There are few things that make me happier than curling up with a good book and getting lost in another world, preferably one with carriages and manners. Despite the many years that separate these classics from today, their stories are universal: home, family, love. Happy or sad, these novels run the gamut of female life and illustrate just how remarkable their authors were. While there are so many more novels that could be included on this list, here are 12 classics every woman should read.
1. Pride and Prejudice
by Jane Austen
Elizabeth Bennet has four sisters, a mother who wants to marry them all off, a father who locks himself away in his study and a suitor who is far from charming. A story of how first impressions can lead to misjudgments, Pride and Prejudice is more than just a story of girl meets boy but of how love can grow in even the most unlikely places.
by George Eliot
The tangled web of community life sweeps off the page as Dorothea Brooke weds and then is widowed by the miserable Reverend Casaubon, whose cousin, Will Ladislaw, has developed feelings for the forbidden Dorothea. Full of a brilliant cast of characters, Middlemarch is the story of small-town life and the large dreams contained within.
3. Little Women
by Louisa May Alcott
Four sisters — Meg, Jo, Beth and Amy — live in genteel poverty and befriend a wealthy boy, Laurie, while the Civil War is under way. Home and family are central themes in the charming Little Women, as the sisters grow up and face love, loss and other realities of adulthood.
4. Jane Eyre
by Charlotte Brontë
Orphaned and unloved, Jane Eyre becomes a governess to the ward of the imposing Mr. Rochester and falls into a heady relationship with her employer. Dripping with gothic atmosphere, it’s a rags-to-riches story with a tragic twist.
5. Wuthering Heights
by Emily Brontë
Heathcliff is adopted into Catherine’s family, and the two become inseparable until Catherine marries her neighbor, setting off a family feud that destroys lives and breaks hearts. A story within a story, Charlotte Brontë’s sister spins a tale you will either love or hate but should definitely read.
6. Anne of Green Gables
by L.M. Montgomery
Redheaded Anne Shirley is an orphan whose mischievous energy by turns annoys and amuses her new family and neighbors on Prince Edward Island. Seizing the poetic beauty of everyday life, Anne of Green Gables paints a picture of the triumphs and sorrows of childhood.
7. North and South
by Elizabeth Cleghorn Gaskell
Margaret Hale is forced to confront the Industrial Revolution when her family moves to the north of England, where she clashes with a mill owner and befriends a family of workers. Too often overlooked, North and South explores changing times and the relationships that arise.
8. A Little Princess
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Sara Crewe is the darling of Miss Minchin’s boarding school until it is discovered her father has died, leaving her penniless. A Little Princess is about staying true to who you are no matter your circumstances — a beautiful reminder for women of all ages.
9. The Awakening
by Kate Chopin
When wife and mother Edna Pontellier falls in love on vacation, a new world of independence open ups to her, but the cost of pursuing this new life is high. Thought provoking and ahead of its time, The Awakening examines what it’s like to go against society yet still crave a place in its order.
10. The House of Mirth
by Edith Wharton
Lily Bart is on a downward spiral as scandal envelopes her every move and the people who once cared for her leave her life. The House of Mirth is a moving reminder of the power society wields and how easy it is to fall from its graces.
11. The Secret Garden
by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Spoiled orphan Mary Lennox is sent to live at her uncle’s house and finds a source of happiness when she discovers the walled-off garden that was the scene of a family tragedy. Brimming with hope and possibilities, The Secret Garden is a tribute to positive thinking and the joy found in nature and friendship.
by Jane Austen
Anne Elliot was persuaded out of an engagement to Frederick Wentworth years earlier, and when circumstances reunite them, his disinterest seems to prove all is lost until an accident changes everything. With quiet beauty, Persuasion unfolds a thoughtful tale of second chances and contains one of the most romantic love letters in literature.