Before you read this list, we strongly recommend reading Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read.
- The Odyssey by Homer
- Antigone by Sophocles
- The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
- Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
- The Letters of John and Abigail Adams by John and Abigail Adams
- Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
- Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
- The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
- Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
- Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
- A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen
- An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
- Etiquette by Emily Post
- A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
- Howard’s End by E. M. Forster
- Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
- The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
- A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
- A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
- To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
- Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
- A Raisin in the Sun by Lorraine Hansberry
- Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
The Odyssey by Homer
Odysseus spends ten years trying to make his way home to Penelope in one of the foundational texts of Western literature. Penelope is one of the best wives literature has to offer—so wise, faithful, and desirable that no fewer than 108 suitors try to win her hand.
The more she spoke, the more a deep desire for tears welled up inside his breast—he wept as he held the wife he loved, the soul of loyalty, in his arms at last.
Antigone by Sophocles
The Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri
T. S. Eliot remarked that Dante, more than any other writer, shows us the depths and heights of the human soul. Dante goes on a journey through hell, purgatory, and heaven with the guidance of his perfect lady, Beatrice.
Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare
The classic pair of “star-crossed lovers” make this play the most highly-regarded romance ever written. Teenage girls love it and adult women can look back to a time when they had a very different—perhaps more dangerous—idea of what true love looks like.
Do thou but close our hands with holy words,
Then love-devouring death do what he dare;
The Letters of John and Abigail Adams by John and Abigail Adams
The letters exchanged by John and Abigail Adams during the turning point in the struggle for American independence show us a woman fighting to support a cause she causes about, enable a man she adores, and protect a family she loves. Plus Abigail has a political mind every bit as astute as her husband’s.
Men of Sense in all Ages abhor those customs which treat [women] only as the vassals of your sex; regard us then as Beings placed by Providence under your protection, and in imitation of the Supreme Being make use of that power only for our happiness.
Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen
She was stronger alone; and her own good sense so well supported her, that her firmness was as unshaken, her appearance of cheerfulness as invariable, as, with regrets so poignant and so fresh, it was possible for them to be.
Frankenstein by Mary Shelly
More an intellectual thriller than a gruesome horror novel. In one reading, Dr. Frankenstein is an anti-mother whose murderous creation serves as a warning about what happens when parents don’t love their children.
The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne
Hester Prinne triumphs over the oppressive Puritan culture by owning up to her sins and becoming a better woman. Hawthorne’s novel is a great fable for accepting our mistakes and moving on with our lives.
Wuthering Heights by Charlotte Bronte
Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
Pip may be the protagonist of Dickens’ novel, but he certainly isn’t the most memorable character. Miss Havisham is the world’s most famous spinster: a bitter, man-hating woman who reminds us all of the consequences of letting resentment ruin our lives.
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Little Women is probably the best book ever written about how girls can grow up to be great wives. (Modern versions actually combine Alcott’s first two books—Little Women and Good Wives.) Every woman I’ve ever met can see herself in at least one of the four sisters struggling to be good.
I’ll try and be what he loves to call me, “a little woman,” and not be rough and wild; but do my duty here instead of wanting to be somewhere else.
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Two stories in one—the adulterous title character and the romantic land-owner, Constantine Levin. Through their parallel stories, we see what love can take away from and add to an ordinary, human life.
A Doll’s House by Henrick Ibsen
Although generally read as a proto-feminist play, Ibsen insisted that his play was about what it is to be human. Nora’s husband fails to recognize her years of secret worry and self-sacrifice to support his ambition. Her story suggests that respect and love in a marriage must be mutual for a marriage to work.
An Ideal Husband by Oscar Wilde
Etiquette by Emily Post
This isn’t a book to read from cover to cover, but a reference to own and cherish. Whether in its original 1922 printing or its current, 18th revision, Etiquette is an indispensible guide to making other people feel comfortable, welcome, and respected.
A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf
Howard’s End by E. M. Forster
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The classic romantic thriller. Young, inexperienced narrator must find herself while standing up to the ghost of her new husband’s first wife, Rebecca. Thank goodness most of us are fighting against less impossible odds.
The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank
Anne’s unintentional autobiography is one of the most famous books by women ever written. Her light-hearted diary of teenaged life is all the more moving for its tragic, unwritten ending when Anne becomes a victim of the Holocaust.
I sometimes wonder if anyone will ever understand what I mean, if anyone will ever overlook my ingratitude and not worry about whether or not I’m Jewish and merely see me as a teenager badly in need of some good, plain fun.
A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Southern Gothic stories about what it is to be human. Racism, religion, class prejudice, and serial killers all come together in one of literature’s strangest and most profound collections of short stories.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
Immigrants struggle to make a new life for themselves in early twentieth-century New York. This largely autobiographical novel is the ultimate story of a young woman pulling herself up by her bootstraps.
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A classic story about growing up in the Jim Crow South. Lee’s novel is a strong contender for the great American novel. Young Scout Finch struggles to come to grips with how ugly—and beautiful—life really is.
Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand
Love it or hate it, probably the most politically important book ever written by a woman. Atlas Shrugged is the great objectivist manifesto, loudly declaring that the only moral purpose of life is to pursue one’s own happiness. Even if you disagree with Rand’s philosophy, her novel serves as a powerful reminder of the human desire for autonomy.
A Raisin in the Sun by Lorainne Hansberry
A black family in Chicago tries to find their place in this world—and in an all-white neighborhood. Although originally criticized for being relevant for only black audiences, Hansberry’s play shows the universal importance of family and of striving to achieve our dreams.
Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi
A great novel heightens your senses and sensitivity to the complexities of life and of individuals, and prevents you from the self-righteousness that sees morality in fixed formulas about good and evil…