Women Writers: The American Dream
To mark our second post in a series of Women Writers: The American Dream, we are pleased to welcome a fresh string of classic American writers to the Lost in Books blog, ones whose stories and words are still treasured today. We hope you enjoyed our previous blog post celebrating the legacies and lives of incredible American women writers, which you can read here if you missed it.
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. Classics are a gift to the soul, a harbour for the imagination, and nurturing to the heart. So many explorations of ardent love stories, deeply stirring sentiments and a widening awareness of the human condition, classics – although old – can still altogether feel timeless.
Often, classics are unafraid to take steps forward and challenge conventions. Prime examples from English culture can be found in the likes of Mary Shelley, The Brontë sisters, Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens. Ultimately, classics have an awful lot to say and it’s generally their characters who leap to life from the pages – and make an indelible imprint on our lives – that move the minds and hearts of their readers, shaping life as we know it today.
To take inspiration from one of our current (albeit Canadian) classic reads:
For now, however, our journey continues onwards. Take a look at some of our featured American women writers who we hold aloft in high esteem:
‘She liked to wander alone into strange and unfamiliar places. She discovered many a sunny, sleepy corner, fashioned to dream in. And she found it good to dream and to be alone ...’
Kate Chopin famously wrote novels and short stories which alarmed critics and spanned themes of gender, female sexuality, identity, and infidelity. Based in Louisiana, she wrote many pieces of fiction which were set in the same place as she lived and strikingly used dialect in her prose to enhance the way characters spoke to intensify her settings. Her most famous novel, The Awakening, is ingenious in the way it voices the thoughts and opinions of women, exploring sexuality in a way that outraged and shocked critics. It was ultimately deemed ahead of its time, and so remains one of Kate Chopin’s most famous works.
Heavily taking inspiration from her surroundings, she also incorporated themes of racism in her creative work and used her characters and settings to explore the racial discrimination, prejudice and racism rife in America at the time she was writing in. Many of her stories, if not all, are well worth reading over and over. She was undeniably a bold, striking and compassionate writer.
‘The fact that I was a girl never damaged my ambitions to be a pope or an emperor.’
Willa Cather – a well-loved and affectionate favourite of ours – was an American author who wrote several novels set on the vast plains of the American West. Winning the Pulitzer Prize for her work, she emboldened the lives of immigrants making a life for themselves ‘out west’ and turned her fiction into a voice for those who sought fortune elsewhere, in a landscape that was as hard-hitting as it was isolating. She was herself a pioneer for prose which explored feelings of isolation, relationships between characters and unfamiliar landscapes, homelessness, and ‘otherness’.
Though her prose has been criticised by some as too sentimental and traditional in a time when experimental literature was becoming popular, she nevertheless remains one of our firm favourites when it comes to classic literature and we will always love stepping into her novels and those wild, unruly settings where nature can be a character in itself.
‘Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.’
Zelda Fitzgerald was a woman who never seemed afraid to speak her mind and her writing expressed just the same quality. Famously married to celebrated author F. Scott Fitzgerald, she was undoubtedly a writer who could hold her own and worked just as hard at her own craft, despite all her apparent partying in the Jazz Age. A lady of many talents, she was a dancer, an artist, a short story writer and novelist – not to mention a buzzing socialite who was well known in many popular circles.
She flouted convention not only in her writing but in her social life too, often arousing scandal and disapproval in domestic spheres, which she only seemed to thrive on. An avid diary writer recounting her own personal life, her only published novel, Save Me The Waltz, draws a lot of inspiration from her own experiences in life and her romance with F. Scott Fitzgerald, about a young southern girl who falls in love with a painter during World War I.
Zelda’s life story is deeply moving to read about in itself, so her own creative work is highly recommended too.
‘She drowned in words that could not teach her how to swim.’
Best known for her novel, The Women’s Room, Marilyn French is considered an important feminist author, who penned outspoken works on feminism, oppression, and western patriarchy, not only in fiction but non-fiction too. In The Women’s Room, she explores themes of female identity and a fight against oppression in a male-dominated world, set in the 1950s and 60s. The novel centres closely on a group of women who challenge societal norms and conventions, and champion women’s rights with vigour.
Marilyn French wrote many books but The Women’s Room, praised as a driving force in women’s feminist literature, remains the most well revered and ardently read.
To be continued ...
We will return with another post full of 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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