Women Writers: The American Dream
Classic books. There’s something timeless about them, isn't there? Through their pages, they seem to weave stories which affectionately transcend the boundaries of time and firmly settle themselves in our hearts like no other books can. What is it about them that makes them so loved? With our current vintage subscription service taking off recently, we've been thinking more than ever about all sorts of vintage and classic books and what makes them so special.
When we think of British classics, the greats like Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, the Brontë sisters and Virginia Woolf spring to mind and we've been known to spend hours upon hours absorbing their words in a comfy chair or beneath the sunshine, enjoying the stories and the worlds these incredible authors have created for their readers.
But then we thought, what about American women writers?
It got us thinking so, in an exploration of American classics, we wanted to bring our readers a taste of brilliant eclectic words written by women authors from across the pond – ones that you might know, others that perhaps you may not in a new series of blog posts. We wanted to explore what made these women writers stand out from the crowd - what made their voices so unique? What is it about them that readers are always pulled back to? Is it their language, their style, voice, or the characters that triumph in a world set against them?
Undeniably, they were the pioneers of American literature who laid the foundations for future writers – and their legacy is still around today. Who knows, you might just find your next favourite read.
First, we wanted to share Phillis Wheatley with you – a poet from the 18th century who is considered one of the most well-known poets of her era. Born in West Africa, she was kidnapped and brought to America to be sold into slavery at just seven years old. She wrote and published poetry throughout her enslavement and became a celebrated poet who attracted international attention. Educated, bold and an inspiration to abolitionists, she wrote on many topics spanning religion, American independence, slavery and many more. When she wrote a poem in honour of George Washington, she even secured an invitation to meet with him.
She was the first African American woman still bound to slavery to publish a book of poetry at the time.
Louisa May Alcott
‘She is too fond of books, and it has turned her brain.’
An author who has touched the hearts of many kindred spirits in childhood, Louisa May Alcott is most famous for her novels Little Women and Good Wives, bringing the lives of domestic family circles and female points of view into the forefront of commercial fiction. She is easily a prominent pioneer when it comes to women’s literature and, much like Jo in Little Women, she dreamed of making money from her writing at a time when publishing and literature was very much thought of as a man’s world. Writing in a pen name for most of her early works, she continued to write and tried to support herself with her writing (among other menial work) until the success of Little Women touched readers hearts widespread.
Hardly a woman to back down, she persevered until her writing got the credit it undoubtedly deserved which, universally, even today, is a hard thing to do. But back then? Even harder!
One of the most celebrated American poets of all time is, of course, Emily Dickinson. A groundbreaking poet of her time, she experimented with the poetic form, persona and the usual conventions of poetry, preferring instead to invent new challenges and ways of writing. Known as a bit of a ‘rebel’ even at school for not being afraid to speak her own mind and choose her own path, she remains a figurehead for American poets in her own right and famously never gave titles to the staggering majority of her works. She wrote almost 2000 poems throughout her life, spanning themes of nature, science, religion, self identity, love and, inevitably (as so many poets often do) death.
She refused to conform to conventions in both her life and her writing and it was only four years after her death that a first volume of her poetry was published and celebrated.
‘Life is always either a tightrope or a feather bed. Give me the tightrope.’
Loved by countless readers, Edith Wharton’s books offer a window into the lives of upper class American citizens of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, with much of the prose laced with irony and clever wit. Known as the first woman to win the famous Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, she certainly triumphed in a world where the odds were stacked against her. Like the heroines of her stories, she sought to strive against the normal conventions of society she found herself surrounded by and went on to write many short stories, travel books, poetry, novels and essays, as well as devoting much of her time to humanitarian efforts and helping those less fortunate than herself.
A fascinating and empowering lady, she has since become one of America’s most loved and treasured writers.
To be continued ...
We will return with another post full of even more brilliant American women writers very soon. In the meantime, we hope you've enjoyed reading about the four great women writers we've showcased here. Happy reading!
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