100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by Women

100 Great 20th Century Works of Fiction by Women were selected by Feminista! in response to Modern Library 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century.

Dorothy Allison. Bastard Out of Carolina
This fiercely moving, unforgettable first novel tells the story of Ruth Anne Boatwright--called Bone by her family--a South Carolina bastard with an annotated birth certificate to tell the tale. Bone's story is inseparable from that of her family, the notorious Boatwright clan.
Maya Angelou. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Tenderly, joyously, sometimes in sadness, sometimes in pain, Maya Angelou writes from the heart and celebrates life as only she has discovered it. In this moving volume of poetry, readers discover the multi-faceted voice of one of the most powerful and vibrant writers of our time.
Margaret Atwood. Cat's Eye
The story of Elaine Risley, a controversial painter who returns to the city of her youth for a retrospective of her art. Engulfed by vivid images of the past, she reminisces about a trio of girls who initiated her into the fierce politics of childhood and its secret world of friendship, longing, and betrayal. Elaine must come to terms with her own identity as a daughter, a lover, an artist, and a woman -- but above all she must seek release from her haunting memories.
 
Beryl Bainbridge. The Bottle Factory Outing
Toni Cade Bambara. Gorilla, My Love
In these 15 superb stories, written in a style at once ineffable and immediately recognizable, Toni Cade Bambara gives us compelling portraits of a wide range of unforgettable characters, from sassy children to cunning old men, in scenes shifting between uptown New York and rural North Carolina.
 
Djuna Barnes. Nightwood
Pat Barker. Regeneration
Set in a British military hospital during WWI, this novel blends fact and fiction, drawing its two protagonists from the pages of history. The author of Union Street (made into the film Stanley and Iris) portrays over whelmed men who try to come to terms with their outrage of a futile war.
Anita Brookner. Hotel du Lac
Edith Hope writes romance novels under a psudonym. When her life begins to resemble the plots of her own novels, however, Edith flees to Switzerland, where the quiet luxury of the Hotel du Lac promises to resore her to her senses. But instead of peace and rest, Edith finds herself sequestered at the hotel with an assortment of love's casualties and exiles.
 
Rita Mae Brown. Rubyfruit Jungle
Bawdy and moving, the ultimate word-of-mouth bestseller, Rubyfruit Jungle is about growing up a lesbian in America--and living happily ever after.
Pearl S. Buck. The Good Earth
This great modern classic depicts life in China at a time before the vast political and social upheavals transformed an essentially agrarian country into a world power. Nobel Prize-winner Pearl S. Buck traces the whole cycle of life--its terrors, its passions, its ambitions, and rewards. Includes biographical and historical information and more.
A. S. Byatt. Possession
As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire-- from spiritualist séances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.
 
Angela Carter. Nights at the Circus
 
Ana Castillo. So Far From God
Sofia and her daughters, Fe, Esperanza, Caridad, and la Loca, endure hardship and enjoy love in the sleepy New Mexico hamlet of Tome, where the comic and the horrific, the real and the supernatural, reside.
Willa Cather. My Antonia
Tells the story of a remarkable woman whose strength and passion epitomize the pioneer spirit. Antonia Shimerda returns to Black Hawk, Nebraska, to made a fresh start after eloping with a railway conductor following the tragic death of her father. Accustomed to living in a sod house and toiling alongside the men in the fields, she is unprepared for the lecherous reaction her lush sensuality provokes when she moves to the city.
Kate Chopin. The Awakening
A novel that scandalized America because of its sexual frankness, and because of the unconventional behavior of its female protagonist, The Awakening (1899) has enjoyed vast popularity in the 20th century.
Sandra Cisneros. The House on Mango Street
Tells the story of Esperanza Cordero, whose neighborhood is one of harsh realities and harsh beauty. Esperanza doesn't want to belong - not to her run-down neighborhood, and not to the low expectations the world has for her. Esperanza's story is that of a young girl coming into her power, and inventing for herself what she will become.
 
Ivy Compton-Burnett. Elders and Betters
 
Anita Desai. Clear Light of Day
Isak Dinesen. Out of Africa
Dinesen gives a true account of her life on her plantation in Kenya. She tells with classic simplicity of the ways of the country and the natives.
 
Harriet Doerr. Stones for Ibarra
Two Americans, Richard and Sara Everton, are the only foreigners in Ibarra. They live among people who both respect and misunderstand them, and gradually, the villagers--at first enigmas to the Evertons--come to teach them much about life and the relentless tide of fate.
 
Margaret Drabble. The Radiant Way
Liz, Alix and Esther were best friends. They knew each other better than they knew themselves. Each of them led charmed lives. They were lucky, and it was good to know they had each other when that luck began to run out.
Dumaurier. Rebecca
Rebecca has been dead for several months, but her sinister influence is still very much alive at Manderley, as Maxim de Winter's second wife soon comes to realize.
 
Buchi Emecheta. Second Class Citizen
Louise Erdrich. Tracks
Set in the early 1900s, Tracks follows a North Dakota Indian tribe and its struggle to keep their land out of the hands of an encroaching white society.
 
Penelope Fitzgerald. At Freddie's
"Freddie's" is the familiar name of the Temple Stage School, which supplies London's West End theaters with child actors.  Freddie Wentworth is the head of this school and she can bring just about anyone under her spell.  At the school we meet a cast of characters who along with Freddie make this a fun tale.
Fannie Flagg. Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe
Tells the tale of two women and the cafe they ran in Whistle Stop, Alabama, offering barbecue, coffee, love, laughter--and an occasional murder.
 
Janet Frame. Owls Do Cry
Marilyn French. The Women's Room
Follows the transformation of Mira Ward and her circle as the women's movement begins to have an impact on their lives. A biting social commentary on an emotional world gone silently haywire.
 
Rebecca Goldstein. The Mind-Body Problem
Nadine Gordimer. July's People
For 15 years, July has been the decently treated black servant in a South African household. Now, in "the deteriorating situation," the roles must reverse as he becomes the former master's family's host, their savior--their keeper.
 
Mary Gordon. The Rest of Life
A teenager is inspired by the Romantic poets to make a suicide pact.
 
Radclyffe Hall. The Well of Loneliness
 
Bessie Head. When Rain Clouds Gather
Patricia Highsmith. The Talented Mr. Ripley
Like a hero in a latter-day Henry James novel, Tom Ripley travels to Italy with a commission to coax a prodigal young American back to his wealthy father. But Ripley finds himself very fond of Dickie Greenleaf. He wants to be like him--exactly like him. Turning the mystery form inside out, Highsmith shows the terrifying abilities afforded to a man unhindered by the concept of evil.
 
Janet Hobhouse. The Furies
Keri Hulme. The Bone People
A mystery, a love story, and an ambitious exploration of the zone where Maori and European New Zealand meet, clash, and sometimes merge.
Zora Neal Hurston. Their Eyes Were Watching God
Fair and long-legged, independent and articulate, Janie Crawford sets out to be her own person-- no mean feat for a black woman in the '30s. Janie's quest for identity takes her through three marriages and into a journey back to her roots.
Shirley Jackson. The Haunting of Hill House
The four visitors at Hill House-- some there for knowledge, others for adventure-- are unaware that the old mansion will soon choose one of them to make its own.
 
Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Heat and Dust
Set in colonial India during the 1920s, Heat and Dust tells the story of Olivia, a beautiful woman suffocated by the propriety and social constraints of her position as the wife of an important English civil servant. Longing for passion and independence, Olivia is drawn into the spell of the Nawab, a minor Indian prince deeply involved in gang raids and criminal plots.
Erica Jong. Fear of Flying
Originally published in 1973, the ground-breaking, uninhibited story of Isadora Wing and her desire to fly free caused a national sensation-and sold more than twelve million copies. Now, after thirty years, the iconic novel still stands as a timeless tale of self-discovery, liberation, and womanhood.
Jamaica Kincaid. Lucy
Lucy, a teenager from the West Indies, comes to America to work as an aupair for Lewis and Mariah and their four children--the perfect American family. Almost at once, Lucy begins to notice cracks in their beautiful facade, and bitterly compares them with the vivid realities of her native country.
Barbara Kingsolver. The Bean Trees
An unforgettable story of love and friendship, abandonment and belonging, and the discovery of surprising resources in apparently empty places, "The Bean Trees" tells the story of Taylor Green, a spirited woman who grew up in rural Kentucky with two goals: to avoid pregnancy and to get away.
 
Maxine Hong Kingston. Tripmaster Monkey
Chinese-American playwright and poet Ah Sing achieves his dream of staging lofty classic Chinese novels and learns his family's fascinating history and the pleasures and conflicts of a fully lived life.
Joy Kogawa. Obasan
Based on the author's own experiences, this story of the evacuation, relocation, and dispersal of Canadian citizens of Japanese ancestry during WWII is "a tour de force, a deeply felt novel, brilliantly poetic in its sensibility." (The New York Times Book Review)
 
Margaret Laurence. The Fire-Dwellers
Harper Lee. To Kill A Mockingbird
The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence, and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina and quiet heroism of one man's struggle for justice.
Doris M. Lessing. The Golden Notebook
The experiences of two women provide the framework for an intense literary study of liberated womanhood.
 
Penelope Lively. Moon Tiger
Claudia Hampton, an unconventional historian and former war correspondent lies in a hospital bed dying of cancer. Forced inward, Claudia moves randomly across time and place to reconstruct the strata of her life. But "most lives have their core, their kernel, the vital centre''; Claudia's is the brief, tragic encounter she had in Egypt during the war with Tom Southern, a British tank officer on leave from battle.
Anita Loos. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes
In this brilliant satire of the Jazz Age first published in 1925, Anita Loos created the funniest Bad Blonde in American literature, a role that Marilyn Monroe made famous in the classic film comedy by the same name. This is the story of the "educational" travels of Lorelei Lee, the kind of girl who always gets what she wants. Audio.
 
Olivia Manning. The Balkan Trilogy
 
Leslie Marmon Silko. Almanac of the Dead
In its extraordinary range of character and culture, Almanac of the Dead is fiction on the grand scale. The acclaimed author of Ceremony has undertaken a weaving of ideas and lives, fate and history, passion and conquest in an attempt to re-create the moral history of the Americas, told from the point of view of the conquered, not the conquerors.
 
Mary McCarthy. The Group
"The group" (of eight Vassar graduates) meets in New York following commencement to attend the wedding of one of their membersand reconvene seven years later at her funeral. The woman are complicated, compelling, vivid, and, above all, determined not to become stuffy and frightened like "Mother and Dad" but to lead fulfilling, emancipated lives.
Carson McCullers. Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Terry McMillan. Mama
The exhilarating tale of feisty Mildred Peacock, whose five children are her hope and her future.
 
Isabel Miller. Patience and Sarah
Margaret Mitchell. Gone with the Wind
A monumental classic considered by many to be not only the greatest love story ever written, but also the greatest Civil War saga.
 
Lorrie Moore. Anagrams
Benna Carpenter is a young woman with vitality, charm and an irresistible comic spirit, by temperament a lover of people, language, literature and the zany , unpredictable, redeeming miracles of life. Until the roles and wordplay reveal the startling truth about her life.
Toni Morrison. Beloved
Set in rural Ohio several years after the Civil War, this profoundly affecting chronicle of slavery and its aftermath is Toni Morrison's greatest novel, a dazzling achievement, and the most spellbinding reading experience of the decade.
 
Bharati Mukherjee. Wife
Alice Munro. Lives of Girls and Women
Del Jordan lives out at the end of the Flats Road on her father's fox farm, where her most frequent companions are an eccentric bachelor family friend and her rough younger brother. When she begins spending more time in town, she is surrounded by women-her mother, an agnostic, opinionted woman who sells encyclopedias to local farmers; her mother's boarder, the lusty Fern Dogherty; and her best friend, Naomi, with whom she shares the frustrations and unbridled glee of adolescence.
 
Iris Murdoch. A Severed Head
Joyce Carol Oates. You Must Remember This
An epic novel of an American family in the 1950s proves the tender division between what is permissible and what is taboo, between ordinary life and the secret places of the heart.
Edna O'Brien. House of Splendid Isolation
Josie is a widow living in a remote old house outside an Irish village, possessed by memories of her troubled marriage and one clandestine love affair. Her solitude is violated by the arrival of an escaped IRA terrorist, McGreevy, a bloody crusader for a United Ireland, who has chosen her beautiful home for sanctuary as he has plan for a new action.
Flannery O'Connor. A Good Man is Hard to Find
Tillie Olsen. Tell Me a Riddle
 
Grace Paley. Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
Dorothy Parker. The Collected Stories of Dorothy Parker
 
Jayne Anne Phillips. Black Tickets
 
Marge Piercy. Braided Lives
Growing up in Detroit in the 1950s, and going to college when the first seeds of sexual freedom are being sown, Jill and Donna are coming of age in an exciting, turbulent time. Wry, independent Jill thrives in the new free-spirited world, while her beautiful cousin Donna desperately searches for a man to make her life whole. As each cousin is driven by different demons and desires, they eventually realize that they cannot overcome fundamental differences in each others' lives. Still, as their futures assume contrary paths, Jill and Donna realize that they may be separated, but they'll never be truly divided from one another.
Sylvia Plath. The Bell Jar
This extraordinary work chronicles the crack-up of Esther Greenwood: brilliant, beautiful, enormously talented, successful - but slowly going under, and maybe for the last time.
 
Katherine Anne Porter. Ship of Fools
Dawn Powell. The Golden Spur
In The Golden Spur Powell drew on her time spent among painters at the famed Cedar Tavern for an affectionate if pointed satire on Manhattan's art world.
E. Annie Proulx. The Shipping News
An unsuccessful newspaperman, his aunt, and his two young daughters experience delicately evoked changes in a poignant novel set in a Newfoundland fishing town.
Ayn Rand. The Fountainhead
On the surface, it is a story of a gifted young architect, his violent battle with conventional standards, and his explosive love affair with the beautiful woman who struggles to defeat him. In his fight for success, he first discovers then rejects the seductive power of fame and money, finding that creative genius must ultimately triumph. This novel also addresses a number of universal themes: the strength of the individual, the tug between good and evil, the threat of fascism.
Mary Renault. The King Must Die
The story of the mythical hero Theseus, slayer of monsters, abductor of princesses and king of Athens. He emerges from these pages as a clearly defined personality; brave, aggressive and quick. The core of the story is Theseus' Cretan adventure.
Jean Rhys. Wide Sargasso Sea
Beautiful, wealthy Antoinette Cosway's passionate love for the arrogant Mr. Rochester threatens to destroy her idyllic Caribbean existence and her very life, in a novel based on Jane Eyre.
 
Marilynn Robinson. Housekeeping
A best-selling coming-of-age novel tells the story of a dreamy teenager who begins a new life at the lakeside home of her Aunt Sylvie, a thirty-five-year-old misfit, after losing both her parents.
Arundati Roy. The God of Small Things
A richly textured first book about the tragic decline of one family whose members suffer the terrible consequences of forbidden love.
 
May Sarton. Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing
Carol Shields. The Stone Diaries
The Stone Diaries is one ordinary woman's story of her journey through life. Born in 1905, Daisy Stone Goodwill drifts through the roles of child, wife, widow, and mother, and finally into her old age.
Anita Shreve. The Weight of Water
When a photographer researches a legendary crime that took place a century earlier, she immerses herself in the details of the case--and finds herself caught in the grip of an uncontrollable emotion.
Mona Simpson. Anywhere But Here
A moving, frequently comic portrait of wise child Ann August and her mother, Adele, a larger-than-life American dreamer. As they travel through the landscape of their often conflicting ambitions, Ann and Adele bring to life a novel that is a brilliant exploration of the perennial urge to keep moving, even at the brink of profound disorientation.
 
Elizabeth Smart. By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
Jane Smiley. The Age of Grief
A luminous novella and stories about the vicissitudes of love, friendship, and marriage.
Susan Sontag. The Volcano Lover
Based on the lives of Sir William Hamilton, his celebrated wife, Emma, and Lord Nelson, the young British admiral who was the greatest hero of the time, this novel is about revolution, nature, emotions, the condition of women, and above all, love.
Muriel Spark. The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie
The critically acclaimed story of an independent-minded Scottish schoolteacher.
 
Christina Stead. The Man Who Loved Children
Gertrude Stein. Three Lives
In these three stories, Gertrude Stein put into practice certain theories about prose composition that paralleled the ideas expressed in the art of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist painters.
 
Elizabeth Taylor. Angel
Amy Tan. The Joy Luck Club
In 1949 four Chinese women-drawn together by the shadow of their past-begin meeting in San Francisco to play mah jong, invest in stocks, eat dim sum, and 'say' stories. They call their gathering the Joy Luck Club.
Anne Tyler. If Morning Ever Comes
Ben Joe Hawkes comes from a large, cheerful family of women. But when one of his sisters takes her baby and leaves her husband, everything--including his perceptions of the past--changes.
 
Jane Urquhart. Away
An evocative chronicle of the lives, loves, and passions of four generations of women begins near Lake Ontario as Esther O'Malley Robertson reminisces about her family's past, from its origin in Ireland where her great-grandmother had a demon lover.
Alice Walker. The Color Purple
This landmark work is Walker's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel that also won the American Book Award and established her as a major voice in modern fiction. The New York Times Book Review hailed its "intense emotional impact", and the San Francisco Chronicle called it "a work to stand beside literature of any time and place".
Fay Weldon. The Life and Loves of a She-Devil
 
Eudora Welty. The Collected Stories of Eudora Welty
 
Rebecca West. The Return of the Soldier
Edith Wharton. Ethan Frome
This classic novel is a sharply-etched portrait of the simple inhabitants of a 19th-century New England village. Written with stark simplicity, "Ethan Frome" centers on the power of local convention to smother the growth of the individual.
 
Antonia White. Frost in May
 
Jeanette Winterson. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit
Virginia Woolf. Mrs. Dalloway
Direct and vivid in its telling of the details of a day in the life of Clarissa Dalloway, the novel manages ultimately to deliver much more. It is the feelings that loom behind those daily events--the social alliances, the shopkeeper's exchange, the fact of death--that give Mrs. Dalloway texture and richness.