From Sappho to Jean Rhys, a selection of books to celebrate the breadth of women writers from the Penguin Classics list
150 years after Homer’s Iliad, Sappho lived on the island of Lesbos. Little remains today of her writings, but the surviving texts poems of invocation, desire, spite, celebration, resignation and remembrance that nevertheless enables us to hear the living voice of the poet Plato called ‘the tenth Muse’.
This translation of her surviving poetry includes an introduction by Carol Ann Duffy.
A windless, warm day greets the Sheridan family on the day of their garden party. As daughter Laura takes the reins on party preparations the news of a neighbour's demise casts a cloud over the host and threatens the entire celebration. An intriguing study of class consciousness, realising one’s own mortality, and constructed realities crumbling under scrutiny.
Written in 1857, this is the autobiography of a Jamaican woman whose fame rivalled Florence Nightingale’s during the Crimean War. Seacole's offer to volunteer as a nurse in the war met with racism and refusal. Undaunted, Seacole set out independently to the Crimea where she acted as doctor and 'mother' to wounded soldiers.
Kully knows some things you don’t learn at school. She knows the right way to roll a cigarette and pack a suitcase. She knows you can’t enter a country without a passport or visa. And she knows that she and her parents can’t go back to Germany. But there are also things she doesn’t understand, like why there might be a war in Europe – just that there are men named Hitler, Mussolini and Chamberlain involved. This is the first English translation of a novel that captures 1930s Europe through the eyes of a child who is both heartbreakingly naïve and wise beyond her years.
When Betty Friedan produced The Feminine Mystique in 1963, she could not have realized how the debate of her contemporaries' general malaise would shake up society. Victims of a false belief system, these women were following strict social, forced to seek meaning in their lives only through a family and a home.
Friedan's controversial and ground-breaking work would ultimately set Second Wave feminism in motion, and remains just as powerful and true as it was fifty-five years ago.
Told through journal entries, poems, dreams and visions, this is the story of Janey Smith, a ten-year-old American girl living in Mexico. She has an incestuous relationship with her father before his attention wanders to another woman and he sends her to New York city where she falls into the hands of a Persian slave trader.
A translation of the idiosyncratic diary of a court lady in Heian Japan, and a fascinating glimpse into what life was like a thousand years ago. This book enthralls with its lively gossip, witty observations, and subtle impressions.
Featuring reflections on royal and religious ceremonies, nature, conversation, poetry, and many other subjects, The Pillow Book is an intimate look at the experiences and outlook of the Heian upper class
Bringing together dozens of voices in her distinctive style, The Unwomanly Face of War is Svetlana Alexievich's collection of stories from Soviet women who lived through the Second World War: on the front lines, on the home front and in occupied territories.
As Alexievich gives voice to women who are absent from official narratives - captains, sergeants, nurses, snipers and pilots - she shows us a new version of the war we're so familiar with, creating an extraordinary alternative history from their private stories.
Simone de Beauvoir
A superb autobiography by one of the great literary figures of the twentieth century, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter offers an intimate picture of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s. Simone de Beavoir describes her early life, from her birth in Paris in 1908 to her student days at the Sorbonne.
Jean Rhys’s late masterpiece Wide Sargasso Sea was inspired by Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, and is set in the lush, beguiling landscape of Jamaica in the 1830s. Born into an oppressive, colonialist society, Creole heiress Antoinette Cosway meets a young Englishman who is drawn to her innocent sensuality and beauty. After their marriage the rumours begin, poisoning her husband against her. Caught between his demands and her own precarious sense of belonging, Antoinette is driven towards madness.