Top 10 Wen-sday – Top Ten Female Writers

books, list, Top 10, women

So, as I’ve already mentioned this week, it was International Women’s Day on Monday and I decided that today was the day to celebrate female writers in my monthly top 10. To be honest, I struggled because, as I’ve come to realise, my tastes are still worryingly focused on the male. It’s something I’ve been slowly trying to resolve but when it comes to my bookcase it’s all about the dudes. Well, actually, that’s not really true. Looking back at my That’s What She Read posts for the past few weeks and I’ve read plenty of novels by women recently. However, nobody that would necessarily make it into a top 10 list. So it’s back to the drawing board. Now I realise that my list will probably look like everybody else’s because it’s basically just the major players. However, there is one key person missing. Yes, I know you all love Jane Austen but I will never be able to claim that she is one of my favourite female writers. She has her place in literary history and is certainly an important figure. However, when I’m looking for something to dive into her books are top of the pile. 

     Ten: Emily Brontë

It wasn’t until I realised just how many copies of Wuthering Heights that I own that I realised how much I fucking love that book. I can’t say I really count Brontë as one my fave writers but there is no doubt that Wuthering Heights had a major impact on my life. I first read it in an educational setting and it really helped build my love of all things gothic. A subject that I chose to write my postgraduate dissertation on. So, yeah, I guess Emily Brontë was a big enough influence on me to warrant a place here. 

     Nine: Octavia Butler

When it comes to female science-fiction writers, Octavia Butler really is the first name you should be looking for. She’s still got to be the top female in the genre even if she never did like to be branded a science-fiction writer. Butler was a fan of science-fiction novels but never appreciated the way race, class or gender were represented. She decided the best way to tackle this was to deal with the problem herself. She’s an inspirational writer and any so called fan of the genre should read something by her. 

     Eight: Ann Radcliffe

In literary terms Ann Radcliffe isn’t the greatest and hasn’t exactly aged well. Most people will recognise her as the writer of The Mysteries of Udolpho, which will be known to many modern day readers thanks to the references in Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. However, she was one of the most popular novelists of her time and really helped to shape gothic novels as we understand them today. She was also the main inspiration behind my postgraduate dissertation and I spent the majority of the final 6 months of my degree reading her novels. So maybe she tends to waffle on a bit but so did Tolkein and I fucking love him.

     Seven: Agatha Christie

How can anyone leave Agatha Christie off this kind of list? She’s the best selling novelist of all time and has created some of the most memorable characters and crime stories of all time. Yes, her novels seem twee compared to the super dark and psychological thrillers we’re being inundated with nowadays but her importance to the world of literature is undeniable. Christie had a talent for weaving narratives that kept her readers guessing and for creating fantastic characters. She’s still a fucking legend.

     Six: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is only this far down the list because I haven’t read a great deal of her novels.  Anyone who’s been reading my Sunday Rundown will know I recently read her TED talk We Should All Be Feminists and I’ve read her Bailey’s Prize winning novel Half of a Yellow Sun. She’s a fantastic writer and is helping to give African fiction the prominence it deserves. I can’t wait to read more of her work. I’ve just got a huge TBR pile to get through first. 

     Five: Helen Oyeyemi

I love Helen Oyeyemi but half of my really hates her. She’s so fucking inspiration that it makes me feel super inadequate. She wrote her first novel whilst she was studying for her A Levels. Want to know what I did when I was studying for my A Levels? Eating and watching Diagnosis Murder between revision sessions. On top of all that, in 2013 she was included in the Granta Best of Young British Novelists list. Bird, Snow, Boy was one of my favourite novels of 2014 and I can’t wait for her short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours, to be released later this year. Oyeyemi would probably have been much higher on the list had I not struggled so much with Mr Fox. Still, I don’t hold it against her. I’m probably just a fucking idiot.

     Four: Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir has written several novels, essays and important pieces of writing. She is someone who can’t be ignored. I’ve loved her since reading the letters she wrote to Jean Paul Satre (which I may or may not have bough as a teenager thanks to my love of The Truth About Cat and Dogs). Although, seriously, when it comes to feminist theory you can’t really ignore Simone de Beauvoir. Her treatise The Second Sex is still one of the most influential pieces of feminist philosophy. She helped start a new wave of feminist writers to pick up their pens and add to the conversation. She’s been an inspiration to so many and has paved the way for so many important books. 

     Three: Mary Shelley

Mary Shelley was associated with many of the most famous writers of the Romatic periods. She was the daughter of respected writers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft and, thanks to her illicit affair with Percy Shelley, rubbed shoulders with some of the greatest poets of the period. However, it is down to one stormy night spent with her friends that Mary Shelley was able to cement her place in British literary history. Frankenstein is one of those books that everybody loves and it deserves its reputation. She’s a talented writer but her other works haven’t stood the test of time in the same way. I’ll always be grateful that I was forced to read The Last Man during my undergraduate degree and am slowly getting round to reading Mathilda, which many believe is autobiographical in nature. 

     Two: Margaret Atwood

I’ve just finished reading Margaret Atwood’s The Heart Goes Last so maybe this is a case of right time, right place. However, I doubt anyone could deny how important a writer Atwood really is. I mean who can even count the number of awards she’s won over the years? She’s a poet, novelist, critic, essayist, environmental activist, and a fucking inventor. How can you not love this woman? She’s an intelligent writer who can seemingly turn her hand to anything. The Handmaid’s Tale is such an important work in terms of gender equality and, even though she is often wary to describe her writing as feminist, she has often presented women’s struggle in a patriarchal system.  

     One: Mary Wollstonecraft

As a Romanticist at heart, Mary Wollstonecraft will always be somewhere at the top of my list for female writers. She was one of the era’s most important writers, philosophers, and women’s rights advocates. Her most important work A Vindication on the Rights of Woman was so ahead of its time and brilliantly responded to the theorists who claimed women didn’t need an education. It isn’t exactly reminiscent of feminism as we know it today but Wollstonecraft was well received in her time and was able to start a dialogue. However, as important as this work is and was to my dissertation, it was after reading her Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark that I really fell in love with her. I think it’s impossible not to really. I mean, even William Godwin, the father of her child, agreed: 

If ever there was a book calculated to make a man in love with its author, this appears to me to be the book. She speaks of her sorrows, in a way that fills us with melancholy, and dissolves us in tenderness, at the same time that she displays a genius which commands all our admiration.

So, she may not be the most read or beloved female writer out there in modern times. She may only have written two novels but they’re worth reading for their place in feminist theory alone. Although, I did once mistakenly suggest a friend read Maria and, even though she was too polite to say, she hated it. Mary Wollstonecraft deserves her place at the top of my list and I’ll argue with anyone who says otherwise.

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