple Academy Awards. Laura wrote a number of other fascinating and readable novels that have fallen into obscurity.
Nella Larsen (1891 – 1964), was an American author associated with the Harlem Renaissance movement. She only wrote two novels — Quicksand (1928) and Passing (1929), both of which are back in print! These exquisite short novels about race and identity are worth enjoying as well as studying.
Ann Petry (1908 – 1997) was the first African-American woman to produce a book (The Street) whose sales topped one million. At its peak, the 1946 novel sold 1.5 million copies and was reissued in 1992. Her three other novels also depicted slices of black life in America.
Jean Rhys (1890 – 1979) is best remembered for Wide Sargasso Sea, considered a prequel to Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre. She wrote other novels, but her imagining of how Rochester’s wife came to be “the madwoman in the attic” is her most remarkable.
May Sarton (1912 – 1995), might be better known for her memoir series that began with Plant Dreaming Deep, but she was also a pioneer of modern queer fiction. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing was pretty radical for 1965 and The Education of Harriet Hatfield could still have been ahead of its time in 1989.
Margery Sharp (1905 – 1991), once a popular British author, wrote in the comic novel genre. Recently some of her novels, including Cluny Brown, were reissued in new editions. She was also known for The Rescuers series for children, two of which were adapted into animated Disney films.
Dodie Smith (1896 – 1990) was a British novelist and playwright. Surely you’ve heard of The Hundred and One Dalmatians (later better known as The 101 Dalmatians), and perhaps even the young adult novel I Capture the Castle. She has other titles to her credit as well, all worth another look.
Elizabeth von Arnim (1866 – 1941), an Australian-born novelist, was best known for The Enchanted April and Elizabeth and her German Garden. Not much is known about this mysterious author, but tales of unhappy marriages told with a dry wit are still a treat to read.