Flavorwire recently ran a piece on “10 Legendary Bad Boys of Literature,” and, as game as I am for any discussion of Lord Byron’s poetry/incestuous affairs/commitment to culturally-appropriated fashion, I couldn’t help but agree with one commenter that the “bad girls” of literature deserved their due-- and are, in fact, even more compelling than their male counterparts. Luckily, Flavorwire editor Judy Berman responded to the call, and compiled a list of ladies who broke rules and wrote game-changing, enduring literature. And, no offense to Flavorwire’s literary bad boys, but I knew all of the names and at least one major work of every woman on this list, which is more than I can say for some of those dudes. It seems that the “bad girls” done good—they’re not just notable for their subversive antics, but for their truly important contributions to literature.
Of course, sometimes being “bad” is what helps you break through, especially in the notoriously tough world of literature. What I love about these women is that their personal stories are just as interesting as the ones they penned, from the hardships they overcame to, okay, fine, the totally juicy gossip fodder they supplied. Did you know that celebrated French auteur Colette cheated on her husband with his own son? Damn, girl. That’s bad!
Colette: Not exactly a crazy cat lady.
One my favorites is George Sand, a prolific writer with a penchant for genderfuckery. Once, on a date, I asked a guy who his "history crush" is (we all have them-- for example, I'm totally wet for Joachim Murat's sideburns) and he said Sand, then added, "You know, you kind of look like her." I absolutely made out with him.
George Sand in a decidedly femme phase.
I would add Jean Rhys, whose 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea is a must-read for the Jane Eyre fan, and who worked as a chorus girl, posed nude for art, and lived wildly-- and sometimes tragically.
Jean Rhys with cigarette. You can just tell she's a badass with that body language.
Emily Dickinson also comes to mind; her lifestyle was as unconventional as her poetry. Dickinson stopped going to church, dropped out of seminary, withdrew from society, and wrote some of the most brilliant verse of the 19th century. Thomas Wentworth Higginson once said of her that he had never met someone "who drained my nerve power so much. Without touching her, she drew from me. I am glad not to live near her."
The only portrait ever taken of Emily Dickinson as an adult.
Click the link below to read about more ass-kicking authors and chime in with any writers you think deserve a place on the list or in the literary canon. Oh, and feel free to imagine them together on some bizarro dream version of Oxygen’s Bad Girls Club (“THIS SEASON, THE COCKTAILS ARE GONNA FLY AND SOMEBODY’S TYPEWRITER WILL. GET. WET!”). You know Dorothy Parker (pictured above) would give the most awesomely scathing and eloquent drunken diary room confessions.