let’s talk about classic literature and feminism

feb 1_ (4)

I love books. When I’m not reading, I’m online looking at thrift books. I particularly like classics and gender studies. But this post is not about gender studies books. After reading books like The Bell Jar and The Portrait of a Lady, I was left with a lot of thoughts and questions. Does having a strong female character makes a book feminist? Does having a feminist author make a book feminist? Can a book still be feminist if the author isn’t one? What if it’s white feminism? Does that mean as much if it was from the 1800s? I don’t know. But hopefully, we can start to think more about it.


a general overview. There’s so much to consider. I even entertained the idea of making a small series, but I don’t overcomplicate this. Whether for pleasure or in school, we have all read classic literature. Some of which, have feminist themes. What we may not think about it, what if it’s feminist but racist? Books will have a strong female character but only deals with white feminist problems. I have talked about intersectionality but how does it play into progressive literature (for its time). Already, it’s getting a little complicated so I’ll leave it at this, what makes a book a feminist book, and what can override its feminist themes? 

things to consider. I was to briefly go over some things I think we should consider.

  • the author.
  • the time period.
  • the book’s actual characters

authors. This actually will be another blog post but I want to briefly touch on this. The book that made me think about this was The Portrait of A Lady. As I read I thought, wow this is a strong female character. Then I started to think, wait, is Henry James a feminist? I did some research and looked at some excerpts from other books and came to the conclusion that he is not a feminist, but the book as feminist themes. I started to comprehend how complicated everything is and how interesting how much an author and their book can say. This is all for another post, but I still feel free to contribute to this idea in the comments.

the time period. A lot of things that we may think aren’t even close to being progressive nowadays were really unusual when the book was made. I think that’s important because 18th-century books aren’t going to have those kinds of ideas. Books that challenged society didn’t even get published or were a part of censorship a lot of the time. So maybe progress is progress? That’s definitely not an excuse for problematic ideas in books, it’s just something to factor into your understanding and tolerance of them.

some books. A major example of what I’m talking about is The Bell Jar. Yes, the bell jar had a lot of ideas surrounding a woman’s choice over her own body, mental health, and the “modern” woman, but it also had a lot of racist phrases and portrayals of people of color. You could even say that a lot of feminism in the book was white feminism. However, I still like to think of it as a fairly feminist book, but I am still able to critique it. If you have any examples, please feel free to leave them in the comments!

why we still need to read them. I don’t want this post to dissuade people from reading classic books because I still like them and think it’s important to read them. Just because a book might have some problems it can still be insightful to read them, to gain a better understanding of that time period or to focus on the other parts of the book. That also goes for all books regardless of genre.



Just to wrap everything up, a book is not just a book and its themes are not just themes. There are other factors to consider and to think about. We need to think about the book in the context of its time period AND ours. We need to look at the author and their opinions as it relates to the ideas enforced in the book. We need to be able to enjoy reading classic books, while also being able to critique any negative social implications. Overall, we all need to think more critically about classic literature and how we feel about it.


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