LOOKing for women’s ‘classics’

The Tale of Genji, 12th century

I was about to write up the next of my classics posts – on Tom Jones by Henry Fielding – when it struck me that it would be the 7th classic by a man I’d posted here. (Although the 8th will be – hooray! – on Jane Austen’s Persuasion.)

When I was writing my book on classics, which is the basis of these classics posts, I was aware that I was including more books by men than by women (although I went out of my way to bring some neglected women writers into the fold) and this seemed to me to go with the territory.

But in my researches into the history of printing and my general travels around the internet and the wonderful Fisher Library since Classics was published in 2005, I’ve realised there’s way more notable fiction by women written before the 19th century than I’d realised.

Along with this realisation, I’m in a gender-imbalance-rectifying kind of mood, prompted by the Stella Prize (thanks Miles Franklin and the women of the Stella board), so I’ve decided to tip the balance a little by making 2012 the year of LOOK on bookishgirl – when I’ll be searching out Lost Or Overlooked Krackers by women writers and writing about them here.

Although Classics was devoted exclusively to the European literary tradition (I had to draw a line somewhere), for LOOK I’ll be widening my scope to the world. First up will be Murasaki Shikibu’s The Tale of Genji, written between 1000 and 1012 and said to be the world’s first novel.

So stay tuned for LOOK in 2012. And any recommendations of good overlooked fiction by women, especially if written before 1800, are extremely welcome.

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12 Responses to LOOKing for women’s ‘classics’

  1. Congratulations on Tale of Genji. It’s a white whale of a book. I really really love The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagan by a court lady and contemporary of Murasaki’s. It’s not a novel but a great book. Interesting snippet: Pillowbook and Genji are considered miracles of pure, classical Japanese because educated Heian men spoke and wrote Chinese.

  2. squib says:

    I’ve just bought, but not yet read, ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell and ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

  3. Thanks Claire. When you say ‘white whale of a book’ are you alluding to Moby-Dick and meaning massive? Or to that whale himself and meaning elusive and combative? Intrigued. And thanks so much for the Pillow Book mention and the snippet. Love the snippet, didn’t know. I have much to learn!

    And thanks so much squib for ‘Mary Barton’ and ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’. I’ve read the Gaskell, don’t LOVE, but not the Braddon, will check it out.

  4. I mainly mean massive, a challenge, but the sensibility is elusive for a modern reader. Whereas the Pillow Book is such a direct voice, this lady could be an educated upper class Sydney woman constrained by convention but wanting to break out and convey her sometimes snarky, sometimes poetic sentiments plus a bit of starstruck court gossip. Well, not quite, but you get my drift. Saw a theatre production of Lady Audley’s Secret years ago.

  5. Thanks for quick reply Claire! Interesting all you say, especially about the elusive sensibility of The Tale of Genji. Makes me even more curious about it. And ditto what you say about the Pillow Book (what a fantastic title!). And speaking of fantastic titles, I’ve just realised why your name was so familiar – I haven’t yet read your novel ‘When We Have Wings’ but will be reading it asap, for the name alone (and also of course for excellent reviews it’s had). Congratulations.

  6. Here’s a taste of Sei Shonagan to whet your appetite. She loved to make lists. One list is headed:
    Things that have lost their power:
    A large boat which is high and dry in a creek at ebb-tide.
    The retreating figure of a sumo wrestler who has been defeated in a match.
    A man of no importance reprimanding an attendant.

  7. Fantastic Claire. I love lists too. My first two books really were no more than lists and contained lists of classics other writers love too. She’s going to be next on my *list*. Thank you.

  8. Ms Gleeson-White

    I am reading your book. You should talk to me.

    You can find me at http://www.robertbwalker.co.nz

    • Thanks Robert. I’m travelling at the moment but when I’m back at my desk later this month I’ll be in touch to hear your thoughts. Will look forward to hearing an expert’s view very much. Thanks again. Best, Jane

  9. Pingback: Bookending 2012: From women’s writing to … Australia’s forgotten women writers | bookish girl

  10. Pingback: ‘turn and face the strange’ … Changes | bookish girl

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