March is Women’s History Month and what better way to end the month than to highlight some of the most influential and popular female writers in the literary world.
Jane Austen: The 18th century English author, who is best known for her novels such as Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park and Emma. But how is it that 200 years after they were first published, her books are still as popular as ever? Many believe it is due to the way she manages to blend humor and realism along with social commentary on the English gentry and issues of the day (i.e. the pressures of a woman making a suitable marriage match or the fact that women couldn’t inherit family wealth.)
Despite the fact that her full-length novels were published anonymously, (due of the customs of the time, being an author was not a “suitable” occupation for a woman), it is estimated that her novels have been translates into approximately 40 languages old and her best-selling novel, Pride and Prejudice, has sold at least 20 million copies.
Fun fact: Pride and Prejudice was originally titled “First Impressions” and while it’s a good title, it just doesn’t have the same ring to it as Pride and Prejudice does.
Lucy Maud Montgomery: Best known for writing Anne of Green Gables , Lucy Maud Montgomery is one of Canada’s all time best-selling authors. Despite having been published over a century ago, Anne of Green Gables is still one of the most beloved books worldwide. The fact that the author focuses on small everyday things that we can all identify with, ranging from dealing with teachers at school to friendships/relationships to insecurities, is what has made this book resonate with readers for so many generations. The book’s popularity isn’t just restricted to North America, as it has been published in at least 36 languages and sold over 50 million copies.
Fun fact: Anne of Green Gables is such a popular book in Japan, that not only has it been part of the national school curriculum since 1952, many Japanese couples travel to Prince Edward Island, where the book takes place, in order to have civil marriage ceremonies.
Agatha Christie: The best-selling novelist of all time, Agatha Christie’s books have sold over 2 billion copies worldwide and has been translated into at least 103 languages. In the worldwide ranking of best selling books, she ranks in third place, after the Bible and Shakespeare’s works. Teaching herself to read at the age of 5, she began writing her mystery/detective novels soon after World War I, beginning with the Hercule Poirot series and continuing on with her Mrs. Marple series.
Fun fact: Agatha Christie went missing for in December 1926 and a nationwide search was launched to find her with 15,000 volunteers. Even Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of the Sherlock Holmes books, volunteered. When she was found 10 days later in Harrogate, it was reported that she had been diagnosed with amnesia by two doctors. No one knows why she disappeared nor what happened during those 10 days she was missing. She never spoke about the disappearance.
J.K. Rowling: One of the world’s all time best-selling authors, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter books have been one of the most influential works in contemporary literature. The series was so popular, that Rowling became the world’s first billionaire author, a status she would lose after donating much of her earnings to charity. The series has been published in over 80 languages and as of last year Pottermore reported that 500 million Harry Potter books have been sold.
Countless generations of readers have been influenced by the Harry Potter series, not only in a literary sense, but politically, socially and morally as well. Studies in recent years have shown that readers of the Harry Potter series are more tolerant, less cynical and authoritarian, and more opposed to torture and violence.
Suzanne Collins: The American author best known for The Hunger Games series, has influenced readers worldwide. The series has been published in over 51 languages and as of 2018, over 100 million copies of the trilogy have been sold. Suzanne Collins’ books introduced complex topics not usually found in YA books, such as mental illness like PTSD, the desensitizing effects of the media and the effects of propaganda, socio-economic disparities, in a manner that was realistic and easy for readers to understand. It was almost in parallel to our own modern day society.
In Suzanne Collins’ own words,
“I write for kids because…I think the concepts of war – the realities, the politics, the ethical ambiguities – are introduced too late to children. These stories are written with the hope that if the whole idea of war were presented to people at an earlier age, we would have better dialogue going on about it. We would have a fuller understanding of its cost and we would possibly find a more nonviolent methods of conflict as we head into the future.”