Since stories first began to be published in print, I think now specifically of the ‘book’ as we now know them, arguably first published in China during the Ting Dynasty of 618-907 BC, female authors have arguably fought a long and continuing fight to flourish. British author Aphra Behn is often cited as being the first published female author to earn a living from her writing. Living and writing during the mid-sixteen hundreds Behn penned (pardon the pun) sixteen stage plays and fourteen novels until her death in 1689.
George Elliot, a pseudonym for the late great authoress, Mary Anne Evans writing during the 1800’s, is famed for writing, amongst many other classics, including essays, the remarkably whimsical SILAS MARNER, first published in 1861. A tale full to the brim with delicious metaphors of hope and rejuvenation of the heart, not least the timely theft of Silas’ ‘pot of Gold’, kept untouched by him under his floorboards, hoarded to still his growing isolation from society in pained reclusiveness, to be replaced by a true pot of Gold, in the human form of the loving and strong-willed little girl, Eppie. Eppie remained by Silas’ side into adulthood and beyond in commitment to him for raising her as his own.
Evans, I put to you, a strong-willed woman who, faced and overcame many hurdles in life (aside from the literary prejudice against female authors) not least the death of her mother when she was but a sixteen year old girl. Evans strode forth taking charge of the estate, tending to all responsibilities, empowering herself I whole-heartedly suggest to realise no hurdle would be too high for her to jump in life. In 1849, when at thirty years old Evans’ father died, she skipped off to Coventry where, two years later in 1851, she assisted to edit and contribute articles and reviews to the Westminster Review. Evans in my humble yet ardent persuasion of thought was a woman of her time, yet deliciously of all time. Not tending to social constraints placed upon female authors, flying jovially in the face of all hurdles, Evans flourished to become a respected author in any way possible, in her own right. Thus George Elliot was born in print in 1857.
Whimsically commenting, “The important work of moving the world forward does not wait to be done by perfect men”. Evans stands proudly at the front of her profession as one of Britain’s most cherished authors.
Beatrix Potter, born in 1866 fought a similar fight to flourish. Having begun her literary life as an illustrator/creator of a world for children where animals were the key protagonists of any given story, she was initially rebuked as a publishable author by the two older brothers of Frederick Warne & Co. Publishers, only to find a union of passion in her editor, younger brother of the company, Norman Warne.
A man I hasten to write who had been ‘passed’ Potter as an arguably faint-hearted brotherly offering, not treated with the seriousness she deserved, together they made for a formidable publishing house. Oh how Freddie & Co must have choked when they witnessed her fabulous flourishing fortunes. Missed a trick dear Freddie & Co I jovially chortle.
As in life, as in the ever-present female fight to flourish, there are moments of heartache. On the 25th July 1904 Norman sent a letter to Beatrix proposing marriage. The romance of literary minds died a sudden death when just one month later Norman, who had been diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia, died. Potter showed, as did Evans, a stout and sturdy mainstay of resolve going on to become the treasured and continually sought-after author we know and respect her to be to this day.
Offering, in her own words, what can be taken as a clear statement of defiance against her oppressors during her fight to flourish as an author, “I hold that a strongly marked personality can influence descendants for generations.”
In 21st century literature we still find continuous examples of yet another truly talented female author who fought to flourish. Some may argue, still fighting to flourish? None more so than globally-revered J.K Rowling.
“Anything’s possible if you’ve got enough nerve”.
Rowling a woman who, like Evans, lost her mother when she was young at twenty five years of age, also suffered a miscarriage and violence in her marital home, yet her fight to flourish continued(s).
Globally recognised as one of the most talented and continuously published authors of all time Rowling’s personal battles have not stopped her achieving success through her words. And I am sure in many other ways too.
Charging forth as dear old Harry (Potter) famously did, in 2012 Rowling launched a new novel The Casual Vacancy with her name proudly stamped centre stage. Right where it should be I put to you. The title of this novel itself a beautiful metaphor for the ‘vacancy’ for a female author casually filled by the great lady herself sprightly skipping along, JK joining the Potters, the Evans’ and many, many others in the literary cannon of female authors who have fought, and fight, to flourish!
As recently as this year, 2013, Rowling still enjoyed the obscurity of a pseudonym, Robert Galbraith, when publishing her novel The Cuckoo’s Calling. Now it is clearly not for me to write her motives or to put words in her mouth, nor would I dream of doing so, for anyone. This written, Rowling, as with Potter and Evans, joins the ‘literary cannon’ - in my humble yet ardent view - to rank alongside all the key male authors if anyone cared to name them.
“I was set free because my greatest fear had been realised, and I still had a daughter who I adored and I had an old typewriter and a big idea. And so rock bottom became a solid foundation on which I rebuilt me life.”