10 Classic Books all Women Should Read

There is nothing better than curling up with a great book and getting lost in the pages of a classic story.

But sometimes finding the perfect book is difficult. To give you some direction in your reading We’ve invited Samantha Larsen from the Salt Lake County Library to share some of her picks for great classic literature. We asked her to compile a list of 10 classic books all women should read.


Criteria: published at least 50 years ago; strong female protagonist; a woman’s place or experience in history, family, society, and religion.

1. Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (1813) British

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single gentleman in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife,” is how Austen begins her unforgettable comedic satire of the marriage mart in Regency England. The Bennets have five marriageable daughters but which sister will the wealthy Mr. Bingley and his even wealthier friend Mr. Darcy choose?

2. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte (1847) British

Jane Eyre becomes a governess at Thornfield Hall where she is irresistibly drawn to her older employer Mr. Rochester, who appears to care for her in return, however, the secrets of his past could destroy them both.

3. Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (1966) Dominican
Written as a prequel to Jane Eyre, Rhys tells the history of Bertha Antoinette Mason and allows the reader to decide whether she was “mad” or misunderstood.

4. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) American

Miss Maudie explains to Scout that, “Mockingbirds don’t do one thing but make music for us to enjoy. They don’t eat up people’s gardens, don’t nest in corncribs, they don’t do one thing but sing their hearts out for us. That’s why it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird” (98). In this Pulitzer Prize-winning coming of age story, Scout learns what it means to kill a mockingbird when her father Atticus Finch defends a black man accused of raping a white woman in a small Alabama town during the 1930s.

5. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) British

This novel about one day begins with Mrs. Dalloway buying flowers. Throughout the day the reader learns about Clarissa Dalloway’s past and present life from her own thoughts to the thoughts of those around her as she prepares for her party that night. Meanwhile, Septimus Harding a “mad” war veteran talks to a tree and makes a decision that affects everyone around him, including Clarissa Dalloway, who he’s never met.

6. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871) British

As the title suggests this book is not about one character but a town. Middlemarch has people from all social classes all who ambitions for careers, politics, and love. Dorothea Brooke is a privileged girl who longs to do something great and good so she marries the much older Mr. Casaubon hoping to be of some use to the world, however, she finds herself more confined then before.

7. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868) American

The story of four very different sisters during the middle of the 19th century. Jo March is rough and wild and wants to be a writer. Meg March is the eldest and resentful of the family’s poverty. Beth March is quiet and often overlooked until a kind neighbor gives her a piano to play. Amy March is the youngest and the most spoiled. Together the sisters play, fight, fall in love, and grow up.

8. The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (1905) American

Lily Bart is 29 years old, beautiful, of high social standing, but has no money. She must marry a wealthy man and soon. Can she sacrifice herself to the expectations of society and her own standards of comfort?

9. Mary Barton by Elizabeth Gaskell (1848) British

Henry Carlson, the son of a factory owner, flirted with Mary Barton a factory worker. Carlson is found shot. Who killed him? Jem Wilson who has loved Mary all his life? Or John Barton, Mary’s father, who is a radical trades unionist fighting against the higher classes? Read the story that Charles Dickens found so compelling that he wrote to Elizabeth Gaskell and asked her to write for his magazine.

10. Anne of Green Gables by L. M. Montgomery (1908) Canadian

Anne spelled with an ‘E’ is, as Mark Twain observed, “the dearest and most lovable child in fiction since the immortal Alice.” Brought to Prince Edward Island by mistake, Anne must convince Marilla and Matthew Cuthbert to adopt her. All would be well if Anne could stay out of scrapes, like dyeing her hair green, long enough for Marilla to make up her mind.

For more recommendations check my “Bewitched Librarian” blog: www.lady-lefroy.blogspot.com

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