Feminist Classics Book Club

The Feminist Classics Book Club, hosted by The Women’s Library in Sydney, meets online on the last Thursday of the month to discuss a book that has contributed to the feminist discourse and made a difference to women’s lives. Where possible, we try to find books that are available in the public domain. If you would like to join the discussion group, sign up first so that we can send you details of the Zoom sessions.

Here’s our reading list to date.


August 2021

The Second Sex, 1949 by Simone De Beauvoir

In 2010, Francine du Plessix Gray introduced this book in a New York Times article by saying …

“In 1946, when Simone de Beauvoir began to write her landmark study of women, “The Second Sex,” legislation allowing French women to vote was little more than a year old. Birth control would be legally denied them until 1967. Next door, in Switzerland, women would not be enfranchised until 1971. Such repressive circumstances account for both the fierce, often wrathful urgency of Beauvoir’s book and the vehement controversies this founding text of feminism aroused when it was first published in France in 1949 and in the United States in 1953.” See this article as it was originally published on NYTimes.com.

The Second Sex is available on Audio Books which offers a one month free trial. Alternatively, there is a PDF version available on the Uberty website.

See this page for more information about the author and her work.


June 2021

The Mill on the Floss, 1860 by Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot)

Another 19th century woman who chose George as her pen name, the immense George Eliot, also known as Mary Ann Evans (1819-1880) and her most notable work The Mill on the Floss written in 1860. We will follow Maggie Tulliver and her brother on their complex life journey.

Free ebook on Gutenberg and an audio book on YouTube

Also worth listening to is the first episode of the BBC Radio 4 Special on George Eliot characters: Maggie Tulliver, “Presenter Kathryn Hughes hears from contemporary writer Tessa Hadley and recent Eliot biographer Philip Davis about Maggie Tulliver from Mill on the Floss: how much of the story of Maggie, a clever, tempestuous girl with a rigid and less-gifted brother, growing up in the West Midlands with an adoring father, was inspired by Eliot’s own upbringing?”


May 2021

Indiana, 1832 by Amantine Aurore Dupin (George Sand).

In May, we are travelling to 19th century France with Indiana, published in 1832 and written by one of the most reknown romantic writers in Europe, Amantine Aurore Dupin, best known by her male pen pseudonym George Sand (1804-1876).

At 28, George Sand published her first novel, Indiana in which she argues for the freedom of young women to follow their heart, make their own mistakes, and learn from them, overturning social conventions of the time.

Reading the book: free ebook available in Epub and Kindle format. You can also save a PDF to print or read on your computer or tablet.

Further reading: George Sand answering her critics 20 years after its was first published.

And a very informative podcast: George Sand on BBC In Our Time, 55 minutes.


April 2021

The Little Governess, 1915, by Katherine Mansfield

This month for the Feminist Classics Book Club we have Katherine Mansfield’s short story The Little Governess, which was included in a collection, held at the library, that focuses on Katherine Mansfield’s feminist stories. Check it out next time you’re perusing the shelves at The Womens Library.

You can read The Little Governess for free at the Katherine Mansfield Society website. If you would like to read an analysis of the story, check out this paper by Lucille Cooper. And, to learn more about Katherine Mansfield, watch this documentary, A Portrait of Katherine Mansfield (1986) available on NZ On Screen.


March 2021

Herland, 1915, Charlotte Perkins Gilman

To coincide with the exhibition ‘Herland III The Body Resilient‘ at The Women’s Library, we revisited this classic.

Ebook on Gutenberg | and audio version on YouTube

Read Freÿa Black’s essay about Herland for the 2019 exhibition at The Woman’s Library.


February 2021

A serious proposal to the Ladies, 1694, by Mary Astell

Ebook available on Gutenberg

Here’s some further reading

Broad, Jacqueline in The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy Mary Astell | Sowaal, Alice in Philosophy Compass Mary Astell’s Serious Proposal: Mind, Method, and Custom | Sowaal, Alice and Weiss, Penny Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Archive

The BBC episode of In Our Time from November 2020 about Mary Astell is very informative.


January 2021

Right Wing Women: The Politics of Domesticated Females, 1983 by Andrea Dworkin (249 pages)

Ebook links : Get Best Books | Media Fire

About the book:

“What would happen if one woman told the truth about her life? The world would split open.”

Muriel Rukeyser

What does the Right offer to women? How does the Right mobilise women? Why is the Right succeeding in opposing women’s rights? With the stark precision and forceful passion that characterises all of her work, Andrea Dworkin answers these timely questions. By providing the first clear analysis of the impact of the Right’s position on abortion, homosexuality, anti-Semitism, female poverty, and antifeminism on women, Dworkin demonstrates how the Right attempts to both exploit and silence women’s deepest fears.


November 2020

A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, 1790, by Mary Wollstonecraft

From the British Library

“Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Woman was a ground-breaking work of literature which still resonates in feminism and human rights movements of today.

Wollstonecraft (1759-1797) wrote the book in part as a reaction to Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution, published in late 1790. Burke saw the French Revolution as a movement which would inevitably fail, as society needed traditional structures such as inherited positions and property in order to strengthen it. Wollstonecraft’s initial response was to write A Vindication of the Rights of Men (1790), a rebuttal of Burke that argued in favour of parliamentary reform, and stating that religious and civil liberties were part of a man’s birth right, with corruption caused in the main by ignorance. This argument for men’s rights wasn’t unique – Thomas Paine published his Rights of Man in 1791, also arguing against Burke – but Wollstonecraft proceeded to go one step further, and, for the first time, a book was published that argued for women’s rights to be on the same footing as men’s.”

A reading copy is available from Project Gutenberg and there is a LibriVox reading on YouTube that you can listen to.


October 2020

A Room of One’s Own, 1929, by Virginia Woolf

Is a room of one’s own something that resonates with you in the time of COVID? Would you like your own space away from it all, away from the virus, away from the kids, away from the new normal? If so, take some time out on Thursday 29 October from 7:00pm and join us in a room of our own.

The Feminist Classics Book Club is discussing Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own at its first virtual meetup, and members and supporters of The Women’s Library are welcome to join us. Let us know if you would like to be part of the discussion and we will send you the the event details.

The Internet Archive has a copy of the book that you can read online. Or you can listen to this reading.

You are most welcome to join the discussion without having read the book. If you want the gist of it, this Guardain review or  this lecture might help.

To take part in the discussion, you will have to use Zoom on your PC, tablet, or phone. You can use Zoom without having a Zoom account, but you should allow time to download the program before the discussion if you are not already using Zoom.

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Photo by Sung Jin Cho on Unsplash