Women are complicated creatures and there are so many facets to being a female that young ladies need to learn. Femininity, sexuality, power, prowess, intelligence, bravery and self-confidence are just a few characteristics today’s young women need to understand, explore, and embrace. Our blossoming ladies have become so obsessed with being skinny and social media photo-worthy that they have forgotten their roots, their true value and their incredible ability to accomplish amazing things. As mothers, grandmothers, sisters, friends, mentors or confidantes, it is up to us to embolden and empower the young women in our lives by exposing them to literary history meant to capture the nuances of the feminine mystique as they grow into the powerful, self-confident women they need to be.
Encourage your college-bound (or beyond) young lady to embark upon an adventure of discovery with these 10 Classic Novels for Raising a Rising Feminist:
1. Jayne Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
This classic novel of morality, spirituality, sensibility and discovery is a must-read for all young women as they embark upon the unknowns of college, adulthood and lasting relationships. It is a story of a young woman coming into her own through a variety of trials and tribulations during an era when women were considered inferior to men and were rarely personified as individuals with true and intelligent thoughts, feelings and emotions. This empowering tale of a female’s quest for love, freedom and acceptance speaks to us all as young women, especially as we embark upon the journey of life into careers, marriage and motherhood. The social criticisms posed throughout this novel may not be the exact injustices our young women deal with today, but it was simply a different time, and unfortunately, our females today still struggle with many of the same issues addressed throughout this classic work of literature.
2. A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
3. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
4. Tess of the d’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Rape, religion, murder and infidelity are all defining moments in the life of the peasant girl Tess Durbeyfield. Born a simple country girl, Tess is sent out of her parents’ home at sixteen to try and claim relation to a wealthy family in order to help her impoverished parents. Placed in a position of employment by the affluent family of the d’Urbervilles, young Tess is raped and impregnated by the heir before being cast out and sent home to birth her illegitimate child in poverty. As this tragic novel continues, Tess continues her back and forth journey from work-life, to marriage, to home as neither her employment nor her relationships are successful. Tess manages to fall in love, but the relationship is doomed once she confesses her past indiscretions to her husband. Eventually reunited with her rapist, and in serious need of financial assistance for her family, Tess succumbs to his persistent propositions of marriage and relinquishes her better judgment to become Mrs. d’Urberville. After discovering that her first husband is still in love and returning for her, Tess strikes out against her husband d’Urberville in a fit of rage. Escaping the confines of her current life, Tess and her lover spend a week reunited in bliss before Tess is apprehended and made to pay for her crimes. A must read for all young women striking out on their own, Tess of the d’Urbervilles is a tale of both love and loss, teaching many lessons on the inferior status of women and their place in this world. As much as we may hope that the world is a different place than it was in the 1800’s, things are not as changed as we would believe.
5. Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
6. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
This tragic romance novel recounting the doomed relationship of Heathcliff and Catherine is a classic tale of lovers and soul mates, and the despair and destruction that comes from harboring an untenable relationship. Born an orphan, Heathcliff was taken into the home of the Earnshaw’s where he devoted himself in life and love to the daughter, Catherine. Throughout childhood, and likely the early teen years, the two were inseparable and had a romantic relationship of sorts, however, as the two grew older Catherine began to look toward more reputable marriage prospects. From early childhood until reunited in death, Heathcliff never stopped yearning for his Catherine. Unable to reconcile himself with her life choices, the decision to marry one other than himself because of upbringing and social status, Heathcliff lives miserably while rising in power, exacting revenge and destroying the lives of those around him. Perfect for depicting to the younger generation the injustices love may present and the all out destruction that can become of hatred and self-loathing, Wuthering Heights is a must read for young women beginning to the explore the intricacies of life-long romantic relationships.
7. Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrence
8. Moll Flanders by Daniel Defoe
Criminal, Whore, Heroine or all three? The classic novel of Moll Flanders leaves you questioning the main character’s morality and spirituality to the very end. Truly a sad tale of a poor and impoverished babe born to an imprisoned mother, this novel leads its readers down the dark, dreary, and convoluted paths of criminal behavior, lies, deceit, incest, prostitution, and abandonment. As one of the earliest and most vivid female narrated novels, Moll’s account of her life events force you to constantly shift your perspective from feeling sorry for her to despising her choices. The life of this female character is one of schemes, planning, and cons all to try and rise to a position of comfort and wealth within Moll’s society. Although many of her schemes may seem outlandish, this novel has an undercurrent that still rings true for a large portion of our population today. Although many readers will be unable to relate to Moll, understanding her upbringing, traumas and subsequent life choices is something that may behoove many young feminists, allowing them to better understand a different social strata than their own.
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
10. The Scarlett Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
A Gothic romance novel set in the Massachusetts Bay Colony of Puritan Boston speaks volumes about the inferiority of women, women’s rights and the continuing struggle we all face as women today. Although this year’s battle may be adequate access to birth control, women’s reproductive rights have literally never been their own. Forced to wear a scarlett letter A, suffer imprisonment and stand on a scaffold in the middle of her colony for 3 hours of public humiliation to depict her adultery, Hester Prynn is the heroine of this novel. Prynn became impregnated during an affair after believing her husband had been lost at sea. Throughout the course of her public shame and humiliation, Hester continued to keep the secret of her lover’s identity and also that of her revenge-seeking husband who had arrived at the colony on the day of her shaming. While raising her daughter Pearl in a cottage at the edge of town, Hester continues to hold her head high and maintain herself in quiet dignity as she is scorned at every turn. Religion, sexuality and the double standards our young women continue to face today throughout the country are all at the forefront of this riveting novel showing modern day women how far we still really have to go.