100 women: Literature

Nominated by Andrew Dickson. Andrew is journalist, author and broadcaster who regularly writes and presents radio programmes for the BBC. His most recent book is Worlds Elsewhere: Journeys Around Shakespeare's Globe (Bodley Head, 2015)

PARIS, FRANCE - MARCH 29:  Indian writer Amrita Pritam poses during portrait session held on March 29, 1983 in Paris, France. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)

This year marks the centenary of one of the most important landmarks in modern British history: the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave some women the right to vote in parliamentary elections for the first time.

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In honour of this milestone, we launched a poll to discover the women you think have done the most to shape the world around them. There were 100 women to choose from – nominated by 10 historians, who have each selected 10 women they feel are the most important – from science, technology and sport, to politics and literature.

Voting is now closed, view the results of the poll HERE.


George Eliot, 1819-1880

George Eliot. (Photo by Past Pix/SSPL/Getty Images)
George Eliot. (Photo by Past Pix/SSPL/Getty Images)

The 19th-century novelist and poet Mary Anne Evans, born in Warwickshire, took the pen name George Eliot in a bid to have her work taken seriously. Her subsequent novels, including Middlemarch and Slias Marner, tackle weighty themes including religion, marriage and industrialisation.

Gabriela Mistral, 1889-1957

Gabriela Mistral. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)
Gabriela Mistral. (Photo by Bettmann/Getty Images)

Lucila Godoy Alcayaga, known pseudonymously as Gabriela Mistral, was a Chilean poet and diplomat whose works often explore morality and motherhood. She was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature in 1945, becoming the first Latin American author to receive the honour.

Virginia Woolf, 1882-1941

Virginia Woolf. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Virginia Woolf. (Photo by George C. Beresford/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Most famous for her works including Mrs Dalloway and A Room of One’s Own, the English author Virginia Woolf was also one of the founders of the influential literary set the Bloomsbury Group. Her complex personal life and sometimes controversial viewpoints have led her to become both an influential and divisive figure.

Zora Neale Hurston, 1891-1960

Zora Neale Hurston. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)
Zora Neale Hurston. (Photo by © CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images)

Hurston’s work chronicles life in the American South, particularly the racial and gender struggles she witnessed and experienced during the first half of the 20th century. Her career as an anthropologist also saw her make key contributions to the study of North American folklore and ritual activity in the Caribbean.

Buchi Emecheta, 1944-2017

Buchi Emecheta. (Photo by Art Directors & TRIP / Alamy Stock Photo)
Buchi Emecheta. (Photo by Art Directors & TRIP / Alamy Stock Photo)

A Nigerian-born novelist who moved to London in 1962, Emecheta’s books include 1979’s The Joys of Motherhood. Concerned with both the black and female experience, she was awarded an OBE in 2005 for her services to literature.

Murasaki Shikibu, c973-c1014

Murasaki Shikibu. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)
Murasaki Shikibu. (Photo by Culture Club/Getty Images)

An 11th-century Japanese writer and lady-in-waiting, Shikibu’s early talent for Chinese allowed her to become fluent in the language to an extent unusual for women of the period. Her novel The Tale of Genji is widely regarded as a masterpiece.

Mary Shelley, 1797-1851

Mary Shelley. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Mary Shelley. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Born to political philosopher William Godwin and feminist activist Mary Wollstonecraft, and husband of poet Percy Bysshe Shelley, Mary Shelley managed – through her 1818 work Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus – to make a name for herself, even in such high-achieving company. Blending the horrific with the sympathetic, the Gothic with the Romantic, the novel has gone on to become a literary classic.

Anna Akhmatova, 1889-1966

Anna Akhmatova. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)
Anna Akhmatova. (Photo by Fine Art Images/Heritage Images/Getty Images)

Akhmatova’s career as a poet, which spanned a period of war, totalitarianism and revolution, saw her mix the personal with the political to chronicle a tumultuous chapter in Russian history. Her work and sympathies were often met with official opprobrium, and many of those around her were executed, detained or deported.

Susan Sontag, 1933-2004

Susan Sontag. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)
Susan Sontag. (Photo by Jean-Regis Rouston/Roger Viollet/Getty Images)

Famous for a string of influential essays including 1964’s Notes on ‘Camp’, Sontag’s work embraced such diverse interests as sexuality, art and philosophy. Her decades-spanning career also saw her work as a teacher, political activist and filmmaker.

Amrita Pritam, 1919-2005

Amrita Pritam. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)
Amrita Pritam. (Photo by Ulf Andersen/Getty Images)
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An Indian writer and essayist and a leading 20th-century poet in the Punjabi language. Recognised with a string of awards throughout her lifetime, her work is by turns feminist, inclusive and deeply humanist.

Voting is now closed. View the results of the poll HERE.