Underrated Literary Wives
Many women writers were forced to live in their husband’s shadow. In some cases, the work was genuinely not as strong, but, in others, it was because of the tastes of the time (or straight-up sexism). In an effort to give them the recognition they deserve, we have compiled a list of women writers who were overshadowed by their literary husbands during their lifetimes.
You are probably surprised to see her name on this list. It is safe to say that more people are familiar with the novel Frankenstein than the poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley (heck, a lot of people would say, “Who?”). This was not always the case. During her lifetime, Mary Shelly was totally overshadowed by her husband. It was so bad that when she published Frankenstein anonymously, people assumed he wrote it. (Although yes, he wrote the preface.) We're glad the tides have changed. And we'd much rather read about monsters than Ozymandias.
Elizabeth Siddal was married to the famous Pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti. While they both primarily loved painting, both also wrote poetry. Elizabeth Siddal never had her poetry published in her lifetime. She was told they would bum people out too much. But Dante Gabriel Rossetti published his poems that he buried with his wife’s body after she died. How did he get his poems back to publish them? He actually exhumed her body to get the poems. We seriously hope that guy had nightmares for years. That is taking dedication to poetry way too far.
We all know and love F. Scott Fitzgerald. Also, thanks in large part to Midnight in Paris, we also adore his wife, Zelda. We think of her as a fun flapper who danced in fountains and was the inspiration of many of Fitzgerald’s female characters. We bet you didn’t know that she wrote a novel called Save Me the Waltz. This novel angered F. Scott because he claimed that she stole some of his ideas (even though a lot of them were based on events that happened to both of them). We don’t think he has a right to judge; he stole exact words from her journal for his writing. It turns out Zelda was the great woman behind F. Scott Fitzgerald.
Just like Mary Shelley, Sylvia Plath has outpaced her ex-husband, Ted Hughes. Many people are familiar with The Bell Jar—it inevitably made “the best books of the 20th century” list—and her confessional poetry, which is a staple for English classrooms. When Plath met Hughes, she was star-struck. She was a Fulbright Scholar, and he had already published poetry that she had enjoyed. Even after they were married, she never got over the feeling that he was more accomplished and advanced than her. There is actually some objective evidence to support this; Ted Hughes was the Poet Laureate in his lifetime while Plath did not receive the Pulitzer for her poetry until after her death.
Sarah Fox is an editor, writer, writing consultant, and pop culture enthusiast. Besides regularly contributing to Quirk Books’ blog, she has published an edition of William Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure. She lives in Washington D.C. with her husband and Pembroke Welsh Corgi. You can find her online at www.thebookishfox.com.