Author-obsessed readers are familiar with this
business. It’s what happens when you read a single book by a writer and then compulsively
read the back list. However, if you’re the type of reader who reads one good
book and then moves on to the next good book by the next author, you might have
missed some of these “also classics”.
Here are four of my favourite lesser-known works by famous female authors who are best known for other books. I prefer these to those other renowned ones. And once you’ve read them (all available free in the public domain), you’ll have to agree with me.
If you loved Anne Of Green Gables…
…by LM Montgomery, you’ll positively adore Emily Of New Moon. This, plus Emily Climbs and Emily’s Quest make up the trilogy I like to call the “darker Anne.”
Anne was all sweetness and light, full of whimsy and loved fiercely by all who met her once she overcame her orphan background. Even the fact that she was an orphan didn’t add so much to her tragedy because her parents died when she was a baby and she hasn’t much recollection of them.
By contrast, the Emily story begins with a description of her relationship with her beloved father, who is dying. She’s taken in by dour spinster aunts upon his death, and again, unlike Anne, has to fight hard to be loved thereafter. Emily wants to be a writer – perhaps why I’m so drawn to her – and works very hard at making her dream happen, but in this, it seems the mission of every person who knows her to knock her down.
There’s also the very creepy attentions of an older man who “marks her out for his own” when she’s twelve. None of this ever happened to Anne, and Emily is the most interesting of all Montgomery’s heroines as a result.
If you cried over Little Women…
…by Louisa May Alcott, let Jack And Jill fill you with goodwill for a good old-fashioned teen romance: god, I love Alcott, but at her best, she can get a bit preachy. Jack And Jill is not any less preachy, but it’s the kind you can get behind.
In her later years, Alcott was an abolitionist and a feminist, and it is those views she puts in young Jill’s mouth. Jill is a hoyden, brought to bed rest by a bad fall, and much like Katy in What Katy Did, has to content herself by being useful from her bed. Luckily for her, she has as a friend, the rich and handsome Jack, who positively adores her. In all this is also the lives of the other young people who live in the small town in which this story is set, and unlike Alcott’s other works, it deals solidly with friendships as opposed to families, perhaps why it appealed so much to me.
If you wanted more banter from Pride And Prejudice…
…by Jane Austen then look no further than Northanger Abbey. Perhaps it’s a bit cheeky of me to put an Austen book in here considering her works are read and adored more than any other classic female author that I can think of. However, I think in discussing Austen, we often pass over her most playful book.
Northanger Abbey has the distinction of being both the first book Austen ever wrote and the last book to be published (after her death.) Why do I love it? Well, because the lead character Catherine, is a girl after my own heart. Heavily influenced by Gothic novels, she sees plots and murder everywhere she turns, not least in the manor house called Northanger Abbey to which she is invited.
Catherine is the girl in the rom com who thinks of herself with a dramatic voice over, music playing each time she enters a room, and she may not be as charming as Elizabeth Bennet, but she’s certainly extremely amusing in her own right. It is Austen’s parody of a Gothic novel, with Austen’s own views on the novel itself, and as a result, it’s the kind of book that will appeal to bookish young women as we all were once.
If Daddy Long Legs left you hungry…
…you’ll find solace in by Jean Webster’s other book Dear Enemy. It’s an epistolatory novel, much like Daddy Long Legs but starring Sallie McBride – who unlike Judy Abbott, is quite adult and quite capable of managing without the help of a mysterious (but sexy) benefactor. Sallie, a flippant socialite is inveigled upon to run an orphanage. This she does with much complaining – and much reform – and I love the general women can do anything vibe of the whole book.
Also, it’s hilarious. Also, also, there’s a deeper love story to this than the more collegial Daddy Long Legs can offer.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a collection of short stories titled Before, And Then After and a novel titled Split.