Being Their Own Women: Self Discovery & Independence in Women’s Personal Lives


The Awakening
by Kate Chopin

Set in the late 19th century, The Awakening spans two pivotal seasons in Edna Pontellier’s life as a young wife and mother.  Having never felt truly alive during the entire span of her life, Edna “awakens” during a summer of spiritual liberation, leading her to reflect on her life as someone’s wife and mother.  The story results in a woman who subverts the conventions of her time by defying filial and maternal expectations by focusing on her life as her own woman.

Personal Velocity
 by Rebecca Miller

Miller’s book consists of seven short stories that describe the lives of seven very different women. They are bound by their grit, strength, incredible struggles, and their will to survive amidst their personal tribulations. Despite each of their uphill struggles, each character finds solace the minute details of life uses that to persevere in their own ways, revealing the complexity of women’s reaction to struggle.

A Spy in the House of Love
by Anais Nin

In this semi-autobiographic work, the lead female character, Sabina, struggles to develop her sexual and artistic expression.  This work is known for its erotic language and strong themes of a relationship with the self and passion.

The Story of Avis
by Elizabeth Stuart Phelps

Avis is an artist who decides to marry who she thinks is a “modern man,” believing (and being led to believe) that once married she can continue to express her creative self.  However, the traditional gender roles that suppress(ed) women and elevate men take their hold over Avis’ artistic expression.

Orlando
by Virginia Woolf

Born as a man, Orlando transforms into a woman as (s)he lives over several centuries, experiencing the gamut of gender norms, restrictions and suppositions that are forced on men and women. Seeing the treatment of Orlando as both a man and a woman by society, though (s)he is the same person, highlights the inequities that both men and women have faced throughout the ages.

The Bell Jar
by Sylvia Plath


Though sold as fiction, The Bell Jar is an autobiographical account of Esther (some argue Plath), a young woman working for a summer as an employee of a major magazine away from home.  There, Esther suffers a mental breakdown, and the reader is taken down with her into the depths of her insanity, so much though that it is difficult to distinguish insanity from reality.

Nightwood 
by Djuna Barnes


Taking place in Paris, Nightwood tells the story of two women romantically involved and the deterioration of their relationship.  This novel highlights both hetero-sexual and lesbian relationships that are expressed through dark, thick and lyrical language.

Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein
by Gertrude Stein

This collection features non-fiction essays, anecdotes and fictional stories about Stein’s female partner, and artists of the day.  This book is a perfect sampling of Stein’s well-known fragmented and unique writing style.  It also features the well-known short story “Miss Furr and Miss Skeene,” who we assume to be two romantically linked women who strive for their own fulfillment in life and relationships.

HERmione
by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle)

Perhaps the most obscure of all her titles, this autobiographical account and coming of age story, written by Hilda Doolittle, commonly known as H.D., details her unsure and tumultuous life during her twenties at Bryn Mawr. H.D., known in the book as Hermione Gart, battles to transition between her old, obedient self that her parents once knew and the new identity that she begins to forge now that she is away at school and exposed to people who help to foster her true self.

The Yellow Wallpaper and Other Stories
by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Most known for the short story, The Yellow Wallpaper, a woman is denied creative output by her husband and is treated as psychologically weak and incompetent, which ultimately exacerbates to her mental deterioration. This collection also features Gilman’s non-fiction prose, Women and Economics and an excerpt from her novel Herland which illuminates a peaceful, all female utopia without the presence of men and that of a patriarchal, capitalist system.

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5 thoughts on “Being Their Own Women: Self Discovery & Independence in Women’s Personal Lives

  1. judi says:

    Thanks for the great reviews. You have inspired me to read personal velocity and nightwood. The others I have read and thoroughly enjoyed. Keep up with the reviews. Have thought of reviewing some new contemporary womens lit. I would find that really helpful

  2. Jessica Duggan (McKeown) says:

    I love the snippets, these are just what I need. I think Id like to read HERmione.

    Don’t laugh, but I have been known to pick a book based on it;s cover..literally. I like pretty things, what can I say? I’ll admit though that I have been disappointed by the readings. Moral of the story…Don’t judge a book by it’s cover!

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