Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Some Inspiring Works by Women Writers, I

Working on Toni Morrison's wikipedia article, I came across a list of ten inspiring female writers (including Morrison) compiled in response to Gay Talese saying last year (2016) that no women writers had inspired him.

So, quickly this morning I wrote a partial list of
Some Works by Women Writers That Have Inspired Me

(Being inspired by a book is not exactly the same as being inspired by its writer qua writer, but they overlap for me, and anyway, that's where I'm starting.)

1. Joan Aiken, the Dido Twite series (1962– ), including The Wolves of Willoughby Chase, Nightbirds on Nantucket, and Dido and Pa

Fierce, weird street urchin girl deals with wolves, whales, and Hanoverian plotters with pluck and sadness. Written for children, by someone who knows it's not necessarily nice to be a child.

2. Monique Wittig, Les Guérillères (1969)
Fierce, weird women warriors disprove idea that women are always nice to cats

3. Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre (1847)
Fierce, weird orphan girl makes her way in the world by her own lights--not until I reread it for the nth time at midlife did I realize it can be read as an allegory (or memoir) for living an authentic, creative life with no resources. If Jane can't have freedom,
"'Then,' I cried, half desperate, 'grant me at least a new servitude!'"

4. Hilary Mantel, Fludd (1989)
Fierce, weird, young Irish Catholic novice Sister Philomena gets a better offer of personal freedom from, is that the devil?

5. Muriel Spark, Loitering With Intent (1981)
Not exactly fierce or weird, independent woman editor Fleur Talbot declares,
"How wonderful to be an artist and a woman in the twentieth century."

6. Barbara Pym, Excellent Women (1952)
Even less fierce, though slightly weird, English clergyman's daughter Mildred Lathbury lives a little life on her own in post-World War II London. Perhaps self-sufficiency is forced on rather than chosen by her, and her plight is both lonely and ridiculous, but she lives with an impressive, even heroic, lack of self-deception.

I recently quoted from this novel:
"Perhaps there can be too much making of cups of tea, I thought, as I watched Miss Statham filling the heavy teapot. Did we really need a cup of tea? I even said as much to Miss Statham and she looked at me with a hurt, almost angry look, 'Do we need tea? she echoed. 'But Miss Lathbury...'
She sounded puzzled and distressed and I began to realise that my question had struck at something deep and fundamental. It was the kind of question that starts a landslide in the mind."
7. Doris Lessing, In Pursuit of the English (1960)
Definitely fierce and weird again, this is Lessing's sort-of-a-memoir of life in post-World War II London, where she moves from Rhodesia (later Zimbabawe) in 1950--it's cold and damp and no one has enough of anything: a realistic antidote to romanticizing Anglophilia

8. Jane Austen, Emma (1815)
Emma! Fierce and weird, though disguised in frockery.
I dislike how many modern movie adaptations of Austen make her stories all about the romance. (Exception: BBC's 1995 version of Persuasion, starring Amanda Root, catches the social realities of the heroine Anne Elliot's lonely, impoverished life---looks as romantic as living with bread crumbs in your always-slipping-down stockings.)

9. Marjane Satrapi, Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood (2000)
Graphic memoir tells the political story of her time through her personal experience growing up during and after the Iranian Revolution of 1979
10. Sappho (born circa 615 BCE)
For the line, "“You may forget but let me tell you this: someone in some future time will think of us." Hey, that's us… that's me!

11. Egeria, Egeria's Travels (early 380s CE)
1919 edition online here
If anyone thinks women didn't have adventures before modern times...
This partial surviving journal kept (in Latin) by the intrepid Egeria on a pilgrimage to Jersusalem, written for her Christian "sisters" at home––possibly nuns in Spain––is full of details of interest to liturgists, but what struck me was how this real person's enthusiasms come through, despite considerable inconveniences:
"As we went, the priest of the place, i. e. Livias, whom we had prayed to accompany us from the station, because he knew the places well, advised us, saying: 'If you wish to see the water which flows from the rock, which Moses gave to the children of Israel when they were thirsty, you can see it if you are willing to undertake the labour of going about six miles out of the way.'
When he had said this, we very eagerly wished to go, and turning at once out of our way, we followed the priest who led us." 
to be continued...


ArtSparker said...

Wonderfully eclectic list.

Fresca said...

Huh, I just realized I don't have a single American writer on the list! More to come though...

Michael Leddy said...

Sappho, Jane Austen, Emily Dickinson, Willa Cather, Marianne Moore, Djuna Barnes, Lorine Niedecker, Maeve Brennan, Toni Morrison, Rae Armantrout.

Cathy said...

Please can I suggest The Women's Room by Marilyn French. Truly changed my life. I love your list, some of which I have read and some are now on my to read list. Oh and how about Maya Angelou? Alice Walker. All three American! Super idea.

Fresca said...

Thanks, MICHAEL!
I don't know Maeve Brennan and Rae Armantrout--must look them up.

CATHY: Thanks for the comment!
Oh, wow, you remind me that I read the Women's Room when I was eighteen! but I don't remember it. (That was a while ago....). Maya Angelou never grabbed me, but Alice Walker did--will include her in a future list, for sure!