Women Whose Writing Wasn’t Recognized While Alive

Before the advancements of technology, some writers were not recognized during their lifetime. This is true for many amazing female writers whose work provided great insight on historical events and the feminine experience. 

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Pen sketch of a woman writing at a desk

Before technology allowed for self-publishing and social media marketing, some writers went unrecognized for their talent until after they had passed away. This is the sad truth for many amazing female writers whose work provided great insight into historical events and the feminine experience. Read on to know their names!

Emily Dickinson 

This is my letter to the world
That never wrote to me.

Emily Dickinson
Black and white portrait photo of Emily Dickinson

Dickinson may be the most recalled name for this specific category. Though close peers and family members knew of her talent, she was not publicly recognized for her work while she was alive. In fact, Dickinson was known to be quite reserved and had a rather reticent relationship with the outside world after her younger years.  Despite this, her work is remarkably observational and imaginative. She had an incredible ability to give life to the most mundane commonalities, such as household items or domestic chores.

Less than a dozen of her pieces were published anonymously during her lifetime. After her passing in 1886, her family came upon nearly 1800 of her unpublished poems. The first volume of her work was published posthumously in 1890.  Dickinson is now regarded as one of the greatest of all time, as her work pushed the boundaries of poetry, especially that which was composed by a female. 

Jane Austen 

There is a stubbornness about me that never can bear to be frightened at the will of others. My courage always rises at every attempt to intimidate me.

Jane Austen
Portrait painting of Jane Autson

Since her passing in 1817, Autson’s work has been clenched by the hands of thousands of readers. In her lifetime, her work – that are now in school curriculums – was published anonymously as ‘a Lady’, or by another secret, self-assuring name. She is well known for many incredible novels, but you may recall her name from your high school English essay as the author of Pride and Prejudice – which alone has sold over 20 million copies. Her social commentary and unique writing style allows her characters relatability to stretch beyond the bounds of time, which makes her work still fascinating many decades later.  

Irène Némirovsky

For music alone can abolish differences of language or culture between two people and invoke something indestructible between them.

Irène Némirovsky
Black and white photo of Irène Némirovsky

While Némirovsky did actually receive some accolades during her life for her writing, I think it is important to recognize how her career was devastatingly stunted. Némirovsky died at the terribly young age of 39 in Auschwitz after being arrested for having Russian-Jewish origin, despite her conversion to Roman Catholicism. People were astonished by the quality of her work as a young woman, and she was socially recognized as a great writer.

Despite her early work being desired for plays and movies, she was still then silenced from sharing her work by the Nazi rule before she tragically passed away. 50 years later her daughter discovered her writing, and Némirovsky’s talent was given a new life. Now, she is most known for her unfinished work called Suite Francaise, a novella duo which portrayed the lived experience under Nazi occupation.

These three experienced life at different points in history, but as women, they all similarly faced doubt or repression by the public which permitted their voices to be silenced and their talent to go unnoticed. It is typically male writers who are remembered for work that influenced the course of history. The light shone on them should not be redirected; but with unfathomable access to knowledge and communication now at our fingertips with the help of technology, we have the capability to expand this conversation within historical contexts. With our current freedoms, it is our responsibility to highlight their names and promote their work.

For more about historic female writers, read here!

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