Posted by: chobhi | July 25, 2009

reading women writers

I am not writing too much these days and I have a boxful of excuses for why this is not happening.  Though, I am doing something really necessary to improve myself as a writer.  I am reading some old classics suggested by my sister who is a published writer and journalist. ( See, here’s another excuse for not writing these days. She writes so well, so why should I even bother?) I finished reading Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe and Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift. I will post something on them later but I would like to focus on George Eliot’s  Middlemarch to comment on a 19th century women writer.

I was interested to learn why the author changed her name to be more like a man’s . I have read several commentaries on that. Mary Ann Evans Cross was born almost two hundred years ago in England.  She started out as a devout religious woman and later broke from the church. At the age of sixteen she started to expand her knowledge and embarked on a program of intellectual growth.   Imagine that! Tongues must have wagged about this uppity woman in Victorian England. When she started writing in earnest, she changed her name to George Eliot so she could be published more easily, knowing full well that women writers were not given much value and their writings were not considered important enough to publish.

Middlemarch was her eighth novel and is considered to be one of her best novels. I have not read her other works apart from condensed versions as a child, but I have to say that I loved this book. Do you know the wonderful feeling that lingers when you finish a good book? You don’t want it to end and you start imagining what would happen to the characters after the writer finishes with them! You start re-reading passages that were beautiful and ageless. You do your chores in a daze and drive your family crazy talking about the book.

Victorian society is so well-laid out for all of us who only know about it through books and movies.  Her character portrayals are superb.  But I enjoyed how she describes and fleshes out her women characters.  The blonde, beautiful,wealthy Rosamond is poised , polished and well behaved , but right in the beginning you see character flaws. Mary, who is plain, of modest means and hard working shows great strength of character and intelligence.  Beauty does not have to go with brains and women like that are admired and appreciated.   Woe to those women like Mary who have a brain! A smart woman in those times required a lot of prudence, wit and careful planning. I thought  of  Elizabeth the first who had to rule England and be respected and obeyed as a ruler. Did she become a Virgin Queen and look’ manly’ to be taken seriously? What about the young servant girl in the fictionalized version of the great Dutch artist Vermeer’s life and times  in The girl with the pearl earring? If you have not read it, find out how a poor,good looking, intelligent woman  manages to protect herself to remain ‘respectable’.

I still think we have a long way to go as women and as  writers. Women are still objectified and are trivialized.  We hope organizations like Janesstories Press will encourage women to write and express themselves openly. And I  feel women in books and writers like George Eliot have paved the way for us to be creative and plod on fearlessly. Which means that I better stop my reading for awhile and get back to some writing.


  1. I so agree with you. But until your post, I had no idea that “George Eliot” was a woman! I will have to look her up.

    I also realized that most of the books I have read recently are by men. They are admirable writers, but, like you are doing, I need to support women writers. Another way to do it is to read their books.

    I am more into military books and fantasy heroic fiction–Karen Travis is a marvelous writer in these venues. She learned about the military as a journalist covering Britain’s Defense Department.

  2. Thanks for your comments Anne! I need to look into Karen Travis’s writing.

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