Welcome back to Top Ten Tuesday, a book blog tag hosted by The Broke and the Bookish! Today's topic is a general back to school theme. I've posted a couple of times about my concerns with the lack of diversity in the classical canon, so I thought today I'd share my Top Ten Classics Not Written by White Men. Here are some diverse picks to round out your English education!
(Because in my education I lacked the proper exposure, most of these books are by white women, not people of color. I am always looking for recommendations for PoC classics. Also note that I'm including an asterisk by the titles that I was exposed to within my formal education for your reference.)
1) Mansfield Park by Jane Austen. All of Austen's work is fun and clever, a great addition to the classical canon that presents a more feminine and romantic angle. (Seriously, Austen's sass is inspiring. Not to mention, she turns the tables by repeatedly failing the reverse Bechdel Test--her books are all about them women.) Pride and Prejudice* is the obvious choice, and I'd recommend it for sure, but Mansfield Park is my personal favorite!
2) Frankenstein* by Mary Shelley. Though this book does show pretty strong masculine influence (her husband played a large part in editing), it's also a testament to the intellectual and linguistic ability of teen girls. Shelley was nineteen when she wrote this book, which is the first true sci-fi novel. A nineteen year old woman invented sci-fi, guys. How can you not teach that?
3) Wuthering Heights* by Emily Bronte. The Bronte sisters' works are phenomenal examples of Gothic Romanticism and therefore also indicators of the female influence on Romantic-era literature. Wuthering Heights is by far my favorite Bronte novel; both my high school and my undergrad senior theses were about how it portrays domestic violence and the abuse cycle.
4) Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl* by Harriet Jacobs. Similar to the clear masculine influence on Frankenstein, there's clear white influence on Jacobs' autobiography. Nonetheless, this is a vital story that vividly presents the harsh intersection of the female-and-black struggle. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl brings up all kinds of important points about morality and humanity and is an important addition to American education.
5) Trifles: A Jury of Her Peers* by Susan Glaspell. One of my absolute most favorite plays, Glaspell's Trifles takes a good hard look at the issues that arise with justice in a sexist society. Definite themes of female power, domestic violence and abuse, and morality. Great stuff.
6) Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. When I stumbled across this book, I found myself very angry that I hadn't been exposed to it in my English classes. It made, and continues to make, me wonder how many great classics I'm missing out on just because they weren't written by white guys. This is a gorgeous and thoughtful Gothic romance interwoven with mystery. I love it.
7) To Kill a Mockingbird* by Harper Lee. I consider this novel to be the best general examination of marginalization and prejudice I've ever read. It touches on racism, sexism, classism, and ableism and does so through the brilliantly chosen perspective of an innocent child. I mean, if you haven't read it, you definitely need to get on that ASAP.
8) The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. While Plath's novel is only appropriate for mature readers, it should definitely be included in the classical canon. The Bell Jar is a semi-autobiographical story about a college-age woman who suffers from a mental breakdown, and it's one of my favorite novels ever. The intersecting experience of female-and-neuroatypical is powerful, important, and realistic.
9) Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex Haley. I haven't seen the television series, although I hear it's fantastic, but I can and do highly recommend this book. It may be one of the most educational reads I've ever had in regards to the African American experience. It traces the history of Haley's family all the way back to Africa in a gripping, visceral, and humanizing fashion. Definitely a must-read that ought to be promoted in the classroom.
10) The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. A key feminist text and modern classic, The Handmaid's Tale is a dystopian novel where, after a infertility epidemic, women of the future are societally reduced to their ability to bear children. Another book that's more appropriate for mature readers, this is nonetheless a vital (and intriguing) text that readers need to have access to.
Some other picks that I'd like to add: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell, A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett, And Then There Were None* by Agatha Christie, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, and A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L'Engle.
Again, I'm aware of the lack of books by people of color on this list. A part of that is likely because people of color were not given access to writing and publication for much of history, a problem also faced by women. In the classroom, I would recommend including more modern literature, which does present a much wider variety of viewpoints and experiences.
And yes, I do think it's that important that we make an effort to expand and diversify our literary canon. As fantastic as many classics by white men are, they are, by nature, limited to the white male experience. Students need and deserve to be exposed to more than just that. Until the voices of women and people of color are heard, we as a whole will suffer from a lack of knowledge about the world we live in. Even more importantly, we will never learn to see people who identify with marginalized groups as human.
Reading has been proven to increase empathy. So let's take advantage of that in the classroom.
(Also, viva la YA lit! One of the reasons I love it so much is that, as a category, I find it to be much more open to experimentation and to the inclusion of marginalized viewpoints.)
So. Do you have any recommendations to add? Any thoughts on my picks? Comment below!
I'll see you all tomorrow.
Image via ya-aholic.com.
I'm an unpublished novelist, primarily of YA fantasy, and a freelance editor. I love psychology, cats, social justice, and love! I'm also a huge fangirl. More than anything, stories are my life.
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