5 Women Who Influenced Literature

Updated on March 29, 2018
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Lindsey is a freelance writer with a passion for many topics. She has a particular obsession with archeology and new discoveries.

It seems lately that more and more women authors have been popping up, but this is nothing new. Women have been dominating the literary genre for centuries. If it wasn't for women authors we wouldn't have some of our very famous authors of today like Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, or J.K Rowling.

Here are five women writers you may have never heard of, but have influenced how we write today.

Enheduanna of Akkad

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The daughter of Sargon the Great from ancient Sumer, Enheduanna lived from 2285 to 2250 BC. The Sumerians were the first to create a written language, but Enheduanna was the first person to put her name to her work. Her father regarded her highly and placed her in the position of High Priestess. She was tasked with uniting the empire under one religion, and she did just that. Any opposition she came across was quickly dealt with and she completed her unity project in no time at all. Only one opponent beat her and removed her from the temple, Lugal-Ane. She wrote a letter to the goddess Innana (see photo above) to ask the sky god An for help in returning her to her rightful place. The gods must have heard her, for she was back in the temple before too long. The paradigms she used in her poetry, psalms, and prayers is still seen as echoes in similar writings to this day. While in the temple she created over forty works with her name on them and she set the model for all High Priestess who came after her.

Murasaki Shikibu

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Murasaki is considered one of Japan’s greatest writers and wrote The Tale of Genji, the world’s oldest novel. Her real name is unknown but she was born into a lesser branch of the noble Fujiwara family c. 978 in Kyoto. Her author name may be a derivative of the heroine’s name in her novel. She had the privilege of a private tutor and was taught Chinese; which was rare for women. She married a much older distant cousin, Fujiwara Nobutaka and they had a daughter. Two years after their marriage Nobutaka died, and for unknown reasons Murasaki was brought to court, where she wrote about her experiences in The Tale of Genji. There is not a lot of action in her novel, but it shows the beauty of human nature in an unparalleled way.

Margaret Cavendish Duchess of Newcastle upon Tyne

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Margaret Cavendish was an eccentric woman for her time. If she was alive today she would fit right in with the modern woman. She had an odd sense of fashion for her time and would walk around letting out obscenities. She was born to wealthy parents, but without title. She was given the best tutors and opportunities. Her life made a turning point when she moved to Paris and met William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle upon Tyne. She returned to England where her writing took off. She was most noted for her literary achievements, including her novel The Blazing World, published in 1666. It can be considered the first sci-fi novel ever written. She completed many works including observations, critiques, poems, plays, and works on natural philosophy. In her life she earned the nickname Mad Madge, a fitting name for a woman outside societal norms.

Aphra Behn

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Although her background is mostly unknown Aphra Behn is the first known woman to make a living on her writing. In her famous novel Oroonoko she recounts losing her father in a journey to Surinam. She, her mother, and her brother lived there for two months. While she was there she befriended an indigenous prince. Her family returned to England where she met a Dutch merchant with name Behn. He died shortly after leaving her destitute. To pay off her debts she became a spy for King Charles II, who she may have been introduced to through an acquaintance of her late husband. Charles paid for her trip to Antwerp but refused to fund her trip home, for unknown reasons. She was forced to borrow money to make it back to England, and with Charles still refusing to pay her she was thrown in debtor’s prison. After this incident she never relied on anyone for funds ever again. She was released from prison, but the conditions for her release are unknown. She made her writer career shortly after. She wrote plays that were considered scandalous, but claimed if a man wrote them there would be no issues.

Baroness Emmuska Orczy

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Without Baroness Emmuska we would not have our favorite masked vigilantes, like Batman. Emmuska was the author of The Scarlet Pimpernel, the first masked vigilante in writing. Born in Hungary in 1865 she was the only child of conductor and composer Baron Felix Orczy. Her father’s fame opened opportunities to study the arts in Brussels and Paris. She was presented with the chance to display her work in the Royal Academy. Emmuska wrote many other novels, including two more about the Scarlet Pimpernel, but they were not as successful as the first. She also wrote several detective novels as well, but nothing topped the glory of The Scarlet Pimpernel.

There is an extensive list of women who have dominated the literary genre. They were and are constantly pushing the written word further to expand the minds of people around them. Without these women, literature would not be where it is today, and we would be missing amazing characters that brought to life new worlds and viewpoints.


Please leave comments about your favorite female author! I would love to hear about whose work you love reading. Feel free to mention some other historical female authors I've left out.

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© 2018 Lindsey Weaver

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