A Book of One’s Own

Jessie: In NH where the black flies have arrived, ravenous and in force…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the past and how it connects with the present. Maybe it is how adult my children have become or how my dog, Sam, will be five years old in July. Perhaps it is the number of current events that remind me of things in the distant, and not-so-distant past. It could be the novel that I am currently writing.

Whatever explains it, I have been seeing tidbits floating about my world that get me thinking, and looming large has been the relationship between women and books. A little over a year ago I realized a lifelong dream and had the wonderful opportunity to turn an entire room in my home into a library. Sitting in a wingback chair, with a cup of coffee close at hand, surrounded by my collection of books is one of the most luxurious things I can imagine. I am enormously grateful for the chance to have such a space and to have a life partner who is happy for me to do so.

This luxury was made all the more poignant when not long ago I ran across a blog entitled Early Modern Female Book Ownership. I was instantly struck by the realization that as much as I do not take the space where I store and enjoy my books for granted, I had given less thought than I might have done to the fact that for much of the history of books, women rarely owned them. It is not a surprise, of course. Most of us realize that girls were not sent to school in the same number as boys until really rather recently. Many were never even taught to read so there would be no reason to own books.

But the reality of an entire blog dedicated to mentioning the relatively rare examples of female book owners made it all the more real somehow. Seeing examples on screen of their names inscribed in the flyleaves of books from the 1600, 1700, and 1800s, in their own hand, presumably, raised a lump in my throat. If you check out the resources page on the site you can find plenty of other places to explore the topic in more depth.

As such things often occur, not long after I discovered that blog, one of my sons sent me a link on TikTok from an antiquarian bookseller. He made mention of The Stainforth Library of Women’s Writing which caught my attention. Apparently, this lover of books was desirous of adding female writers to his personal library when even the likes of the Bodleian at Oxford were not despite their status as a legal deposit library. If you are interested in viewing Rev. Francis Stainforth’s library catalogue, and list of wanted books, you can do so as it is digitized and available on the library’s website. The number of rare books he added to his collection is astonishing and warmed my heart.

It does my heart good too to consider how many of the books in libraries, both public and private, are written by women and published under names recognized as female. In fact, according to a study by the World Economic Forum, as of 2020, more books were published by women than by men. The Wickeds have certainly done their part during the last decade to add to those totals and I am so grateful to count my own 16 published and 3 forthcoming amongst them. I think I’ll celebrate all these positive shifts by curling up in my own library with a great book, written by a woman!

14 Thoughts

  1. I love your library, Jessie. Tace Sowle was one of the first female publishers. In London in the 1600s, she was a Quaker who inherited the business from her father.

  2. Love the library! So sorry about the black fly invasion. Have you noticed the season seems to be getting longer?

    After I learned about George Eliot I wondered how many writers were women hiding behind male pseudonyms. I’m betting there are more than we currently recognize! What amazes me is that the practice still goes on today. A writing friend who shall remain nameless couldn’t sell her thriller. It became a best seller when used the two initial and last name convention and removed gender references from her bio. Didn’t J.K. Rowling do the same with her mysteries?

    1. Those black flies do seem to be showing up earlier, at least where I am! And, you are correct. Rowling writes mysteries under the name Robert Galbraith.

  3. What a very cool library, Jessie. One of the first things we did when we bought our house was turn the back room into a mini-library with floor to ceiling bookshelves.

  4. I love your library and thanks for sharing the fascinating information about women and books. I knew it on one hand but can’t wait to delve deeper.

  5. Jealous of your library! Wish I could do something like that, but my condo is just too small. In fact, I need to start weeding out books.

  6. Love your library, Jessie. I have what I call my office/museum in which I am surrounded by a zillion books and souvenirs of my travels. It is my woman cave. My husband loves it so much, he will just come in here and sit (when he can kick me out!)

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