featuring guest authors; crafting tips and projects; recipes from food editor and sleuthing sidekick Cloris McWerther; and decorating, travel, fashion, health, beauty, and finance tips from the rest of the American Woman editors.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


We normally discuss health, money matters, or decorating on Wednesdays, but today we have something different for our readers. Our guest author, Eleanor Sullo, is here to give us a bit of a women’s history lesson. Eleanor, a pastoral minister, authored over two hundred non-fiction articles, short stories, and newspaper articles before turning her attention to writing novels. Since then, she’s published four romances and four mysteries. She’s also penned a memoir and a cookbook. She’s currently working on two more books in her Menopause Murders series. To learn more about Eleanor and her books, visit her website and her blog. -- AP

Who Are the Women Writers in Our Roots?

Folks have asked me why strong women are the main characters in my books. One reason is that so many women fought against society’s resistance to their artistic talents, picked up their pens and made their marks. Even today women who write romance novels are often looked down upon and almost totally ignored in the field of literature. But in the beginning all novels were called “romances” in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries.

A small but impressive number of these romances were written by brave and articulate women who defied family and society, to put their written words into print. And not all of them turned out to be romances in the sense that we understand romances today.

We have forgotten, or perhaps like me, never knew, the names of these pioneers. Aphra Behn, for example, is considered the first woman to earn a living writing novels and plays, more than a dozen of each. Aphra wrote in the 17th century, and her first novel was Oronooko, a tale of horror and adventure that takes place in Surinam where she is said to have had an affair, hardly expected from the life and pen of a proper English woman.

A hundred years later Fanny Birney, denied an education by her father, kept writing whenever she could, then, out of despair, burned all her early manuscripts in a huge bonfire. But Fanny made a courageous comeback, writing popular novels that often portrayed the changing relationships of women with church, state, men and society. One of her better works includes Emiliana, said to have inspired Jane Austen and winning even her father’s approval.

Jane carried on the torch, writing brilliant romantic fiction that clearly portrayed the societal restraints on women, mocked the cruel customs and the wicked ways of “courtly” society. Her Pride and Prejudice, Emma, and Sense and Sensibility are probably on most writers’ bookshelves even today, but it took another writer, leaving romantic fiction behind, to brave new ground and gain the attention of an ever widening readership.

Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly, writing at the end of the 18th century, is generally regarded as the first of feminist English authors. Who doesn’t know her shocking Frankenstein? Her work also consisted of travel, education, history, and political writing. She’s best known for her A Vindication of the Rights of Women, a treatise way before its time, and a fine work to celebrate women who write.

When the writer Mary Ann Evans took the nom de plume George Eliot in 1871, she did so because she wanted her work to be taken seriously. Although her personal life was a source of scandal, (she never married but lived with her lover) her work was widely recognized for her realism and psychological insight, making her plots ring with truth and her characters unforgettable. In my opinion her Middlemarch is one of the finest novels ever written, and one I read again and again.

Strong women, the characters and writers all.

Thank you for joining us today, Eleanor. What a fascinating post. I know I learned quite a bit from it. What about you, readers? -- AP


Kathleen Kaska said...

I've yet to read Middlemarch, but now I will. Thanks for inspiring me today.

Toni Leland said...

Nice post, Ellie! You covered it all. Thank you!

Linda Andrews said...

Hi. I didn't know George was a woman but I loved Middlemarch. I loved how Jane and Edith Wharton both showed how irritating society was, especially to women. Guess I'll go back under my rock now.

Word Crafter said...

Very interesting and enlightening post - some I knew about some not. Women have always been the REAL pioneers it seems.
Thanks for your post. Billie

Kaye George said...

I also admire the women who wrote a little more recently, but were real pioneers. Dorothy Hughes, the noir writer (love, love, love her stuff!) and Helen MacInnes who wrote international spy thrillers very early in the game. Thanks for the post--I didn't know about some of these!

Ellie Sullo said...

Thanks for your comments. I learned a lot from you all, too.Linda, donm't go back under your rock. Tell us more aboutthe irritations of society.
Kay, I'll check out yoour favorite later pioneers. Thanks also to Toni and Word Crafter. Kathleen, tell us how you liked it.

Eleanor Sullivan said...

I had to check out your blog, Eleanor, since we have the same first name (that I love, btw)

I wrote a blog post a few weeks ago about the ill effects of novel reading in the 19th century. Here's a bit: In 1835 "Devouring Books” was published, decrying the “mental gluttony” that leads to over-reading, which has dismal effects on the reader is published. None of us writing today should complain!