Summer is a time for kicking back and catching up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read for forever.
And if you’re looking for some essential feminist classics to read this summer, here are 12 of the best to keep you riveted while you get your poolside repose on.
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Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813)
Yet to engage with the wit and wisdom of Austen’s writing? Then slap on some sun cream, order a cocktail and settle down with her most famous novel.
This sparkling comedy of manners follows the burgeoning romance between the opinionated Elizabeth Bennet and her proud would-be beau, Mr Darcy.
Wound around this spirited central relationship is the fate of Elizabeth’s four equally unmarried sisters, who together offer up a satirical depiction of the expectations placed on the women of this era.
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847)
Another must-read classic, Charlotte Brontë’s gripping gothic romance sees the bold titular heroine searching for a sense of home, happiness, and true love.
In the brooding Mr Rochester, she finds a man brave enough to love her for who she really is.
And yes, reader, she marries him – but she does so without betraying her feminist values - extraordinary for the time - of equal social, sexual, political, economic and intellectual rights.
Little Women by Louise May Alcott (1868)
If you’re looking for something a little lighter, this is a heart-warming coming-of-age story about four sisters—Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy – who, along with their patient and loving “marmee” survive the difficulties of the American Civil War and the dramas of ordinary family life.
Alcott may not have set out to write a feminist classic, but in this tale of singular girls each remaining steadfastly true to their sense of self, she shows that there are many wonderful ways to be a woman.
The Awakening by Kate Chopin (1899)
This novella is a perfect classic to read if you’re stuck for time this summer.
Controversial and censored for a long while after its publication, it is a daring portrayal of a woman seeking more from her life than society deems reasonable.
Edna Pontellier attempts to abandon her stifling marriage, embarking upon a passionate affair in a struggle to uncover the unique individual she knows is lost somewhere inside herself.
Oh Pioneers! by Willa Cather (1913)
Willa Cather’s masterpiece is an extraordinary novel about a Swedish family trying to survive in the brutally unforgiving prairie lands of Nebraska at the turn of the 20th century.
The heroine of the tale, Alexandra Bergson, is a fiercely independent woman, determined to claw success out of the land she’s inherited from her father - at any personal cost.
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier (1938)
A thrilling gothic noir, Rebecca is essentially a tale of fear of powerful (and particularly sexually powerful) women.
A naïve, young woman attempts to find her feet as the new Mrs de Winter at her husband’s sprawling family estate, Manderlay. But she can’t shake the ghost of her spouse’s deceased wife, Rebecca, whose lingering presence seems to shadow her every move.
The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1963)
The only novel written by the American writer and poet Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical story oftrauma, misogyny, depression and death – But don’t let that put you off! The real truth is that this superb feminist classic is a wildly witty, engaging and hugely readable book, even as it deals with the disturbing reality of the protagonist Esther Greenwood’s mental breakdown.
The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter (1979)
If you prefer to dip in and out of short stories while soaking up the sun then pack Angela Carter’s feminist fairy tale retellings, The Bloody Chamber.
Remember, though, with a vampiric Sleeping Beauty and a murderous Red Riding Hood among these darkly reborn heroines, this is not a book that’ll double as your children’s bedtime reading!
The Color Purple by Alice Walker (1982)
Alice Walker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel is a feminist work about Celie, a poor, uneducated black woman living in early 20th century rural Georgia, America.
Throughout her life, Celia experiences sexual and physical abuse, misogyny, and racism, but also friendship, real love and a sense of sisterhood with the women she meets and forms strong bonds with.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2000-2003), translated by Mattias Ripa (2003-2004)
If you’re more a graphic novel type of gal, then Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is the perfect poolside companion for you.
Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel depicts her childhood in Tehran from the age of six to fourteen. During these years, she witnesses the overthrow of the Shah's regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effect this has on women’s lives.
Drawn in stark black and white, the story is haunting, but also filled with humour and resilience as the young Marji is guided by her mother and other strong women in her life to stand and fight if she ever wants to be acknowledged – and treated - as an equal to men.
Breasts and Eggs by Mieko Kawakami (2008)
The debut by Mieko Kawakami is a feminist classic in the making and a must-read for all fans of feminist literary fiction.
A beautiful and intimate account of contemporary working-class women figuring out maternal and other relationships, including that with their own bodies, it’s a quietly radical book which asks what it means to be a woman to women and society at large.
My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante (2011), translated by Ann Goldstein (2012)
My Brilliant Friend is the first of four novels that shines a light on the friendship between two young girls (and later women) brought up in a poor and violent neighbourhood in Naples, Italy.
I’m not going to lie – it’s a powerful read!
It depicts the changing roles of women, the misogyny and classist politics of 1970s Italy. But central to it all is the complex relationship between two women, deeply rooted in love, recognition, resentment and rivalry.
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