Jane Austen Wins More Fans Than Zadie Smith in Survey of Greatest Books by Women Writers

By Matthews, Athalie | The Independent (London, England), May 12, 2003 | Go to article overview
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Jane Austen Wins More Fans Than Zadie Smith in Survey of Greatest Books by Women Writers


Matthews, Athalie, The Independent (London, England)


THE VIVID and determined heroines of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters and George Eliot have maintained their creators' standing as Britain's favourite female writers.

Despite the huge commercial success of modern authors such as J K Rowling, Zadie Smith and Helen Fielding, Austen's bittersweet social comedy Pride and Prejudice - written in 1813 - topped a survey of the greatest women writers yesterday.

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, published in 1847, came second while her sister Emily's torrid romantic epic Wuthering Heights, published in the same year, took third place. George Eliot's 1871 novel Middlemarch was fourth in the survey of 6,000 men and women by the mobile phone company Orange, sponsor of the annual prize for women writers. Seven out of 10 of those who took part in the poll were women.

Underlining the enduring appeal of the literary grande dames, Zadie Smith's White Teeth (2001) came only 12th, while Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary was 23rd. J K Rowling took 13th place with Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. One contemporary author, Carol Shields, who won the Orange prize for Fiction in 1999 with Larry's Party, made it into the top 10 with her recent novel Unless, which has been shortlisted for this year's Orange prize. Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, which came fifth, was one of only three 20th-century books to be voted into the top 10. Four books by Jane Austen and three by George Eliot made it into the top 50.

Margaret Reynolds, a Reader in English literature at the University of London, said the list showed that modern readers related to determined, bold heroines looking for recognition in society. "All of Austen's first paragraphs mention money and her books are about women's struggle for status and social power, which is an issue which has great resonance in contemporary life," she said.

However, Nicholas Clee, editor of The Bookseller, said the list was incomplete. "There are a raft of highly popular women writers who are conspicuous in their absence from this list. For example, I would expect to see Beryl Bainbridge, Anne Tyler, Muriel Spark, Penelope Fitzgerald and Joanna Trollope featuring at least somewhere and the fact that they do not suggests to me that the list is not representative.

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