Before you read this list, we strongly recommend reading Experimental Wifery’s Guide to the 100 Books Every Woman Should Read.
- The Bible
- One Thousand and One Nights
- The Pillow Book by Sei Shonaon
- Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
- King Lear by William Shakespeare
- The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm
- The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
- Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe
- Middlemarch by George Eliot
- My Ántonia by Willa Cather
- The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
- Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
- Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
- And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
- The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
- Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
- The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
- Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
- The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
- Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
- The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
- Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovály
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
- First Family by Joseph Ellis
Importantcontext for Western literature even for non-Christians. The Bible not only tells the stories of brave, ambitious, charitable, and clever women, but also provides instructions for a nobler way of life.
Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in inquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareath all things, believath all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things.
One Thousand and One Nights
Scheherazaden must tell her new husband a cliff-hanging story every night if she wants to keep her head. Her creative story-telling introduces a body of Middle Eastern and South Asian legends and shows us a fairy-tale princess who uses her cunning to save herself.
He also sware himself by a binding oath that whatever wife he married he would abate her maidenhead at night and slay her next morning to make sure of his honour; “For” said he, “there never was nor is there one chaste woman upon the face of the earth.”
The Pillow Book by Sei Shonaon
Book of the City of Ladies by Christine de Pizan
The man or the woman in whom resides greater virtue is the higher; neither the loftiness nor the lowliness of a person lies in the body according to the sex but in the perfection of conduct and virtues.
The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
The most famous poem in Middle English. Many sometimes-holy, sometimes-bawdy, always-entertaining pilgrims tell each other tales on the way to Canterbury Cathedral. Chaucer introduces now-famous characters like the emancipated Wife of Bath and the clever strumpet Allysoun.
There shul ye seen expres that it no drede is, That he is gentil that dooth gentil dedis. And therfore, leeve housbonde, I thus conclude: Al were it that myne auncestres weren rude, Yet may the hye God, and so hope I, Grante me grace to lyven vertuously. Thanne am I gentil whan that I bigynne To lyven vertuously, and weyve synne.
King Lear by William Shakespeare
King Lear tests his three daughters before he lets them inherit their thirds of the kingdom. Instead of giving him flattering answers, Cordelia tells her father the truth—that no words can describe how much she loves him. Cordelia is an example of honesty, devotion, and virtue in the face of adversity.
The Complete Fairy Tales of the Brothers Grimm by the Brothers Grimm
The origin of the word “grim.” This collection of traditional folktales introduces Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and many other classic fairy tale characters to share with the kids in your life. Be prepared for PG-rated versions of your Disney favorites.
The queen…went to her mirror and said, “Mirror, mirror, here I stand. Who is the fairest in the land?” And the mirror replied, “You, O Queen, are the fairest here, but Snow White, who has gone to stay with the seven dwarfs far, far away, is a thousand times more fair.”
The Fairy Tales of Hans Christian Andersen
Fairy tales about real love. The un-sanitized, original versions of classics like The Little Mermaid and The Steadfast Tin Soldier are among the most beautiful stories ever written. Again and again Andersen’s character selflessly choose the people they love—lovers, siblings, children, and friends—over themselves.
You, poor little mermaid, have tried with your whole heart to do as we are doing; you have suffered and endured and raised yourself to the spirit-world by your good deeds; and now, by striving for three hundred years in the same way, you may obtain an immortal soul.
Uncle Tom’s Cabin by Harriet Beacher Stowe
When President Lincoln met Harriet Beacher Stowe, he supposedly said, “”so you are the little woman who wrote the book that started this great war. The brave Eliza and her young son run away from her wicked master. Her fictional plight drew Northerners’ attention to the evils of slavery.
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Eliot hated the “silly women novelists” of the Victorian era and littered her work with “unfeminine” literary and scientific allusions topped off with an uncharacteristically depressing ending. This novel, her opus, centers on the choices we make about marriage and vocation—and the way these choices affect the rest of our lives.
I mean, marriage drinks up all of our power of giving or getting any blessedness in that sort of love. I know it may be very dear—but it murders our marriage—and then the marriage stays with us like a murder—and everything else is gone.
My Ántonia by Willa Cather
An elegy to the families who built new lives west of the Mississippi River—and the pioneering women who often led them. The novel tells the story of Ántonia as she grows up, marries, and becomes a mother.
She lent herself to immemorial human attitudes which we recognize by instinct as universal and true. I had not been mistaken. She was a battered woman now, not a lovely girl; but she still had that something which fires the imagination, could still stop one’s breath for a moment by a look or gesture that somehow revealed the meaning in common things.
The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton
The novel that earned the first Pulitzer Prize awarded to a woman. Wharton asks her reader to think critically about the assumptions and morality of upper-class New York society in the 1870s through an impending marriage and the scandal that threatens to ruin it.
Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
A comic satire on the way city-slickers think of rural life. Flora Poste brings a little urban wisdom to an emotionally stunted farming town. Gibbons novel pokes gentle fun at the kind of women who think they know how to solve everyone else’s problems.
And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie
The world’s best-selling mystery novel of all time. Ten men and women, all complicit in the deaths of others, find themselves mysteriously thrown together on an isolated island. Then, one by one, they fall victim to murder themselves…
The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams
In my opinion, Williams’ most tragic play. Laura’s mother tries to push her introverted daughter into a world too big for her. When trying to be something she isn’t, Laura is as breakable as her collection of fragile figurines.
Most of them are little animals made out of glass, the tiniest little animals in the world. Mother calls them a glass menagerie! Here’s an example of one, if you’d like to see it!… Oh, be careful—if you breathe, it breaks!
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
The emotionally stunted narrator, Charles Ryder, finds meaning for his life in his relationships with the Marchmain family—especially his lover, Julia. But he discovers that the faith and vivacity that draw him to them are the very things that must drive them apart. A beautiful novel about the profound ways a woman can affect a man, often outside of her control.
Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh
Reflections on American life by the wife of Charles Lindbergh. Lindbergh uses the shells she finds on the beach as inspiration for her collection of essays about love and age, youth and marriage, peace and activity. Her quiet, meditative book encourages all women to step back and appreciate what we have—before we allow ourselves to be overwhelmed by the pace of modern life.
Yes, I believe the oyster shell is a good one to express the middle years of marriage. It suggests the struggle of life itself.
The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Frankie struggles to find a community in her small, Southern town. When her brother gets engaged, she must learn how much of who she is linked to the people she cares about—and how much of who she is belongs to her alone.
The End of the Affair by Graham Greene
Till We Have Faces by C. S. Lewis
Written with the help of his terminally ill wife, C. S. Lewis’ last novel. In this retelling of the myth of Cupid and Psyche, Psyche’s older sister accuses the gods of playing with human lives. The novel is a beautiful description of what does—and doesn’t—lay within our control.
The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle
A cult fantasy classic. The last unicorn in the world goes on a quest to find her missing kin. In an effort to save her from their fate, a bumbling magician disguises her as a beautiful, young woman. A beautiful tale about the costs of innocence and purity.
Under a Cruel Star: A Life in Prague, 1941-1968 by Heda Margolius Kovály
In this memoir, Kovály describes how she survives German concentration camps and the reconstruction of her country only to watch the Russians destroy all she cares about. A moving story about hope in the face of horror.
It was becoming evident to many that while evil grows all by itself, good can be achieved only through hard struggle and maintained only through tireless effort, that we had to set out clear, boldly-conceived goals for ourselves and join forces to attain them. The problem was that everyone envisioned these goals differently.
The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan
In sixteen interwoven vignettes, Jing-Mei Woo pieces together the life stories of her immigrant mother, her friends, and their daughters to carry back with her on a visit to China. The San Francisco Chronicle identified The Joy Luck Club as a novel about “what it is to be American, and a woman, mother, daughter, lover, wife, sister, and friend.”
First Family by Joseph Ellis
A biography of John and Abigail Adams by a Pulitzer-Prize-Winning author. Ellis distills the Adams’ famous correspondence into a story that is part political history and part love story. Abigail stands out as a woman of wit and insight quietly important to the founding of our country.
“I can do nothing,” John told Abigail, “without you.”