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Evolution of English Literature by Female Authors

Nancy has a degree in English, a love of literature, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.

"Young Girl Reading" Otto Scholderer 1883

"Young Girl Reading" Otto Scholderer 1883

Female Writers in English Literature

As time passes literature reflects this phenomenon in many ways. Themes and characters shift to reflect the period. Attitudes and literary devices provide perspective on writer’s emotional state often as a result of outside influences. Format may move from formal to less structured. Most evident of the changes to literary works as years go by is the language. Each era has a linguistic system all its own. The study of linguistics reveals how these changes occur, often slowly over time, and as a result of social use and diction preferences, such as dialect shifts, colloquialism and slang prominence, and the acceptance of new words. Literature serves as a map of those changes. The great female writers of English literature provide language in their works that reveal the social influence and artistic preferences for each age. The works of modern and post-modern authors, such as Alice Munro and Anne Carson, may share common themes with Victorian and Romantic authors, such as Emily Bronte and Mary Wollstonecraft, but the language of the pieces are quite different.

Alice Munro

Alice Munro

Post- World War II Literature

Alice Munro

Alice Murno’s short stories present her views on relationships, the past, and the role of women in society. Her story “Boys and Girls” specifically deals with a girl trying to escape the domestic role expected of her and win her father’s acceptance as an equal. Munro offers sweeping landscapes of country settings and simple characters, “my father and I walk gradually down a long, shabby sort of street…in Tuppertown, an old town on Lake Huron” (Munro, 2006, p. 2778). The language of her stories reflects this setting and the period she writes about, the 20th century, particularly the 1930s.

Anne Carson

Carson’s “The Glass Essay” is a fascinating poem about relationships and self exploration. Carson offers perspective on her relationship with her mother, father, and former lover. She also evaluates herself through self reflection and provides the reader with vivid imagery representing different facets of her persona cast in “nudes” like metaphorical art. Carson writes “Nude 1…alone on a hill…stands into...a hard wind slanting from the north. Long flaps and shreds of flesh rip off the woman’s body…leaving an exposed column of nerve and blood and muscle calling mutely through lipless mouth” (Carson, 2013, 218-225). Carson’s work creatively weaves modern language with snips of quotations of the past. Post modern poetry such as Carson’s often present narratives interrupted with prose or quotations providing a fragmented quality to the work (Niedecker, n.d.). The language of Carson’s personal inner dialogue sharply contrasts the Victorian formality of Bronte’s quotations from Wuthering Heights.

"The Bronte Sisters" By Branwell Bronte 1834 Left to Right Anne, Emily, and Charlotte

"The Bronte Sisters" By Branwell Bronte 1834 Left to Right Anne, Emily, and Charlotte

Victorian Female Literature

Emily Bronte

Emily Bronte lived a very isolated life. Despite this reclusive lifestyle her famous novel “Wuthering Heights” provides interesting views of relationships and personal motivation. The tale is told through the perspective of two characters providing different insights into the tale. The story provides themes of love, jealousy, hate, and issues of social class evident in the Victorian period. The language of “Wuthering Heights” formal with descriptive qualities that reflect the prejudice of social classes, such as “Mr. Heathcliff forms a singular contrast to his abode and style of living. He is a dark-skinned gypsy in aspect, in dress and manners a gentleman, that is, as much a gentleman as many a country squire: rather slovenly” (Bronte, 1847, ch. 1). Future writers, such as Anne Carson, were influenced by great works of the past.

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft

Romantic Period Female Literature

Mary Wollstonecraft

Mary Wollstonecraft’s life was plagued by poverty and cruelty. Wollstonecraft was a passionate woman who fought for many causes, such as the education of girls, feminism, and political equality. Her work “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” was a plea to women encouraging them to realize their worth, stand up to those who oppressed them, and not accept the social expectations of submissiveness and feeble-mindedness that society placed on them. The language of the work reads like a well-crafted letter. It is a persuasive essay that provides Wollstonecraft’s perceptions of oppression and ideas to quell those problems. Despite the obvious reasoning for the work, her language is complex, such as “the pretty superlatives, dropping glibly from the tongue, vitiate the taste and create a kind of sickly delicacy that turns away from simple unadorned truth” (Wollstonecraft, 2006, p. 1461). Wollstonecraft’s piece marks the beginning of the outward feminist movement and helped pave the way for female writers.

Comparison of Language


Each generation uses language of the period. The languages of the Victorian and Romantic period were more formal than that of modernism and post-modernism. Unsavory language was not typically used, although Emily Bronte did include curse words and foul language in her novel. In that period such scandalous language would have made a strong impression, which was most likely Bronte’s intention. In the 20th and 21st century such language is more widely accepted. Carson’s use of foul language in “The Glass Essay” does not have the shock value that would have been the reaction of poetry in the past.

Literary Devices

Romantic, Victorian, Modern, and Post-Modern literatures all include literary devices. The imagery may vary in intensity. The Victorian sweetness may by quite different from the graphic representation of Post-modernism. Bronte’s use of storm and wind represented the hostile environment of Wuthering Heights; Carson’s wind rips away the skin from the bone leaving it exposed. The use of wind is quite different. Although each uses wind to represent turbulence and difficulty Carson’s representation is far more graphic than Bronte’s stormy scene. Munro’s work is less graphic depicting country charm. Her description of the girl walking with her mother to the grocery store portrays the mother’s unhappiness with her social standing “she wears a good dress…a summer hat of white straw, pushed down on the side of her head…she walks serenely like a lady…past the housewives in loose beltless dresses torn under the arms” (Munro, 2006, p. 2780).


Modern and post-modern works often use inner dialogue and stream-of-conscious narrative that was not evident in the works of the past. Bronte’s “Wuthering Heights” is told from the perspectives of Lockwood and Nelly, who provides narration for other characters to tell their stories (L.C. English, n.d.). Anne Carson’s “The Glass Essay” is written from her personal perspective with inner dialogue and reflection characteristic to modernism and post-modernism.

Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman"

Mary Wollstonecraft's "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman"

Explanation of Changes

Social Expectations

Social expectations always have influenced writing. Although artists and writers try to push the limits, many write to appeal to readers. Female authors of the Romantic and Victorian period faced social stigma that accompanied women of the age. Women were not viewed as intelligent, so these authors needed to provide works that fought this stereotype while creating works that readers could relate to. Writers of the 20th and 21st century did not have to worry about this situation as much. These women could write almost anything without fear of social rejection. Victorian female writers, such as Bronte, needed to provide prose that was intellectual to reject misconceptions about women. Modernist women could write slang and colloquialisms without fear.

Evolution of Literature

As time passes literature changes. The earliest works, such as Homer and Hesiod, offered ideas of creationism and mythology. Every generation built upon these original works. Literature works to bring understanding to life, relationships, and the universe. This search for understanding serves to explain why each era is represented differently. Life changes. Discoveries are made, diction and language change in society, social classes evolve, education became more readily available, and women’s place in society shifted from the caregiver to an equal member. Romanticism provided Wollstonecraft a basis for her feminist work, and she conveys her complex, formal writing in a way that everyday women could respond to. The Victorian era built upon this formal style by presenting Bronte’s work revealing perspectives of family life expected from female writers as well as intellectual representations of multi-dimensional characters. Modernism and post-modernism learned from the works of the past and moved forward to new means of expression. Fragmented ideas mixed with graphic imagery and realistic language give readers a reading experience that is a mental shock to the senses.

"High Sunderland Hall, Halifax" Painting by Duncan Campbell, Served as Model of Bronte's Wuthering Heights

"High Sunderland Hall, Halifax" Painting by Duncan Campbell, Served as Model of Bronte's Wuthering Heights

The evolution of literature reveals many changes. The great works of the past serve as models for newer generations to learn from and build upon. Language may be the most noticeable change in modern and post-modern literature. For generations writers have used realistic language to appeal to readers and convey mood and meaning. Because language changes in society, diction in literature representing realism changes as well. Female writers reveal the changes in their writing, but they also faced specific difficulties that male writers did not. In the Romantic and Victorian periods women were not widely recognized as intellectuals or appreciated as strong writers. Historical review of these works reveals the gender issues of the past and how the works of female writers are as extraordinary as their male counterparts. Mary Wollstonecraft realized this discrimination and wrote “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” in response to this issue with the hope of initiating change. Emily Bronte’s life fit into the social expectations of females during the Victorian period, quiet, close to family, and working in education. Despite her outward appearance of submissive perfection Bronte’s work reveal a strong, intelligent woman who recognized social positions as well as anyone, and perhaps better. These female authors paved the way for future generations. Writers like Alice Munro and Anne Carson are accepted as exceptional writers today partially because of early women advancing the feminist movement. Carson pays homage to Emily Bronte and her sister Charlotte in her poem “The Glass Essay.” Even though literature has changed, language is more realistic, imagery is more graphic, and subjects are bolder, the female writers of today represent the grand writing tradition started by their Romantic and Victorian English sisters.


Abrams, M. & Greenblatt, S. (Eds.) (2006). The Norton anthology of English literature: The major authors (8th ed., Vol. B). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Bronte, E. (1847). Wuthering heights quotations. Retrieved from

Carson, A. (1995). The glass essay. The Norton anthology of English literature: The major authors (8th ed., Vol. B). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Carson, A. (2013). The glass essay. Retrieved from

L.C. English. (n.d.). The narrative techniques in wuthering heights. Retrieved from

Munro, A. (2006). Walker brothers cowboy. The Norton anthology of English literature: The major authors (8th ed., Vol. B). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.

Niedecker, N. (n.d.). Postmodern poetry. Retrieved from

Wollstonecraft, M. (2006). A vindication of the rights of woman. The Norton anthology of English literature: The major authors (8th ed., Vol. B). New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company.


Ghost from Brazil on April 24, 2016:

Very well written!

Kenneth Avery from Hamilton, Alabama on May 16, 2014:

Dear Nancy,

Great piece. Well-written, presented, and explained. Voted up and everything but funny. This is a hub anyone who loves literature could easily get lost in its theme and text.

To me, the female writer has more of a grasp of the sensitive-side of her topics as opposed to the male writer.

I have compared both. And I dearly-love Edna St. Vncent Malay and her ease and flow of her subjects.

I am sorry for the rambling. I cordially-invite you to read one or two of my hubs and then be one of my followers.

I would be honored if you would.


Kenneth/ from northwest Alabama

Nancy Snyder (author) from Pennsylvania on August 13, 2013:

Hi Michelle, I agree that Mary Wollstonecraft was way before her time. Her feminist writings were published long before the women's suffrage movement influencing female readers and calling to light issues of a patriarchal society. Her work served as a report of her observations of women as mere objects of men's desire and subservient beings. She called women to question this position, search for knowledge, and live as man's equal. Here is a quote from "A Vindication of the Rights of Woman" that I love:

"Yet, if love be the supreme good, let women be only educated to inspire it and let every charm be polished to intoxicate the senses; but, if they be moral beings, let them have a chance to become intelligent; and let love to man be only a part of that glowing flame of universal love, which, after encircling humanity, mounts in grateful incense to God." Mary Wollstonecraft 1792

Michelle, thanks so much for the comment!

Michelle Widmann on August 13, 2013:

This is a great hub. I read Wollstonecraft for my Feminist Philosophy class in university, and I found her pieces really ahead of her time. Absolutely wonderful.

Nancy Snyder (author) from Pennsylvania on August 12, 2013:

Hi Mel, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to have a class that explored these authors. "Wuthering Heights" is probably the most famous writing in the article. Mary Wollstonecraft is a well respected feminist writer, but today her daughter Mary Shelley, author of "Frankenstein," is better known by modern readers. I would venture that Shelley's work built on what she learned from the writing of her mother as well as her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley and his friend Lord Byron.

Mel Carriere from Snowbound and down in Northern Colorado on August 11, 2013:

I am an avid reader, but I have never gotten around to reading "Wuthering Heights," which I honestly confess is the only title I recognized here. True readers always attempt to expand their horizons and do not confine themselves to genre or other boundaries. I am going to have to explore some of these authors. Thanks for enlightening us.

AMAZING THINKER from Home on August 10, 2013:

For me, I like to share my knowledge, and if it helps anyone in any way, I feel like I achieved my purpose.

Also, It's fun and makes me feel good about myself.

Nancy Snyder (author) from Pennsylvania on August 10, 2013:

Thanks Amazing! I love literature, but I also really like to learn about what motivates authors to write what they do.

AMAZING THINKER from Home on August 09, 2013:

Nice Hub, this information is great! Looking forward to read more of your Hubs.