Classics Club – The Women’s Classic Literature Event

Happy New Year, and the happiest of 2016s!

Back in October, I reposted an event of The Classics Club’s, to read more ‘classic women’ in 2016. Here’s an extract from their original post, to refresh everyone’s memory (not least of all mine):

“We’re going to have an event. It officially starts today because it is no fun to wait until January. But you can wait until January if you want to. 🙂

The event? Read classic literature by female authors, & share your thoughts (or links to your thoughts) at #ccwomenclassics on Twitter, or in our quarterly check-ins, which we’ll have here in January, April, July, October, & December of 2016.

This event is way more a celebration than a “reading challenge.” It’s about hunting out those forgotten titles which didn’t make it into the official canon, & reading them & sharing the excitement. Or exploring the females who are in the canon. For example, if you want to spend the entire year poring over Middlemarch by George Eliot, going a chapter or two a month and gently journaling, we don’t want to stifle that by asking you to meet a title count.

You can make a preset list, if you want one. (We think preset lists are mighty fine!) You can give yourself a goal. Or you can do this thing organically: read as you’re inspired, and share as you’re inspired, & give us a wave now & then.

You can choose any genre you like: Gothics, sensation fiction, sentimental novels, children’s classics, letters, journals, essays, short stories, female writers from the American South, Irish classics by women, African classics by women, Australian classics by women, poetry, plays. You can do all Persephone titles, all Virago, all forgotten nineteenth century letter-writers, all journals, all novels, all essays, all feminist works — or a mix. You could do a deep exploration of a single author’s work, or pick a couple authors whose works you’d like to compare and contrast. You could set up your own dueling authors: read three by one author, and three by the other, and see who comes out on top. Really, you can get as creative as you want with this event. If the title was penned by a female and written or published before 1960, it counts. (We don’t actually care if you want to fudge that date.)

Biographies on classic females count, too. (Even if they were written recently.) If you go that route, it would be lovely if you shared your author findings in a post so others can learn! If you want to list a series of poems by women & call that your list, it counts. Often women wrote short stories for magazines when they couldn’t find a publisher for their novel. That counts! Tour the centuries and continents or locate yourself in England in the nineteenth century. Your list is the product of your own exploration and imagination. If you want to reread the whole Little House collection for the entire year — THAT COUNTS. 🙂 The point is to get people thinking about women writers & sharing favorite reads.”

The full post is here, if you want it.

Anyway, I think this is a fab idea – especially after I revisited my original Classics Club list and found that, of my 50 titles, only NINE were written by women. Shame on me!

I’m going to try to read the majority of those nine over the course of this year but, other than that, I haven’t made a pre-set list. The best laid plans, and all. But I have, finally, got around to answering the Classics Club’s survey questions, below. Now all there is to do is to start reading 🙂

  1. Introduce yourself. Tell us what you are most looking forward to in this event. – Hello! I’m Jen. I’m an off-and-on blogger, but a much more dedicated reader (of both books and book blogs), and I’m most looking forward to getting – and hopefully giving – recommendations for new-to-me classics.
  2. Have you read many classics by women? Why or why not? – I did when I was at school and university (I’m a lapsed English Literature graduate), although nowhere near as many as those by men. Go figure.
  3. Pick a classic female writer you can’t wait to read for the event, & list her date of birth, her place of birth, and the title of one of her most famous works. – This is outrageous, but I’m yet to read anything by Virginia Woolf (1882-1941, England). I think I’ve always thought of her as a ‘difficult’ writer, and so been a little bit too scared to try. This is a bit nuts, and I hope to address it post-haste this year. On my list is To The Lighthouse; I suspect it may lead to more.
  4. Think of a female character who was represented in classic literature by a male writer. Does she seem to be a whole or complete woman? Why or why not? Tell us about her. (Without spoilers, please!) – Towards the end of last year, I read Vanity Fair by William Thackeray. This doorstep of a novel was driven by two female characters who were polar opposites – Amelia and Becky – and I don’t think Thackeray was fair in his treatment of either of them. He was patronising, and they lacked moral subtlety, to the point where I almost threw the book across the room. Hopefully it’s not a spoiler to say that I thought this got worse as the book went on. I actually haven’t reviewed Vanity Fair on this blog yet, partly because I’m still trying to come to terms with how I felt about the novel as a whole.
  5. Favorite classic heroine? (Why? Who wrote her?) – Too many to count, but I’m going to have to say Lizzie Bennet. Not exactly an original choice, but I still remember reading Pride and Prejudice for the first time aged fourteen, and it being one of the great literary experiences of my early life. Plus, it takes serious gumption to turn down Colin Firth – I mean, Mr Darcy…
  6. We’d love to help clubbers find great titles by classic female authors. Can you recommend any sources for building a list? (Just skip this question if you don’t have any at this point.) – I never get tired of reading publishers’ lists. If I were looking for women writers in particular, I’d try Persephone or Virago, but the Penguin Classics website is basically bookp*rn too.
  7. Recommend three books by classic female writers to get people started in this event. (Again, skip over this if you prefer not to answer.) – Trying to steer away from the totally obvious (Jane Eyre, Middlemarch, the entire works of Jane Austen, all of which are great places to start), three classic female writers I’ve really enjoyed are: Aphra Behn (Oroonoko). Behn is probably the earliest female writer I’ve read, and Oroonoko was one of the very earliest novels, written in the 1600s. It is the story of an enslaved African prince, and surprisingly modern. Elizabeth Gaskell (North and South, Mary Barton). A 19th century novelist, but one who is perhaps less well-known than Austen or the Brontes, and much more interested in the plight of the working class. It’s a long time since I read her, but I remember really enjoying both of these novels – as social history, as much as for their pure narrative value. Margaret Mitchell (Gone with the Wind). A perfect doorstop novel for winter – and with wonderfully written women. I’m also going to cheat a little bit, and mention a few slightly more recent novels by women who have rocked my world – Beloved by Toni Morrison, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, and The Bloody Chamber, by Angela Carter.
  8. Will you be joining us for this event immediately, or will you wait until the new year starts? – Oh dear, I did mean to start earlier, but I guess the datestamp on this post sort of takes care of this question for me, doesn’t it?
  9. Do you plan to read as inspiration pulls, or will you make out a preset list? – Mainly inspiration, although I will be guided by the reads and re-reads on my main CC list. I find it difficult to read ‘to plan’ – I’m too flighty. Also I think one of the main joys of something like this is to be free to discover new things throughout the year.
  10. Are you pulling to any particular genres? (Letters, journals, biographies, short stories, novels, poems, essays, etc?) – I’m mainly a novels girl, although I would like to dip into some related non-fiction. In particular, the superb Claire Tomalin has written a biography of Jane Austen which has been on my list for a while.
  11. Are you pulling to a particular era or location in literature by women? – Not really; I’m hoping to increase the diversity of my reading, which may pull me towards a few books which are more recent than 1960 – but hopefully that’s still within the spirit of the rules 🙂
  12. Do you hope to host an event or readalong for the group? No worries if you don’t have details. We’re just curious! – Not sure about hosting, but I’d like to participate!
  13. Is there an author or title you’d love to read with a group or a buddy for this event? Sharing may inspire someone to offer. – A re-read of Middlemarch is on my list, and it’s such a behemoth that sharing it with a group would be lovely!
  14. Share a quote you love by a classic female author — even if you haven’t read the book yet. – ‘I write this sitting in the kitchen sink.’ (Dodie Smith, I Capture The Castle) I have actually read that book, and it’s glorious.
  15. Finally, ask the question you wish this survey had asked, & then answer it. – If a ‘classic’ is more than 50 years old, will there be a greater selection of ‘classics’ by women 50 years from now? What are the future classics by women published in the last few years? – Aside from my cheating at the end of question 7 above, and anything JK Rowling has ever written, I’ve read some incredible contemporary fiction by women in recent years. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton (said through gritted teeth as she is younger than me, but it really was great), and Wolf Hall/Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel, have all been worth their hype. Slammerkin, by Emma Donoghue, was great too, and I’m looking forward to reading more by her. In non-fiction, Wild Swans by Jung Chang was both educational and gripping, and in poetry, ‘Telling Tales’, Patience Agbabi’s retelling of the Canterbury Tales in 21st century London demotic, was a revelation.

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