When we read classic literature in high school, most of us considered it to be a bit drawn-out. Dissecting metaphors was tedious and sometimes seemed pointless. But going back and reading these classic novels now, we realize that some of them have amazing female protagonists who we perhaps didn’t appreciate as much as we should have when we were in high school.
Cut to: We’ve compiled a list of 11 classic novels that every woman should read. Not only do these books have some pretty interesting and complex women at the helm, but they are also all written by a group of amazing female writers who made waves — and are still making waves — in the world of literary fiction.
1Pride and Prejudice — Jane Austen
In a society where one’s status and income is the only thing worth talking about, Lizzy Bennet believes that morals and personality are still worth weighing when it comes to choosing a partner. In fact, she’s not concerned about choosing a partner at all. She puts her sisters’ futures first and keeps as far away as possible from her new neighbor, the rigid (and rich) Mr. Darcy. But at the end of the story, Lizzy realizes that perhaps she’s been too brash and prejudiced towards the man whom she thought to be deplorable.
Lizzy Bennet is not a woman who will stoop to what is expected of her by society. She believes in a woman’s choice to marry whom she wants and is not afraid to ruffle feathers amongst the upper class. A strong-willed female protagonist plus historical romance equals an all around feel-good novel.
2Emma — Jane Austen
With no interest in marriage, Emma prides herself on being an excellent matchmaker. She schemes a set-up between her friend Harriet and high society gentleman Mr. Elton. But when Harriet falls for Elton, Elton reveals his feelings are for Emma. Her meddling is called out by her brother-in-law Mr. Knightley, but Emma still continues to play matchmaker, causing bigger issues in her small town.
This novel is a fun take on the old saying, “Oh what tangled webs we weave.” Emma’s hardheadedness is tested and she must face her wrongdoings and right the situation she has created. Emma is the head of her household and mature for her age at only twenty, but still has much to learn about where to place her confidence and about how to accept love.
3Little Women — Louisa May Alcott
Alcott’s Little Women follows the adventures of the March sisters, poverty stricken and with their father away fighting in the Civil War. We follow the events mainly through the eyes of Jo, the second eldest March sister. Jo’s temper is often tested when her dream of being a writer, among other desires, is limited due to her being a woman. She despises the idea of romance and when her sisters fall victim to it, Jo reacts poorly and wishes her family could stay the way it was forever.
Similar to the Bennet sisters in Pride and Prejudice, each March daughter exhibits their own desires and personality traits that any reader can relate to. As the protagonist, Jo and her strong-willed, tomboyish behavior offers a refreshing female viewpoint from the late 19th century.
4The Awakening — Kate Chopin
A shockingly honest novel about a high-society woman who seeks romantic excitement outside of her suffocating marriage. Because of it’s taboo subject, this book was found extremely controversial when it was first published during the Victorian era. But because so many women then and now can relate to the subject of infidelity and the emotions of the main character, Edna Pontellier, The Awakening is now seen as a literary marvel that was ahead of its time.
This book is in no way a lighthearted tale of summer fun between a married woman and an untamable bachelor. Author Kate Chopin creates a character in turmoil due to society and her husband’s expectations, and her desire to be free from it all.
5Herland —Charlotte Perkins Gilman
When a small team of male adventurers come across a land solely inhabited by women, they learn that their all-female society is one of the most peaceful and well-organized in existence (duh!). The society was started 2,000 years before, when the men of the area started wars, caused natural disasters, and general societal upheaval. The society was destroyed save for a few women who band together to survive on their own. Through miraculous asexual reproduction, Herland grew and became a peaceful and thriving community, where crime and hatred are unknown concepts.
The men introduce the women to the ideas of the outside world, including the mistreatment of women, as the men learn about the culture of Herland. The women of Herland must decide whether or not to introduce the masculine influence of the adventurers into their society. The story revolves around the idea of patriarchal vs. matriarchal ideals and how they clash and/or work together.