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100 Books Every Woman Should Read, Part Two

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Before you read this list, we strongly recommend reading Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read.

Here is the second list of titles of Experimental Wifery’s list of the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read, the Essential Woman’s Library:

See parts one, three, and four of our list.

The Metamorphoses by Ovid

Ovid’s history of Greek and Roman mythology from the creation of the world to the ascension of Caesar Augustus. Characters like Echo, Persephone, and Arachne suffer at the hands of the gods and unrelenting fate as they the stage for the rest of Western literature.

The gods have their own rules.

The Letters of Abelard and Heloise by Abelard and Heloise

After Abelard was forcibly castrated, he convinced his wife to enter a convent. For the rest of their lives, they carried on a sometimes-passionate, always erudite correspondence. Though they never met again, Heloise left instructions for her body to be buried in his tomb.

But now, more than ever, if it be not with thee, it is nowhere. For without thee it cannot anywhere exist.

Othello by William Shakespeare

In my opinion, Shakespeare’s most tragic tragedy. Desdemona is one of literature’s most loving, faithful wives—which, as she finds out, isn’t always its own reward.

My noble father,
I do perceive here a divided duty.
To you I am bound for life and education.
My life and education both do learn me
How to respect you. You are the lord of my duty,
I am hitherto your daughter. But here’s my husband,
And so much duty as my mother showed
To you, preferring you before her father,
So much I challenge that I may profess
Due to the Moor my lord.

The Betrothed by Alessandro Manzoni

After The Divine Comedy, the most famous and widely-read work of Italian literature. Renzo and Lucia fight against impossible odds—including wealthy thugs and the bubonic plague—to make good on their promise to marry each other. During the course of this epic, 800-page novel, they learn that adversity is part of what makes us who we are.

Misfortunes most commonly happen to us from our own misconduct of imprudence; but sometimes from causes independent of ourselves; that the most innocent and prudent conduct cannot always preserve us from them; and that, whether they arise from our own fault or not, trust in God softens them, and renders them useful in preparing us for a better life.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Another Austen novel about virtuous women looking for virtuous husbands. Elizabeth Bennett learns the hard way that first impressions aren’t always right and there is often more to people than meets the eye.

It is particularly incumbent on those who never change their opinion, to be secure of judging properly at first.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

Jane struggles to balance a woman’s need for financial stability with her need for love in nineteenth-century England.

I know what it is to live entirely for and with what I love best on earth. I hold myself supremely blest—blest beyond what language can express; because I am my husband’s life as fully as he is mine.

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

Louisa is taught from the cradle to value facts and ignore feelings. Her life is an object lesson that a marriage without love means nothing.

Some persons hold . . . that there is a wisdom of the Head, and that there is a wisdom of the Heart.

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Perhaps literature’s most disastrous love affair. Emma discovers that a woman can’t afford to let the idealistic dreams of her childhood ruin her adult life.

Emma was just like any other mistress; and the charm of novelty, falling down slowly like a dress, exposed only the eternal monotony of passion, always the same forms and the same language. 

The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson

Emily Dickinson is one of the most highly-regarded English-speaking poets. Her deeply intimate poetry opens a window into her distinctively feminine mind.

The soul selects her own society,

Then shuts the door;

On her divine majority

Obtrude no more.

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky

A crime novel, psychological thriller, and philosophical treatise all rolled into one. Raskolnikov sets himself above the rest of the human race when he murders a miserly pawnbroker and her sister. It’s only through the love of the paradoxically pure prostitute Sonya that he begins to accept his humanity.

He looked at Sonia and sensed how much her love was on him; strangely, it suddenly felt weary and painful to be loved like that—a strange and terrible sensation!

A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett

One of the best books ever written for girls. Sara Crew proves to her unkind school-mistress and to herself that princess is as princess does.

It would be easy to be a princess if I were dressed in cloth of gold, but it is a great deal more of a triumph to be one all the time when no one knows it.

Read more about great books for girls…

Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery

A gregarious, red-headed orphan searches for a home to call her own. Anne discovers the value of being a part of a loving family and community.

It won’t make a bit of difference where I go or how much I change outwardly; at heart I shall always be your little Anne, who will love you and Matthew and dear Green Gables more and better every day of her life.

The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy

One of the world’s first superhero-in-disguise stories. Marguerite desires her dim-witted but wealthy husband’s adoration but isn’t willing to respect him in return. She courts disaster when she refuses to ask for his help when the revolutionary French government threatens the life of her beloved brother.

It has always seemed to me that it must be heavenly to be loved blindly, passionately, wholly—worshipped, in fact… And I was ready to respond; I would have allowed myself to be worshipped and given infinite tenderness in return.

Read more about The Scarlet Pimpernel

Tess of the D’uberviles by Thomas Hardy

In this early modern novel, Tess is the tragic product of man’s world in which she has no power to make the right choices.

O, you have torn my life all to pieces… made me be what I prayed you in pity not to make me be again!

Lady Windermere’s Fan by Oscar Wilde

Another Oscar Wilde dark comedy, this time about judgment, mistakes, and a mother’s love. Lady Windermere finds that the Puritanical standards to which she holds others are more difficult to live up to than she thought.

How can I save her?… A moment may ruin a life. Who knows that better than I?

Pygmalion by George Bernard Shaw

The basis for the vintage musical My Fair Lady. The play isn’t so much a Cinderella-story about a flower girl as a story about a poor, simple-minded woman becoming a self-sufficient human being.

I sold flowers. I didn’t sell myself. Now you’ve made a lady of me I’m not fit to sell anything else.

Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

One of the most important works of Modernist literature. Among other things, Woolf explores the conflicting desires for privacy and intimacy within a marriage.

She had a perpetual sense, as she watched the taxi cabs, of being out, out, far out to sea and alone; she always had the feeling that it was very, very dangerous to live even one day.

Loaves and Fishes by Dorothy Day

Dorothy Day has been described as “the first hippie” for her radical views about the costs of poverty and war. Loaves and Fishes is her account of the Catholic Worker Movement she founded to support pacifism and give hospitality to the poorest of the poor.

The greatest challenge of the day is: how to bring about a revolution of the heart, a revolution which has to start with each one of us?

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

A Novel-prize-winning trilogy of historical novels set in medieval Norway. Undset not only captures a remote time and place but also the mysterious way things work out in life—even when they don’t turn out the way we planned.

Good days can last a long time if one tens to things with care and caution; all sensible people know that. That’s why I think that sensible people have to be satisfied with the good days—for the grandest days are costly indeed.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The most famous pre-Hunger Games dystopian novel. Desires are always met is this futuristic society that may hit a little too close to home for some twenty-first-century readers. For the experimental wife, Huxley’s novel is at its most evocative—and horrifying—when it describes a world where maternity has disappeared and “mother” is a swear word.

I often think one may have missed something in not having had a mother.

The Miracle Worker by Frank Gibson

The story of a blind and deaf girl and the woman who taught her to communicate. Anne Sullivan struggles to give Helen Keller the language that will open her dark and silent mind to a wider world.

 I’ll tell you what I pity… that the sun won’t rise and set for her all her life, and every day you’re telling her it will. What you and your pity do will destroy her, Captain Keller. 

Mastering the Art of French Cooking by Julia Child

The iconic cookbook. Child’s recipes are notoriously complicated, but that doesn’t make her work any less of an achievement. Mastering the Art of French Cooking taught American women that cooking could be an art as well as a craft.

The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.

The Princess Bride by William Golding

A cult-classic romantic comedy. Buttercup (yes, that’s her name) reminds us that true love is sometimes even better than a fairytale.

There have been five great kisses since 1642 B.C. … (before then couples hooked thumbs.) And the precise rating of kisses is a terribly difficult thing, often leading to great controversy… Well, this one left them all behind.

The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros

A series of vignettes about a girl becoming a woman amidst the squalor of urban poverty. Cisneros depicts a world in which vulnerable women look for strength in each other and where older women take seriously their responsibility to educate young girls.

I wonder if she made the best with what she got or was she sorry because she couldn’t be all the things she wanted to be. Esperanza. I have inherited her name, but I don’t want to inherit her place by the window.

Wit by Margaret Edson

A Pulitzer-Prize-winning play about a college professor dying of ovarian cancer. Dr. Bearing’s myopic view of life reminds us that there is more to reality than what we can read in books.

It appears to be a matter, as the saying goes, of life and death. I know all about life and death. I am, after all, a scholar of Donne’s Holy Sonnets, which explore mortality…

One response »

  1. I love that you included The Princess Bride. I never would have thought of that, but it’s SO perfect! Great list!


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