The Signature of All Things
Beginning as a tale of an Eighteenth Century male botanist who makes a fortune, it becomes a delicious read about his daughter Alma. Though surrounded by wealth and status, she also becomes a scientist. Her pursuit of botany leads her out of her rarified life to seek out a world rarely available for women of that era. And even leads her to love. From Pennsylvania to Tahiti, you will get lost in this beautiful, fully realized novel.
The Age of Innocence
This list wouldn’t be complete without a volume from Edith Wharton, especially since Wharton was ahead of her own time—she was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for this almost perfect novel. The main female character, Countess Ellen Olenska defies the strictures of her era by choosing to escape an abusive marriage, make her own choices, and live on her own, when none of these choices was condoned or indeed, supported by society. Of course, the about-to-be-married Archer Newland can’t help but fall in love with her.
Circling the Sun
A beautifully penned biographical novel about the courageous Beryl Markham who grows up in early Twentieth Century Kenya to first become the leading (and one of the only) female horse-trainers in the region. Ever pushing against the conventions of her era, Markham openly flaunts her sexual freedom with myriad lovers and a handful of disappointing husbands. Eventually, she learns to fly airplanes, and makes a record-breaking flight between Europe and New York. Not only was she the first person to fly non-stop between the two continents, she was the first person to have done it solo. This beautiful novel will take you on an adventure you won’t want to miss.
The Invention of Wings
Sue Monk Kidd
This is the perfect time to read this beautiful anti-slavery novel based on the remarkable life of a free-thinking woman far ahead of her time, Sarah Grimké. Told both through the eyes of both Sarah, and of Handful, the enslaved girl given to Sarah at the age of eleven, this book will both break your heart and give you hope. It’s exciting to watch Sarah rail against the givens of the society into which she was born, first helping Handful learn to read, and eventually becoming an important abolitionist giving fiery speeches against slavery. Handful’s determined voice and transformation will equally move you. Based on a fascinating historical figure, this novel will lift your heart as if it, too, had wings.
My novel, Atomic Love, features a young woman ahead of her era, a female physicist during WWII, when few women were scientists. Working on the Manhattan project, she helps to create the first atomic reaction. I’m happy to recommend some electrifying historical novels about other women ahead of their time.