You may have read their works, but have you ever wondered over the inspirations of some of the worlds best known female authors? These were women who did not conform to the conventions of their times and this can be seen through their many celebrated literary endeavors.
Born:December 16th, 1775 – July 18th, 1817
Famous for her popular novels Sense and sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814),Emma (1815),Northanger Abbey (1817), and Persuasion (1818), Jane Austen was an English writer known for writing about thedependence of women on marriage for social status and economic security, and the British landed gentry. She wrote a total of 7 novels, including 2 unfinished, a number of poems and short stories.
Born in Steventon, Hampshire, England, Jane was the seventh child in a family of six brothers and one sister. Her father, Reverend and scholar George Austen, encouraged the love of learning and reading from his extensive library,and their house was often full of putting on plays and games of charades. During her adolescence in the 1790s, Jane began to write her own stories such as Love and Friendship, The History of England, and Lady Susan.
In 1811 Jane’s brother Henry helped her negotiate with a publisher to publish her first book “Elinor and Marianne” which was originally a novel-in-letters and would later become titled Sense and Sensibility (1811). Her next novel “First Impressions” would be described as her ‘own darling child’ and was also well received. It would later be titled Pride and Prejudice (1813). Both books bridged the gap between romance and realism.
Her next novels Mansfield Park (1814) and Emma (1815) would sell out within 6 months. Unfortunately,at the early age of 41 in 1816, Jane became ill to what some might say was Addison’s disease, and her subsequent novels Northanger Abbey (1817)and Persuasion (1818), would be published posthumously.
It was not until after her death in 1817, that her bother revealed to the public that she was an author. As British women at the time didn’t have the legal right to sign contracts, most female authors, like Austen, would publish their books anonymously. In the 1920s, scholars began to recognize Jane’s works as masterpieces, and she became an internationally renowned author int he 20th century. To this date Pride and Prejudice has sold over 20 million copies and is in the top lists of ‘most loved books’ among the public.
Louisa May Alcott
Born: November 29th, 1832 – March 6th,1888
Louisa May Alcott was an American novelist, short story writer, and poet best known for the novel and sequels, Little Women (1868), Little Men(1871) and Jo’s Boys(1886). She wrote a total of 15 novels and countless short story collections.
Louisa was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States, and was the second of 4 daughters raised by transcendentalist parents. Her father was known to be strict and home schooled his daughters with the help of some family friend educators.Louisa was known to be a tom boy growing up, in comparison to her sisters Anna, Elizabeth, and Abigail.
Due to the family’s financial struggles, she went to work at an early age,acting as a teacher, seamstress, governess, domestic helper, nurse, and writer. Because of the financial pressures, she turned to writing as an emotional and creative outlet. Her first published book was Flower Fables(1849),which was a selection of tales originally written for Ellen Emerson,daughter of one of their educators Ralph Waldo Emerson.
At the time, Louisa was already a recognized author, feminist and abolitionist, and wrote for the Atlantic Monthly and the Boston anti-slavery paper Common Wealth. Little Women(1868) was a semi-autobiographical account of her childhood growing up with her sisters. Originally titled Meg,Jo, Beth and Amy, the heroine character ‘Jo’ was based on herself. Her married sister Anna inspired Meg, Elizabeth was Beth (her beloved sister who died at the age of 23), and Abigail was Amy.
Little Women was immediately well received and the first 2000 copies sold quickly. One reason it was so successful was because it appealed to different classes of women and different national backgrounds, at a time of high immigration to the United States. It was also perceived at the time for girls to have marriage as their final end goal. After the publication of the first volume, many girls wrote to Louisa asking ‘who the little women marry’, with the unresolved ending adding further popularity.
While Louisa’s popular character Jo does get married in Little Women, Louisa did remain single throughout her entire life. In an interview with Louise Chandler Moulton, an American critic, she explained her “spinsterhood” as “I am more than half-persuaded that I am a man’s soul put by some freak of nature into a woman’s body.”
With the novel being so popular, readers demanded to know more about the characters,which led to the sequels Little Men (1871) and Jo’s Boys(1886). She also wrote 12 other novels in between. To this date, it is believed that 1.78 million copies of Little Women have been sold.Her novels began to be adapted into films as early as 1933 (starring Katherine Hepburn). In 1996, Louisa was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.
Lucy Maud Montgomery
Born: November 30th, 1874 – April 24th,1942
Lucy Maud Montgomery’s childhood experiences of growing up as an orphan on Prince Edward Island set the course for writing a series of successful novels such as Anne of Green Gables, The Story Girl, and Emily of New Moon.She wrote a total of 21 novels, 530 story collections, 500 poems, and 30 essays.
Born in Clifton, Prince Edward Island, Canada, Montgomery lost her mother to tuberculosis at 21 months old and her father, stricken with grief, sent her to live with her maternal grandparents. While her father did stay in the vicinity,he eventually moved to Prince Albert North-West Territories when Lucy was 7, and she grew up in the community of Cavendish, Prince Edward Island.
While Lucy’s relatives were nearby, much of her childhood was spent alone. To cope, she created imaginary friends and worlds, which she would later credit to this time in her life as developing her creativity. When she was 13, she wrote in her diary that she had “early dreams of future fame” and “deep down under all the discouragement and rebuff, I knew I would arrive someday”.
After completing school in Cavendish, Lucy spent one year in Prince Albert where she published her first work, a poem titled ‘On Cape LeForce’, which was published in the Charlottetown paper. In 1908, Lucy published her first book, Anne of Green Gables. It was an immediate success. Lucy continually wrote sequels to Anne’s story for the rest of her life. The 8th novel, The Blythes Are Quoted, was submitted to the publisher the day of her death and was not published in its entirety until 67 years later in 2009.
Among writing the Anne novels, Montgomery wrote a series of books which would later be adapted into the Emmy Award Winning TV seriesRoad to Avonlea. The series was based on 4 stories, The Story Girl (1911), about the adventures of a group of young cousins, Chronicles of Avonlea (1912), an abundance of short stories about the fictional village Avonlea, later followed by The Golden Road (1913), and the sequelFurther Chronicles of Avonlea (1920). In 1923 Emily of New Moon, a trilogy about the character Emily Starr, was published. The story focused on an orphan girl who was raised by her relatives after her father dies of tuberculosis.
Lucy is considered the most successful Canadian author of all time. Anne of Green Gables has been translated into more than 36 languages and has sold more than 50 million copies. But despite her fame and fortunes Lucy did live a life with struggle and sorrow, as she coped with motherhood, battled the Spanish flu, and dealt for decades with her husband’s depressive disorder. In 2008, it was revealed by her granddaughter that Lucy suffered from depression and may have taken her own life.
Frances Hodgson Burnett
Born:November 24, 1849 – October 29, 1924
Frances Hodgson Burnett was a British-American Playwright and Novelist, best known for the children’s novels Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885), A Little Princess(1905), The Secret Garden (1911).
She was born in Cheetham, Manchester, England. After her father died of a stroke when she was 3 years old, her mother Eliza took over the family business of selling ironmongery and brass goods. In 1865, her family immigrated to the United States and settled in New Market,near Knoxville Tennessee. Her maternal uncle was supposed to support the family financially, but after the civil war he was unable to do so. With the family struggling financially, Burnett turned to writing to earn money. When she was 19, she began publishing stories and published her first story in Godey’s LadyBook in 1868.Within a few years she was publishing regularly in magazines such as Godey’s,Peterson’s Ladies Magazine, Scribner’s Monthly, and Harper’s. In 1877 she published her first novel, That Lass o’Lowrie’s, which was originally serialized in Scribner’s.
Burnett used her her son Vivian as a model for the character in her most successful novel, Little Lord Fauntleroy (1885), about a poor boy from Brooklyn who discovers he’s inherited an English Estate. It was originally intended as a children’s book but had its greatest appeal for mothers and sold more than half a million copies. It was a best-seller in the United States and England, and was translated into 12 languages.
Burnett’s subsequent novel would be A Little Princess (1905), the story of a wealthy girl living in a boarding school and enduring many hardships. It was an expanded version of the short story Sarah Crew and was combined with her play A Little Un-fairy Princess, when her publisher asked her to expand the novel with ‘the things and people that had been left out before”. Based on a 2007 online poll, A Little Princess was voted one of its ‘Teachers’ top books for children’ by the U.S. National Education Association.
In the 1890s, tragedy struck in the form of divorce and the death of her oldest son from tuberculosis. Shortly after, she entered a troubled marriage with a doctor 10 years her senior and ended up divorcing again two years later. Having traveled frequently to England and trying to cope with her son’s death and her failed relationships, she settled at Great Maytham Hall, a country house with a series of walled gardens including a rose garden. Burnett would seek solace and be inspired to write The Secret Garden(1911), a tale about self-healing and a girl who comes from India to the isolated Yorkshire Moores. In 1907 she moved permanently back to the United States and built her own home on Long Island, where she wrote her last book In the Garden. In 1936, a statue was built in New York City in her honor, which depicts two famous Secret Garden characters, Mary and Dickon. Her books have been adapted into film numerous times and a fourth film adaptation of The Secret Garden produced by Heyday Films and Studio Canal will be released in theaters in August 2020.
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