Writing Women’s Lives

Ah, those formative college years. I can’t believe that I have already graduated college, those four years went by in a blink. Looking back now, I smile as I recall all the classes that I complained and groaned about, all those that gave me stress and the course loads that I still can’t believe I not only made it through, but managed to do very well. It was those classes that I now realize had a large impact on me in my life and my further educational journeys. One such class was Writing Women’s Lives. I’ve always had a passion for reading and writing. I always loved to read older books too, from different time periods. This class allowed me to explore my passions, introduced me to some new ones, and challenged me in many ways.


The focus of the class was the way in which women’s lives were defined and written about in literature: dating back to the 1800’s all the way up to the present. Among the books and authors we read were Charlotte Bronte, Sylvia Plath, May Sarton, Rigoberta Menchu, Mary Karr, and Susan B. Anthony/Elizabeth Cady Stanton. I was intrigued by Bronte’s Jane Eyre and the rich language used in the novel. I also fell in love with Sylvia Plath’s daring and compelling journals–I was so moved by her prose; I felt like I knew her personally. What was of special interest was reading about her depiction of meeting Ted Hughes (her future husband) for the first time, then reading Hughes portrayal and that of a friend who was at the party where they met. Some details remained the same, while others were highly exaggerated!! We looked critically at each book and essays that we read and explored other sources to come to fully understand what was being said.

Here are some of the most memorable stories/essays that have stuck with me from the class:

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte: A classic piece of literature that juxtaposes romance and mystery. Just the language itself is so rich, and who could resist these lines that Mr. Rochester says to Jane? “I ask you to pass through life at my side-to be my second self and best earthy companion” Just makes you melt! (FIC BRO)

The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell. It’s interesting to read about the relationship Charlotte had with her father as well as the similarities she shares with her character Jane in Jane Eyre. (B Bronte)

Charlotte Bronte: A Passionate Life by Lyndall Gordon. A more modern biography of Bronte–check out the chapter on Marriage. Once again it seems her eventual marriage to Mr. Nicholls mirrors that of Jane and Rochester, and the complexities that a woman writer faced in marrying. (B Bronte)

Jane Eyre. Here’s the movie version of the book–it’s always fun to watch the characters come to life even though they tend to over-dramatize them! (DVD Drama JAN)

The Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath edited by Karen V. Kukil. I love Plath’s prose and how personal her writing is. The journals are deep at times as Plath explores all aspects of life: “nothing is real except the present, and already, I feel the weight of centuries smothering me. Some girl a hundred years ago once lived as I do. And she is dead. I am the present, but I know I too will pass. The high moment, the burning flash, come and are gone, continuous quicksand. And I don’t want to die.” And then there are the fun, light entries about dating that we can all relate to, and this one about bike riding: “A bikeride begins in afternoon sunlight on a Saturday. There is the familiar feeling of hands gripping handlebars, feet circling on pedals, thin tires turning over pavement with a humming that transfers itself in a tantalizing motion through the end of your spine along the marrow of your bones” (B PLATH)

Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton. I had never heard of May Sarton until I took this class. What I found was a very emotional and deep, thought-provoking journal. Sarton writes about her daily life for about a year, mostly involving her thoughts and emotions as the seasons and daily life change. Nothing extraordinary happens, but it’s the simple yet meaningful meanderings that touch deeply (especially her entry about the death of her little bird companion…) (818 SAR)

~You might also consider reading her first attempt at the journal in Plant Dreaming Deep–she makes her solitary life sound much more magnificent than it really was, and after realizing that, she went back and wrote Journal of a Solitude.

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony: Correspondence, Writings, Speeches. We read many of these excerpts in the class. It’s very inspiring to read how hard these two ladies worked for women’s rights, and the strong friendship that they shared throughout the years; Stanton’s address in Seneca Falls is especially good! (301.412 STA)

The Liars Club by Mary Karr. A more modern memoir that explored many dark aspects of Karr’s childhood. The memoir starts out: “My sharpest memory is of a single instant surrounded by dark…” and then pulls you in further. (B KARR).


Sarai is the Publicity Coordinator/Library Assistant and loves full moons, chai tea and a nice fire in the fireplace!

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