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100 Books Every Woman Should Read, Part Three

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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.

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

Aesop’s Fables by Aesop

The Dr. Seuss of the Middle Ages. According to legend, Aesop was a seventh-century B.C. Greek slave. His animal stories remind us of simple values like modesty, charity, and hard work and provide a great way to pass these values on to our children.

It is thrifty to prepare today for the wants of tomorrow.

The Republic by Plato

The world’s oldest and most revered work of political philosophy. Unlike most other Ancient Greek philosophers, Plato isn’t a chauvinist. The Republic is an important treatise on how people live together in political community and the role women have to play within that community.

What matters is not whether you are male or female but what kinds of pursuits you are suited for, what kinds of activities you can do well, and how you respond to challenges to self-control.

Anglo-Saxon Poetry translated by S. A. J. Bradley

Forget The Canterbury Tales. These seventh-, eighth-, ninth-, and tenth-century poems will change the way you think about “the Dark Ages.” (Check out Tacitus’ Germania for a description of how these early Germanic tribes lived.) Be sure to read Genesis B, Juliana, Elene, and Judith for their depictions of powerful, brave, and affectionate women.

Rabid-hearted, he stormed and abused the gods because they with their power could not withstand the will of a woman.

Erec and Enide by Chrétien de Troyes

The most romantic romance. In this late twelfth-century romance, Erec and Enide learn that the quest for happiness doesn’t end the moment you say, “I do.” They embark on a grand journey that becomes, among other things, a beautiful allegory for growth in married life. Together, they learn that happy endings only come to people who continue to work for them every day.

Throughout this land, all the people—the blondes and the brunettes and the redheads—are saying that it is a great shame you have laid down your arms. Your renown has greatly declined.

Read more about Erec and Enide

All’s Well That Ends Well by William Shakespeare

A wife struggles to make her husband act like one. Helena’s unwilling husband runs away until she can take his family ring from his finger and bear his child. All’s Well That Ends Well is a comedy about how hard it can be to get others to do the right thing.

‘Twere all one that I should love a bright particular star and think to wed it, he is so above me.

The Real Mother Goose by Blanche Fisher Wright

A seminal collection of classic nursery rhymes. Every person who wants children to be a part of his or her life ought to memorize a selection of these traditional ditties.

Little Miss Muffet sat on a tuffet eating her curds and whey…

Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville

According to a Harvard professor, “at once the best book ever written on democracy and the best book ever written on America.” Alexis de Tocqueville travelled from France to the United States in 1831. Over the next nine months he made a thorough study of the religious, political, and economic character of the young nation. For modern readers, his book is both a prescient prediction of our country’s particular weaknesses and a reminder of it particular strengths.

If I am asked how we should account for the unusual prosperity and growing strength of this nation, I would reply that they must be attributed to the superiority of their women.

Emma by Jane Austen

“I am going to take a heroine no one but myself will much like.” Austen’s very type-A Emma Woodhouse learns the hard way that she cannot control the lives of everyone around her.

The real evils, indeed, of Emma’s situation were the power of having rather too much her own way, and a disposition to think a little too well of herself

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Dickens’ story about the early days of the French Revolution and the English families affected by it comes to a well-known and very moving conclusion. Sydney Carton’s character reminds us how love can truly change lives and what selfless love really looks like.

I see a beautiful city and a brilliant people rising from this abyss, and, in their struggles to be truly free, in their triumphs and defeats, through long years to come, I see the evil of this time and of the previous time of which this is the natural birth, gradually making expiation for itself and wearing out.

Joan of Arc by Mark Twain

Alternately titled Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc by the Sieur Louis de Conte. Twain’s fictional account celebrates the life of a woman he greatly admired. Through Twain’s description, Joan of Arc’s character—based partially on his memories of his own daughter at seventeen—stands out as a woman of heroism and bravery.

Whatever thing men call great, look for it in Joan of Arc, and there you will find it.

The Goblin Market and Other Poems by Christina Rossetti

Poems by the Victorian Age’s most famous female poet. The Goblin Market is an allegory about temptation and salvation and a beautiful story about the love between two sisters.

We must not look at goblin men,/we must not buy their fruits:/who knows upon/what soil they fed/their hungry thirsty roots?

Resurrection by Leo Tolstoy

Tolstoy’s last and most transcendent novel. Years ago, Dmitri seduced and impregnated a serving maid. When he finds out that his abandonment led her into a life of poverty and crime, he fights to love her enough to redeem her—and himself.

All men live and act partly according to their own, partly according to other people’s ideas. The extent to which they do the one or the other is one of the chief things that differentiate men.

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Thematically similar to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, which also appears on the list of 100 Novels Every Woman Should Read, The Awakening tells the story of the stifled housewife Edna Pontellier. Controversial since its publication in 1899 for its frank description of female sexuality, Chopin’s novel nevertheless captures all women’s struggle to reconcile their desires with their responsibilities.

Mrs. Pontellier was beginning to realize her position in the universe as a human being, and to recognize her relations as an individual to the world within and about her.

Twenty Years at Hull House by Jane Addams

Hull House was a settlement house founded with the help of Jane Addams in Chicago in 1889. In her book, this public philosopher, sociologist, author, and leader in the fight for women’s suffrage outlines the importance of providing for the poorest of the poor. Addams became a living model for women who wanted to bring positive change to their communities.

Of all the aspects of social misery nothing is so heartbreaking as unemployment.

The Bridge of San Louis Rey by Thornton Wilder

Five people died when a rope bridge in Lima, Peru collapsed while five people were crossing it. The fictional Brother Juniper works for six years to find God’s plan in the tragic accident. A moving consideration of the meaning of suffering and the things that connect us to one another.

There is a land of the living and a land of the dead and the bridge is love, the only survival, the only meaning.

Essays on Woman by Edith Stein

Edith Stein converted to Catholicism and became a Carmelite nun. Even so, because she was ethnically Jewish, she was arrested by the Nazis and died in a gas chamber in Aushwitz. Her Essays on Woman celebrate the unique qualities of women and were instrumental to Pope John Paul II’s important letter On the Dignity of Women.

Only the person blinded by the passion of controversy could deny that woman in soul and body is formed for a particular purpose. 

Anna and the King of Siam by Margaret Landon

A semi-fictional account of the remarkable story of Anna Leonowens. King Mongkut invites the recently-widowed Anna to what is now Thailand to teach English and English customs to his wives and children. Rogers and Hammerstein set this enchanting story of courage and curiosity to music in The King and I.

I call you sir so you will not be lowly like a woman, but you continue to talk like a woman, I no longer call you sir. You think now you are nothing here, but that could be different.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers

The first feminist mystery novel. Sayer’s ambitious book takes up the conflict between love and independence, the disconnect between principles and personal loyalties, women’s right to academic education—and even throws in criticism of the Nazi doctrine of Kinder, Kirche, Küche.

How fleeting are all human passions compared to the massive continuity of ducks.

The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

The seminal work of epic fantasy. The Lord of the Rings is a celebration of friendship, hope, and courage—and not just in its male characters. Much like the Anglo-Saxon poetry he so much admired, Tolkien’s fantasy also presents us with some remarkable and truly feminine models like Arwen, Éowyn, and Galadriel.

“What do you fear, lady?” he asked. “A cage,” she said. “To stay behind bars until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire.”

The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

The best romance novel for young women. Kit Tyler struggles to find her identity in Puritan Massachusetts. Along the way, she faces the same difficult task as all young adults to determine which traditions of her family and culture she should value and which she should fight against.

The answer is in thy heart, thee can always hear it if thee listens for it.

The Witch of Blackbird Pond also made our list of Ten Great Novels to Help Girls Become Women.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson

Touchstone for the environmental movement. Carson outlines the catastrophic affects of pesticides on birds. Despite criticism that she was nothing more than a “hysterical woman” unqualified to write a serious, scientific book, Caron helped bring about the ban on the pesticide DDT in 1972.

When the public protests, confronted with some obvious evidence of damaging results of pesticide applications, it is fed little tranquilizing pills of half truth.

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The autobiography of a poet laureate. In her characteristically poetic prose, Angelou tells a coming-of-age story about how integrity, paired with a love of reading, can overcome racism and trauma.

If growing up is painful for the Southern Black girl, being aware of her displacement is the rust on the razor that threatens the throat. It is an unnecessary insult.

Cold Sassy Tree by Olive Ann Burns

A sensitive chronicle of a young boy’s coming of age in turn-of-the-last-century Georgia. Will Tweedy struggles to define himself under the watchful eye of his charismatic and sometimes over-bearing grandfather. Along the way, he learns that part of growing up is learning to cope with death and loss. Cold Sassy Tree also made our list of Six Novels to Help You Understand Men Better.

To mourn is to be eaten alive with homesickness for the person.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Beloved is a haunting novel about the terrible choices women must sometimes make about the happiness and safety of their families. “Beloved” is a baby daughter that the fugitive slave, Sethe, kills to save her from being returned to slavery in pre-Civil War Kentucky.

124 was spiteful. Full of a baby’s venom.

One response »

  1. ‘Forget the Canterbury Tales’… fair enough, (even as a Chaucerian the work isn’t my favourite!), but there are some bits of Chaucer that would contribute to your list. I suggest you include ‘The Franklin’s Tale’ (about marriage and true nobility – perfect for this blog), ‘The Knight’s Tale’ (similar) and definitely ‘Troilus and Criseyde’ (which depicts a woman who is both ennobling and ultimately disappointing for her man – someone you can learn from in both a positive and a negative way). Those are my thoughts! Sorry they’re (predictably) Chaucer-heavy!


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