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7 lesser-known Vintage Classics by women

For centuries, classic literature was something of a man’s world. Here are 7  Vintage books written by women that you may not have heard of, but definitely shouldn't miss

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The Door

Magda Szabó

Emerence is a domestic servant – strong, fierce and eccentric, with a reputation as a first-rate housekeeper. When young Hungarian writer Magda takes her on, she never imagines how important this woman will become to her. Over twenty years, a complex trust slowly grows between them. But beneath her indomitable exterior, Emerence has secrets and vulnerabilities that will test Magda’s friendship and change the complexion of both their lives.

Magda Szabó began her literary career as a poet. In the 1950s she disappeared from the publishing scene for political reasons and made her living by teaching and translating from French and English. She is considered one of the greatest Hungarian novelists, and The Door shows her writing at it's finest.

 

Laura

Vera Caspary

Vera Caspary’s own story is as interesting as her fiction – a young woman making her way in a man’s world of advertising and magazines, she went on to write twenty-one novels in total. Laura is her most celebrated, and was adapted into a cult noir film in 1944.

In the doorway of an elegant New York apartment, blood seeps over a silk negligee, polished wood floors and a plush carpet: a beautiful young woman lies dead, her face disfigured by a single gun shot.

But who was Laura? What power did she hold over the men in her life? And how does her portrait bewitch even Mark McPherson, the hard-bitten detective assigned to find her murderer? One stormy night, Mark's investigation takes an unexpected turn...

 

The Red Parts

Maggie Nelson

In 1969, Jane Mixer, a first-year law student at the University of Michigan, was brutally murdered, her body found a few miles from campus the following day. The Red Parts is Maggie Nelson’s account of her aunt Jane’s death, and the trial that took place 35 years later. Officially unsolved for decades, the case was reopened in 2004 after a DNA match identified a new suspect, who would soon be arrested and tried. In 2005, Nelson found herself attending the trial, and reflecting with fresh urgency on our relentless obsession with violence, particularly against women.

Nelson is a poet, critic and the author of five books of non-fiction, most famously The Argonauts. She’s a writer you can’t get enough of, and her memoir of the trial investigating her aunt's murder is spellbinding and horrific all at once, with echoes of In Cold Blood.

 

The Dollmaker

Harriette Arnow

Gertie is the young mother of five children – uneducated, determined, strong. Her only ambition is to own her own small farm in the Kentucky hills where she lives, to become self-sufficient and free. Whenever the struggle to live off the land eases, her inarticulate imagination takes its freedom and flies. Because Gertie is also an artist, a sculptor of wood and creator of beautiful handmade dolls.

When the family is forced to move to industrial Detroit, with its pre-fab houses, appliances bought on credit and neighbours on every side, life turns into an incomprehensible, lonely nightmare. Gertie realises she must adapt to a life where land, family and creativity are replaced by just one thing: the constant need for money.

Harriette Arnow was an American teacher, novelist, social historian and essayist, celebrated for her writing about the populations of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. This 1954 novel was runner up at the National Book Awards in 1955.

 

Nada

Carmen Laforet

Eighteen-year old Andrea moves to Barcelona to stay with relatives she has not seen in years while she pursues her dream of studying at university. Arriving in the dead of night, she discovers not the independence she craves, but a crumbling apartment and an eccentric collection of misfits whose psychological ruin and violent behaviour echoes that of the recent civil war.

As the tension between the family members grows in claustrophobic intensity, Andrea finds comfort in a friendship with Ena, a girl from university whose gilded life only serves to highlight the squalor of Andrea's own experiences. But what is the secret of the relationship between between Ena and Andrea's predatory uncle Roman, and what future can lie ahead for Andrea in such a bizarre and disturbing world?

Born in Barcelona in 1921, Carmen Laforet wrote in the years following the Spanish Civil War as part of the Existentialist school and a proponent of tremendismo, a tendency to emphasize violence and grotesque imagery. Nada was her first novel.

 

The Constant Nymph

Margaret Kennedy

Avant-garde composer Albert Sanger lives in a ramshackle chalet in the Swiss Alps, surrounded by his 'Circus' of assorted children, admirers and a slatternly mistress. The family and their home life may be chaotic, but visitors fall into an enchantment in which the claims of respectable life or upbringing fall away.

When Sanger dies, his Circus must break up - each member must find a more conventional way of life. But fourteen-year-old Teresa is already deeply in love: for her, the outside world holds nothing but tragedy.

Born on the eve of the twentieth century, Margaret Kennedy was well-known and highly praised as a writer. She wrote plays as well as novels, and her book The Constant Nymph was adapted for film no fewer than three times.

 

Notes from the Blockade

Lydia Ginzburg

Ginzburg was born in 1902 and lived through the Purges, the 900 day siege of Leningrad and post-war anti-Semitic campaigns. She was a prominent cultural figure during the years of perestroika and is remembered for her innovation in what she called 'in-between' genres – notes, essays, and fragmentary narratives – that describe and analyse the human experience of a historically catastrophic era spanning much of the twentieth century.

The 900-day siege of Leningrad (1941-44) was one of the turning points of the Second World War. It slowed down the German advance into Russia and became a national symbol of survival and resistance. An estimated one million civilians died, most of them from cold and starvation. Using her own using notes and sketches that she wrote during the siege, along with conversations and impressions collected over the years, Ginzburg distilled the collective experience of life under siege.


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