Sunday, January 01, 2012

A Guest Post by Anna: A Literary Canon of Women Writers, Part Fourteen: Into The Twentieth Century

Echidne's note: Earlier parts of this series can be found here: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4 ,Part 5, Part 6, Part 7,Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part 12 and Part 13

Edith Wharton (1862-1937) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist, short story writer, and designer. Although wealthy and female, she was also one of the few American civilians who traveled to the front lines in France during World War I. She wrote a series of articles about that experience, and in 1916 was named a Chevalier of the Legion of Honor.

Wharton was divorced from her husband in 1913, but rather than view a divorce as scandalous she saw it as a “diploma of virtue.” For her novel The Age of Innocence (1921), Edith Wharton became the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for literature. She remained in France until her death in 1937, but she did return to the United States on one occasion to get an honorary doctorate degree from Yale. Despite the time she spent away from the United States, Edith Wharton is celebrated for her novels that perfectly captured (and gently criticized) the upper class in America.Her works are widely available in English.

Willa Cather (1873-1947) was an American author who achieved recognition for her novels of frontier life on the Great Plains, in works such as her “prairie trilogy” of O Pioneers! (a 1913 novel about a family of Swedish immigrants), The Song of the Lark (a 1915 novel about an ambitious young heroine, Thea Kronborg, who leaves her hometown to go to the big city to fulfill her dream of becoming a famous opera star), and My Ántonia (a 1918 novel about Ántonia Shimerda, as told by her friend Jim to another friend). In 1923 Cather was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.She is considered one of the leading figures of American literary Modernism.

Pearl Buck (1892-1973) was an American writer who spent most of her time until 1934 in China. Her novel The Good Earth was the best-selling fiction book in the U.S. in 1931 and 1932, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1932; it caused considerable popular sympathy for China. It concerns family life in a Chinese village before World War II. In 1938, she became the first American woman to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Her works are widely available in English.

Gertrude Stein (1874-1946) was an American writer, poet, and art collector who spent most of her life in France. Her Paris home became a legendary salon after World War I, attracting artists including Picasso, Braque, and Matisse. Stein’s most famous work, The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), purports to be the memoirs of Stein’s partner (she was a lesbian) but is actually a history of Stein’s own life. Her works are widely available in English.

Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) was an English author, essayist, publisher, and writer of short stories, regarded as one of the foremost modernist literary figures of the twentieth century. During the interwar period, Woolf was a significant figure in London literary society and a member of the Bloomsbury Group.

Her most famous works include the novels Mrs Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927), Orlando (1928), and the book-length essay A Room of One's Own (1929), with its famous saying, "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction."

Woolf is considered one of the greatest innovators in the English language. In her works she experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters.

Woolf's reputation declined sharply after World War II, but her eminence was re-established with the surge of feminist criticism in the 1970s.

Mrs Dalloway (1925) centres on the efforts of Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged society woman, to organize a party, even as her life is paralleled with that of Septimus Warren Smith, a working-class veteran who has returned from the First World War bearing deep psychological scars.

To the Lighthouse (1927) is set on two days ten years apart. The plot centers around the Ramsay family's anticipation of and reflection upon a visit to a lighthouse and the connected familial tensions. One of the primary themes of the novel is the struggle in the creative process that painter Lily Briscoe suffers from while she struggles to paint in the midst of the family drama. The novel is also a meditation upon the lives of a nation's inhabitants in the midst of war, and of the people left behind. It also explores the passage of time, and how women are forced by society to allow men to take emotional strength from them.

Orlando (1928) is one of Virginia Woolf's lightest novels. A parodic biography of a young nobleman who lives for three centuries without aging much past thirty (but who does abruptly turn into a woman), the book is in part a portrait of Woolf's lover Vita Sackville-West. It was meant to console Vita for the loss of her ancestral home, though it is also a satirical treatment of Vita and her work. In Orlando the techniques of historical biographers are being ridiculed; the character of a pompous biographer is being assumed in order for it to be mocked.

Virginia Woolf had a lesbian relationship with Vita, but she also married, and she is usually considered bisexual. She suffered from depression and eventually killed herself. Her works are widely available in English.

Katherine Anne Porter (1890-1980) was a Pulitzer Prize-winning American journalist, essayist, short story writer, novelist, and political activist. Her 1962 novel Ship of Fools (which concerns people sailing from Mexico to Europe aboard a German freighter and passenger ship) is an allegory that traces the rise of Nazism and looks metaphorically at the progress of the world on its "voyage to eternity."

It was the best-selling novel in America that year, but her short stories received much more critical acclaim. She is known for her penetrating insight; her work deals with dark themes such as betrayal, death and the origin of human evil. Her works are widely available in English.

Zora Neale Hurston (1891-1960) was an American folklorist, anthropologist, and author during the time of the Harlem Renaissance, which she was a part of. Of Hurston's four novels and more than 50 published short stories, plays, and essays, she is best known for her 1937 novel Their Eyes Were Watching God, a novel about the life of an African-American woman in her forties named Janie Crawford.

Set in central and southern Florida in the early 20th century, the novel garnered attention and controversy at the time of its publication, and has come to be regarded as a seminal work in both African American literature and women's literature. Her works are widely available in English.

Anais Nin (1903-1977) was born in Paris and aspired at an early age to be a writer. An influential artist and thinker, she wrote primarily fiction until 1964, when her last novel, Collages, was published. She wrote "The House of Incest", a prose-poem (1936), three novellas collected in The Winter of Artifice (1939), short stories collected in Under a Glass Bell (1944), and a five-volume continuous novel consisting of Ladders to Fire (1946), Children of the Albatross (1947), The Four-Chambered Heart (1950), A Spy in the House of Love (1954), and Seduction of the Minotaur (1961). These novels were collected as Cities of the Interior (1974).

She gained commercial and critical success with the publication of the first volume of her diary (1966); to date, fifteen diary volumes have been published. Besides shedding light on her own life, as a female author describing a primarily masculine constellation of celebrities, Nin's journals have acquired importance as a counterbalancing perspective.

Her most commercially successful books were her erotica published as Delta of Venus (1977) and Little Birds (1979). She was the first woman to explore fully the realm of erotic writing, and certainly the first prominent woman in the modern West to write erotica. Before her, erotica written by women was rare, with a few notable exceptions, such as the work of Kate Chopin.

The explosion of the feminist movement in the 1960s gave feminist perspectives on Nin's writings of the past twenty years, which made Nin a popular lecturer at various universities; however, Nin disassociated herself from the political activism of the movement. Her works are widely available in English.

Fumiko Enchi (Enchi Fumiko, 2 October 1905 – 12 November 1986) was the pen-name of Fumi Ueda, one of the most prominent Japanese women writers in the Shōwa period of Japan. In 1945 Enchi's home and all her possessions burned during an air raid towards the end of the Pacific War, and for several years immediately after the war she struggled with uterine cancer and surgical complications. She had two major operations, a mastectomy in 1938 and a hysterectomy in 1946.

In 1953, her novel Himojii Tsukihi ("Days of Hunger") was received favorably and the following year she won an award from the Society of Women Writers. Her novel is a violent, harrowing tale of family misfortune and physical and emotional deprivation. Her next novel was also highly praised: Onna zaka ("The Waiting Years", 1949–1957) won the Noma Literary Prize. It analyzes the plight of women who have no alternative but to accept the demeaning role assigned to them in the concubine system.

From the 1950s onward, she became quite successful, and wrote numerous novels and short stories exploring female psychology and sexuality. She was awarded the Order of Culture by the Japanese government in 1985. Some of her works are widely available in English.

Eudora Welty (1909-2001) was an American author of short stories and novels about the American South. Her novel The Optimist's Daughter (about a woman named Laurel Hand who travels to New Orleans from her home in Chicago to assist her aging father) won the Pulitzer Prize in 1973. Welty was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, among numerous awards. She was the first living author to have her works published by the Library of America. Her works are widely available in English.

Elizabeth Bishop (1911-1979) was an American poet and short-story writer. She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 1949 to 1950, a Pulitzer Prize winner in 1956 and a National Book Award Winner for Poetry in 1970. Elizabeth Bishop House is an artists' retreat in Great Village, Nova Scotia dedicated to her memory.

She is considered one of the most important and distinguished American poets of the 20th century. She was a lesbian and considered herself to be a “strong feminist.” Her works are widely available in English.

Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) was an American novelist, short-story writer and essayist. An important voice in American literature, O'Connor wrote two novels and 32 short stories, as well as a number of reviews and commentaries.

She was a Southern writer who often wrote in a Southern Gothic style and relied heavily on regional settings and grotesque characters. O'Connor's writing also reflected her own Roman Catholic faith, and frequently examined questions of morality and ethics.

Her two novels were Wise Blood (1952) and The Violent Bear It Away (1960). She also published two books of short stories: A Good Man Is Hard to Find (1955) and Everything That Rises Must Converge (published posthumously in 1965). She had lupus throughout her life and eventually died of it. Her works are widely available in English.

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was an American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die. The book’s poems, written between 1962 and 1966, are arranged in the book in chronological order. Their subjects are Sexton's troubled relationships with her mother and her daughters, and her treatment for mental illness. Themes of her poetry in general include her suicidal tendencies, long battle against depression and various intimate details from her private life, including her relationships with her husband and children.

Sylvia Plath (October 27, 1932 – February 11, 1963) was an American poet, novelist and short story writer. Born in Massachusetts, she studied at Smith College and Newnham College, Cambridge before receiving acclaim as a professional poet and writer. She married fellow poet Ted Hughes in 1956 and they lived together first in the United States and then England, having two children together: Frieda and Nicholas. Following a long struggle with depression and a marital separation, Plath committed suicide in 1963.

Plath is credited with advancing the genre of confessional poetry and is best known for her two published collections: The Colossus and Other Poems and Ariel. In the 1965 edition of Ariel, Ted Hughes changed Plath's chosen selection and arrangement by dropping twelve poems, adding twelve composed a few months later, and shifting the poems' ordering, in addition to including an introduction by Robert Lowell.In 2004 a new edition of Ariel was published which for the first time restored the selection and arrangement of the poems as Plath had left them; the 2004 edition also features a foreword by Plath and Hughes' daughter Frieda Hughes.

In 1982, Plath became the first poet to win a Pulitzer Prize posthumously, for The Collected Poems. She also wrote The Bell Jar, a semi-autobiographical novel published shortly before her death. Her works are widely available in English.

Toni Morrison was born Chloe Anthony Wofford in 1931. Her first novel, The Bluest Eye (1970, about a year in the life of a young black girl, named Pecola, in Lorain, Ohio, against the backdrop of America's Midwest as well as in the years following the Great Depression), received mixed reviews, didn't sell well, and was out of print by 1974. Critical recognition and praise for Toni Morrison grew, however, with each novel.

She received the National Book Critics Circle Award for her third novel Song of Solomon (1977) and the Pulitzer prize for Beloved (1987, about Sethe, a runaway slave who kills her daughter and tries to kill her other three children when a posse arrives in Ohio to return them to Sweet Home, the plantation in Kentucky from which Sethe had recently fled. The daughter, Beloved, returns years later to haunt the house in which she was killed, Sethe's home.) Morrison received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993 for, in the words of the Swedish Academy, her "visionary force and poetic import" which give "life to an essential aspect of American reality." Her works are widely available in English.

Alice Munro (born 1931) is a Canadian short-story writer, the winner of the 2009 Man Booker International Prize for her lifetime body of work, a three-time winner of Canada's Governor General's Award for fiction, and a perennial contender for the Nobel Prize. Generally regarded as one of the world's foremost writers of fiction, Munro writes about the human condition and relationships seen through the lens of daily life. She won the Governor’s General Award for Dance of the Happy Shades, Who Do You Think You Are? (1978), and The Progress of Love (1986). Her works are widely available in English.

Diane DiPrima (born 1934) is an American poet of the Beat Generation. Her major work is the long poem Loba (meaning She-wolf in Spanish), first published in 1978, with an enlarged edition in 1998.The poem is a quest for the reintegration of the feminine, and is considered by some critics as the female counterpart to Allen Ginsberg’s famous Beat poem Howl.

For other women of the Beat Generation (sadly it was rather patriarchal) see A Different Beat: Writing by Women of the Beat Generation, edited by Richard Peabody. DiPrima herself was one of the few women in the Beat inner circle. Her works are widely available in English.

Bessie Emery Head (July 6, 1937 - April 17, 1986) is usually considered Botswana's most influential writer. She was born in South Africa, the child of a wealthy white South African woman and a black servant when interracial relationships were illegal in South Africa. It was claimed that her mother was mentally ill so that she could be sent to a quiet location to then give birth to Bessie without the neighbors knowing. However, the exact circumstances are disputed. In any case, she moved to Botswana in 1964.

One of her best works is When Rain Clouds Gather,where she writes about a troubled young man called Makhaya who runs away from his birth place, South Africa, to become a refugee in a little village called Golema Mmidi, in the heart of Botswana. Her work emphasises the value of ordinary life and humble people. It is widely available in English.

Margaret Atwood (born 1939) is a critic, essayist, and environmental activist. She is among the most-honored authors of fiction in recent history; she is a winner of the Arthur C. Clarke Award and Prince of Asturias award for Literature, has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize five times, winning once, and has been a finalist for the Governor General's Award seven times, winning twice. Atwood portrays female characters dominated by patriarchy in her novels, particularly in The Handmaid’s Tale (1985) , a novel about a patriarchal future; she is often considered a seminal feminist writer. Her works are widely available in English.