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  • Marc Zakian

Women and Writing – Their Words Made History

Updated: Jan 12

Seven stories of women whose books changed English literature


In this British history podcast we meet an anchorite who became the “mother of English prose”. A passionate pilgrim known as first female autobiographer, two women who can both claim to have written the first-ever science fiction novel, an enslaved woman who was sold four times, and the only female journalist on the WW1 trenches.



Julian of Norwich was an ancorite who spent 30 years in one room and recorded her life in Revelations of Divine Love - the first book in English by a woman. It was kept secret by nuns for centuries, filed under magic and witchcraft, but now is hailed as the first great masterpiece of English prose.


Margery Kempe lived in the East Anglian town of Lynn during the early 1400s. Following a series of visions, she went on pilgrimages across Europe, and recorded her life in The Book of Margery Kempe - the first autobiography by a woman in English.


Margaret Cavendish was an extraordinary 17th-century woman. A cross between Madonna (the singer) HG Wells and Germaine Greer, she wore outrageous costumes, wrote futuristic fiction, and essayed on women's equality.


Mary Prince was born in 1788 in Bermuda the daughter of slaves. She was sold four times before travelling to England with her enslavers. Her autobiography is the first British book by a black women.


Mary Wollestonecraft wrote first book to demand real equality between men and women. At that time a married woman could not legally own property, or money - which always belonged to her husband. Wollestonecraft's manifesto for change is a foundational document in women's equality.


Wollestonecraft's daughter, Mary Shelley, wrote the definative horror/science fiction story: Frankenstein.


The heroic, but tragic, story of Dorothy Lawrence follows a journalist to the trenches in WW1. The only woman to report from the front line.


LIsten to these stories in our British history podcast:






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