But our point this month is not to bemoan, rather to champion. So here are a few truly classic books by women writers in translation (according to both meanings of the word), some of which I have read and some of which I have yet to:
- The Tale of Genji! If a list of classics fails to include this - the first novel - you can probably rest assured that the remainder will be unimaginative and stilted in its perception of quality literature. While I have yet to actually read this doorstopper, there is no doubt that as a concept, The Tale of Genji is critical in a broader understanding of literature. It furthermore provides modern readers and historians with unequaled insight to the lives of 11th century Japanese gentry, as well as simply being a novel. The Tale of Genji is without a doubt classic literature, and if the rumors are to be believed, fairly good classic literature at that. Written not in English (which hardly factored as a language at the time), nor by a man, Murasaki Shikubi deserves her place in literary history, no question about it.
- The Heptameron - Marguerite de Navarre is perhaps better known as a princess (not a sentence I ever thought I'd write on this blog, but there you go!), but by all accounts (again one I haven't yet read myself, though I did just buy it) The Heptameron is an important piece of literary history, as well as in interesting aspect of feminist literature. These short stories cover different manners of female sexuality, as well as simply serving as a conversation between a group of women telling each other stories (which as a concept remains woefully underused today, while similar stories with all men are prevalent just about everywhere).
- Mercè Rodoreda's In the Time of the Doves - well-written, intelligent, painful and ultimately sharply on-point regarding war, love and peace, this novel deserves a spot on any modern classics list.
- Isabel Allende is a writer of several books that have legitimately made their way to the canon - namely The House of the Spirits and Eva Luna (as well as City of the Beasts, which holds a curious status in young adult literature). Allende's books overall defy neat genre definitions (she has literally written a book about Zorro. Which I read many years ago. Because it's literally a book about Zorro.) and she is rarely marketed as a "serious" literary writer, yet there is no denying that she is one of the most prolific, influential and ultimately classic women writers in the world today.
These are just a few samples - obviously. There are many, many other women writers whose books I have not read, many writers who truly deserve to be on any list of classic literature (Tove Jansson, anyone? Juana Inés de la Cruz? Sigrid Undset?). Pretending like these writers do not exist - like non-Anglo women writers only sprouted up in the 20th century, and even then - is just an outright rewriting of history. These are just a handful of women I've been introduced to (many, I should note, through this project rather than an independent literary exposure!). Who are your favorite classic women writers in translation? Who do you think deserves a spot in our coveted Western canon?