Ten of the Best Women Writers of All Time

Thanks to their works and their extraordinary talent, they all marked a before and after in the word of literature. Do you want to know who they are?
Ten of the Best Women Writers of All Time

Last update: 03 June, 2022

Creating a list of ten of the best women writers in history is no easy task. However, without a doubt, over time, certain women have led the way and served as inspiration with their works.

For this reason, we’ve chosen women writers who marked a before and after in the world of literature thanks to their most important works.

Ten of the best women writers of all time

If you’re curious to know who these ten women writers are, what they wrote, and when, keep reading.

1. Christine de Pizan / Italy (1364-1430)

She was born in Venice but lived in the French court from a really young age, where she received an education that was usually reserved only for men. Her passion for literature was awakened by having access to the Royal Library of the Louvre Palace. In fact, she soon stood out as a writer, philosopher, and humanist for her wit and ease of speech.

On the death of her father, her collection of poems, Cien Baladas, was extremely successful in both France and England. This allowed her to regain her economic and social status and she was listed as the first professional woman writer in history.

Christine took advantage of this situation to criticize misogynistic behaviors in society. In this sense, her best-known work was The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). It’s considered to be the precursor of Western feminism. As a matter of fact, it’s mentioned at the beginning of The Female Complaint, a literary debate concerning the situation of women and their defense against subordination.

2. Teresa of Ávila / Spain (1515-1582)

Interested in religion and fond of chivalric novels since she was a child, it wasn’t until 1535 that Teresa realized her true vocation was to enter a convent and take her vows. Over the years, she had mystical visions and experiences that inspired her work. Along these lines, The Book of Her Life emerged (along with many other texts). It was written for her confessor, who encouraged her to tell her teachings and visions.

Along with her fondness for letters, she founded 17 convents throughout her life and saw this as her main mission. Despite the close surveillance to which she was subjected by the Inquisition, she became the pinnacle (along with Saint John of the Cross) of experimental Christian mysticism.

Saint Teresa of Jesus

3. Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz / Mexico (1648-1695)

Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz was a writer of the Spanish Golden Age who raised Baroque poetry to its maximum expression. In fact, for many, she was considered to be ‘the tenth muse’. Her styles included:

  • Lyrical.
  • Auto sacramental.
  • Theater.
  • Prose.

She learned to read and write at the age of three and, from a really young age, her verses stood out in the viceregal court of New Spain.

She rejected the idea of marriage and entered various convents, where she created some of her most important works. For instance,  El Divino Narciso and The Response to Sister Filotea de la Cruz, a manifesto that defended the rights of women to be educated.

4. Jane Austen / United Kingdom (1775-1817)

Born into a family of the agrarian bourgeoisie, Jane was educated by her father and lived a quiet life with occasional trips that generally, served as inspiration for her writings.

In 1809, the family moved to Chawton and it was there that she found the necessary peace of mind to publish her works. In her most recognized work, Pride and Prejudice (1813) we find a masterful and ironic look at the life of the country bourgeoisie of this time.

5. Mary Shelley / United Kingdom (1797-1851)

She was a British playwright, essayist, and biographer. However, she’s mainly recognized for being the author of the Gothic novel, Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus (1818). It’s considered to be the first modern science fiction novel and inaugurated the genre.

Framed in the tradition of the Gothic novel, the story deals with various topics of interest in the era of romanticism. They include scientific morality, the creation and the destruction of life, and the daring of humanity in its relationship with God. The novel ends with the creature’s confession that it’ll put an end to its miserable existence.

6. Rosalía de Castro / Spain (1837-1885)

The illegitimate daughter of a noblewoman and a priest, Rosalía de Castro has gone down in history as one of the great Spanish 19th century poets. She’s seen as a forerunner of modern Spanish poetry alongside the great Bécquer.

She wrote in both Galician and Spanish. In fact, she was one of the emblematic figures of the Galician Rexurdimento or the rebirth of Galician literature, which had practically disappeared for a century.

On my knees before the crude image,
drowning in infinity
wicked, perhaps, questioning both heaven
and hell, I tremble and hesitate.
What are we? What is death?
The echoing bell answers my cries
from on high, and weary tears
bathe my wan burning face.
What horrible suffering! Only you
can see and comprehend, my God!
is it true that you see?
Then, merciful God of compassion
return to my eyes the celestial veil
of benevolent faith that I have lost.

 

“A firefly shines in the moss” On the edge of the River Sar (1884)

Her style mixed the personal with the natural, in many cases, denoting anxiety and concern. In fact,  the texts she wrote ranged from the purest social criticism to metaphysical doubts, loneliness, death, and distance from reality. This was largely due to the depression she suffered from the death of her son.

7. Agatha Christie / United Kingdom (1890-1976)

Agatha Christie, the master of suspense and mystery novels, remains the best-selling author after Shakespeare and the Bible. According to the Guinness Book of Records, her works have been adapted countless times.

It was the reading of authors such as Wilkie Collins and Arthur Conan Doyle that sparked her interest in reading and led her to write her first crime novels. In her first work, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, she introduced the enigmatic detective who would star in much of her subsequent work: Hercule Poirot.

8. Emily Dickinson / United States (1830-1886)

 

Without Emily Dickinson, critics claim that contemporary women’s poetry would never have existed. Born in Amherst, over the years she decided to isolate herself from the outside world and social life from a really young age, only corresponding with some of her acquaintances.

From the 1860s, she abandoned the typical lyrical style of the time and developed an intimate, sentimental, and profound kind of poetry due to her puritanical teaching.

I hide myself within my flower
That wearing on your breast
You, unsuspecting , wear me too –
And angels know the rest.

I hide myself within my flower,
That, fading from your vase,
You, unsuspecting, feel for me
Almost a loneliness.

I Hide Myself Within My Flower-

Only five of her poems were published in her life since she didn’t want them to come to light. Years after her death, thanks to her sister, more than 1800 lyrical texts and various letters became known. In fact, she conquered both the critics and the public. She became one of the great poets of the United States along with Walt Whitman and Edgar Allan Poe.

9. Simone de Beauvoir / France (1908-1996)

Recognized along with Virginia Woolf as one of the greatest figures fighting for women’s rights in the second wave of feminism, Simone de Beauvoir was a French philosopher, teacher, and writer.

She wrote novels, essays, biographies, and monographs on political, social, and philosophical topics. Her work, The Second Sex (1949) represented a before and after not only for literature but also for the thinking of the time since it broke with the classic ideas of the difference between women and men.

10. J.K. Rowling / UK (1965- present)

Although you probably already know it, J.K. Rowling (who writes under a pseudonym) is a British writer, film producer, and screenwriter known worldwide for being the author of the Harry Potter series of books. They’ve sold more than five hundred million copies.

Literary criticism highlights the great novelty of this work in the fantasy genre. It’s a hybrid novel of several elements that, together, build a credible story for the reader’s imagination.

J.K. Rowling
Image by lev radin / Shutterstock.com

The best women writers open doors to new literature

The Brönte sisters, Clara Janés, Gloria Fuertes, Isabel Allende, Emilia Pardo Bazán, Gabriela Mistral… These are just some of the writers who, unfortunately, have been left out of the list. However, they also marked a before and after for new literature and their works should also be taken into account.

Along the same lines, there are also many current women writers who are making their way in the world thanks to their forerunners. They owe a great deal to the groundbreaking talents of their predecessors.

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  • Altmann, Barbara K., Deborah L. McGrady, eds. Christine de Pizan: A Casebook. New York: Routledge, 2003.
  • Austen J, Rodríguez AM. Orgullo y prejuicio. Barcelona, Spain: Penguin Clásicos; 2015.
  • Gagliardi L. Intermitencias de lo fantástico en la obra de J. K. Rowling: Épica, policial y sátira en un fantasy híbrido. Luthor [Internet]. 2018 [citado 27 de septiembre de 2021];(36). Disponible en: https://memoria.fahce.unlp.edu.ar/library?a=d&c=arti&d=Jpr8478
  • Historia M. Grandes escritoras, poetisas y ensayistas de la historia [Internet]. MuyHistoria.es. 2019 [citado 27 de septiembre de 2021]. Disponible en: https://www.muyhistoria.es/h-moderna/fotos/grandes-escritoras-de-la-historia-951570797620-1/5
  • Shelley, Mary (2013). Frankenstein o el moderno Prometeo. Estudio preliminar de Antonio José Navarro, traducción de Francisco Torres Oliver. Colección: Gótica / GOT-016, cartoné. Madrid: Editorial Valdemar. ISBN 97884-7702-739-3.
  • Una luciérnaga entre el musgo brilla / A glowworm scatters flashes through the moss. En: Beside The River Sar. University of California Press; 1937. p. 20-4.