Eight Gentler Women's Novels


Often, when reading fiction that's specifically been written by women, we end up reading darker fiction. Feminist literature is socially critical by nature, and even most novels written by women writers in the past few centuries but not flagged as feminist literature can easily be tools for criticism. Once our brains are wired by feminist criticism, it is all we can see. That doesn't mean, however, that we can't find delight in such literature. Here are a few of my favorites that are critically substantial but still full of humor, hope, and honesty and can be described as "gentler" reads:

  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Winifred Watson The tumblr user who requested this list mentioned Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, and indeed, it was the first book that popped into my mind when thinking of "gentler women's fiction." I read it while homesick in 2015 and it remains one of my very favorites – it's a delightful, humorous, uplifting read and I know I'll revisit it many times.

  • Diary of a Provincial Lady, E.M. Delafield Diary of a Provincial Lady was one of my favorite reads of 2016. It's an honest but extremely funny epistolary novel. I hardly managed to make it through the first page without needing to stop, laugh, and share quotes with others.

  • The Shuttle, Frances Hodgson Burnett Did you grow up reading and rereading The Secret Garden & A Little Princess? Then this is the adult fairy tale for you. I tore through it several months ago and am already itching to reread it. It's dark but earnest and full of hope, and reading it will make you feel better. I hope to write about it more in depth on The Attic soon.

  • The Enchanted April, Elizabeth Von Arnim A delightful, introspective novel, The Enchanted April is the perfect way to escape from wherever you are and find yourself in an Italian garden, resting, relaxing, and discovering fascinating people. I read it in 2013 and find myself thinking about it whenever I find myself in an elaborate garden.

  • Flush, Virginia Woolf An atypical and certainly gentler Virginia Woolf story, Flush is a novella that follows the life of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's cocker spaniel. It's a fascinating, fulfilling, and ultimately relaxing book.

  • The Theoretical Foot, M.F.K. Fisher I recently wrote about The Theoretical Foot for the Attic, and I have yet to stop thinking about it. An enchanting but thought-provoking novel, The Theoretical Foot remains a perfect summer read.

  • Mansfield Park, Jane Austen Often described as Jane Austen's most boring book, Mansfield Park is the very definition of gentle. A Bildungsroman in its own right, Mansfield Park develops characters and is full of social criticism. It is one of my favorite Austen reads but one I don't recommend as a first Austen.

  • I Capture the Castle, Dodie Smith A quintessentially summer read, I Capture the Castle is a about coming of age and discovering oneself. I read the novel by a lakeside in Italy one summer, and I think of it as a peaceful but challenging novel.