Classics By Women: NOT JUST JANE by Shelley DeWees

What are the greatest powers to be found in books? There are many, but let’s think about the history behind each piece. People have been writing for centuries, some to inform and others to entertain. There’s a title about everything for everyone.

For more on this, check out my post about Jonathan Gottschall’s book The Storytelling Animal.

Once you start digging into classic literature, you will run into obscure authors and discover the roots of your favorite fairy tales. It’s like Alice falling down the rabbit hole.

Ponder for a moment how the ability to write empowers. Reading and writing have a great influence in the direction that our world takes. Literature makes such a mark on society that it wasn’t always open to everyone.

Women in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries were discouraged from writing.  It went against the gender roles that society had preset for them. Women were only taught what was necessary for marriage and raising children. If they thought about writing a book (at least, one that wasn’t on the topic of good housekeeping), they risked becoming outcasts.

“Proper” men and women alike mocked ladies who wanted to write. If their tales were indeed written, they were never published. If they were published, most authoresses so feared the condemnation of society that they didn’t publish with their names. Instead they chose the appellation By a Lady.

There are too many women with such a history to celebrate in one blog post or even in a whole book. Shelley DeWees’ Not Just Jane introduces us to seven authoresses aside from Austen who broke the rules. Some were forced into writing to make a living because their husbands could not provide, or–in the case of Sara Coleridge–forced into marriage that tore her away from her passion.

While some of these women wrote about politics, especially during the Great Terror of the French Revolution, others just had stories to tell. Some of them survived because of questionable friends in upper ranks of society. Others were taken “under the wing” of important gentleman (one had a flirtation with the Prince of Wales).

Things like this kept them fed, but didn’t change how they were perceived by the ton. It was a point of no return.

The choice to become a female writer in the eighteenth century was one of strength and bravery. Could I have taken that path when there was so much at stake? I’m glad I don’t have to balance these things now in making that decision; times have changed.

I’m glad the world is full of room for women and their stories.

Learn about seven authoresses who shaped literary history. When you finish Not Just Jane, read a book by one of these women. What can we do to honor their memories? We read the stories they must have doubted could survive.

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