To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) by Harper Lee continues to be one of the most frequently taught novels in American high schools and is beloved by readers of all persuasions. The Pulitzer Prize-winning book has sold more than forty million copies and has been translated into some forty languages.
After a gap of fifty-six years, the 2016 publication of Go Set a Watchman set off a fervor of renewed interest in the famously private (though not, as myth would have it, reclusive) author.
No wonder, then, that Harper Lee’s hometown of Monroeville, Alabama, draws thousands of visitors each year who arrive to pay homage to her literary legacy. This small Southern town (population around 6,000) was the inspiration for Maycomb, where both books are set. The photo above right was snapped by Lee’s friend Michael Brown in 1957, the year she sold her manuscript, which had yet to be much edited. Read More→
Most often, book clubs (aka book groups) choose recent publications for discussion, many straight off the current bestseller list. And this is understandable, given all the great books coming out. It’s hard enough to keep up with all the new publications, but can we make the case for discussions of classic literature by women authors?
Some suggestions in this post are by authors of the past that are still well known, while others have fallen under the literary radar. Either way, these novels make for fantastic reading and stimulating discussion. Books remain classics for a reason, after all. With universal themes of what it means to be a woman — and what it means to be human — these great stories are timeless. Read More→
Harriet Ann Jacobs (February 11, 1813 – March 7, 1897) was an African-American writer who was widely known for her brave escape from slavery, and for her role as an abolitionist, speaker, and reformer. She is alternately referred to as Harriet A. Jacobs or simply Harriet Jacobs.
Raised in Edenton, North Carolina, Harriet and her brother John were born into slavery under the principle of partus sequitur ventrem (that which is brought forth follows the womb). This meant they were born into slavery because their mother was already enslaved. However, it wasn’t until Harriet turned six that she even learned she was a slave. Read More→
Persuasion (1817) is the last novel that beloved British author Jane Austen completed. It was published six months after her death. It may well be Austen’s most romantic story, and yet, as with her other works, it’s far from frivolous, exploring themes of lost love, missed opportunity, heartbreak, and becoming one’s own person.
Anne Elliot, who is twenty-seven when the story begins, is a member of a family who suffers the indignity of having to lower their status as a way to get out of debt. At twenty-seven, a woman of that time would have been considered far from the bloom of youth. Read More→
Shirley Jackson (December 14, 1916 – August 8, 1965) was an American author whose works influenced a generation of genre writers who came after her. Two areas of writing put her on the literary map — wryly humorous accounts of family life, and disturbing tales of psychological terror. It might come as no surprise to those who have read her work that Jackson was fascinated with witchcraft and Satanism while growing up.
Jackson’s stories and novels have disturbed and fascinated readers and critics alike with their unabashed exploration of the dark side of human nature. Yet, there’s a sense that she hasn’t received her due — In A Jury of Her Peers, Elaine Showalter wrote, “One of the most sophisticated crafters of fiction … with work compared during her lifetime to Poe and James, she has long been neglected by most critics of American literature.”
Northanger Abbey was actually the first novel that Jane Austen completed with the hopes of publication, in 1803. It was first titled Susan and she sold the copyright to a London publisher for a pittance. The publisher held on to it without going to print. It was tied up until 1816 when Jane’s brother Henry managed to buy it back.
Jane spent some time revising the original, renaming her heroine Catherine, but by the time it was published in 1817, she died. That year, another of her novels, Persuasion, was published as well. Northanger Abbey is considered a coming-of-age novel in which Catherine Morland, the young and rather naïve heroine, learns the ways of the world. Read More→
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen (1814) is the third published novel by the esteemed British author. It’s the story of Fanny Price, who is sent by her impoverished family to be raised in the household of a wealthy aunt and uncle. The narrative follows her into adulthood and comments on class, family ties, marriage, the status of women, and even British colonialism.
The novel went through two editions before Austen’s death in 1817, but didn’t receive any public reviews until 1821. Critical reception for this novel, from that time forward, has been the most mixed among Austen’s works, and it’s considered her most controversial. Read More→