Beyond Bronte: 18th & 19th Century Fiction by Women

Updated: March 30, 2024

If you are wondering what else there is to read after finishing Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, and George Eliot, here are some of their valued contemporaries from Britain and across the seas in America, all of whom were major literary figures in their time.

Book cover for The absentee
The absentee
Edgeworth, Maria, 1767-1849.
Call Number: Ed.a
An Irish landowner and his family are enjoying the good life in England and never thinking of the poor people who work their land, until the son, interested in his homeland, decides to travel to Ireland incognito.

Book cover for Adeline Mowbray
Adeline Mowbray
Opie, Amelia Alderson, 1769-1853.
Call Number: Ed.b
A rather sheltered, and idealistic young woman believes that marriage rites are superfluous and that the true value of a relationship is the commitment in one's heart. She persists in trying to live by her ideals, only to discover, as she enters the larger world, that people do not know what is in your heart and judge you by your actions measured against the standards of society.

Book cover for Cecilia, or, Memoirs of an heiress
Cecilia, or, Memoirs of an heiress
Burney, Fanny, 1752-1840.
Cecilia's family name will die off, and her fortune will be forfeited, unless the man she marries takes her name. But will a man be able to rise above his own family pride to marry under this restriction?

Book cover for The country of the pointed firs
The country of the pointed firs
Jewett, Sarah Orne, 1849-1909.
Call Number: Ed.h
A writer from London tells of a summer she spent in a Maine fishing village. Her descriptions of nature, land and sea, recreate the atmosphere. The people she comes to know are drawn with perception. And there is no plot to disrupt the mood.

Book cover for Deerbrook
Martineau, Harriet, 1802-1876.
Call Number: Ed.b
A jealous and mean woman causes her neighbors great suffering, but they persevere with good spirit.

Book cover for Donovan, a modern Englishman. A novel by Edna Lyall [pseud.]
Donovan, a modern Englishman. A novel by Edna Lyall [pseud.]
Lyall, Edna, 1857-1903.
Call Number: Ed.b
Donovan was a happy child. We see in his father and grandfather an inkling of the good person he could be. And yet, through circumstance, he grows to be a misanthrope and an atheist. But he is a most compassionate misanthrope and atheist. He wants to believe in God, but his scientific mind, along with some miserable experiences with supposedly good Christians, create tremendous stumbling blocks. However, because he is curious, over time he comes to know a few strong, intelligent, and warm-hearted people who show him other ways of looking at life. It is along this path that we, the readers, follow him.

Book cover for East Lynne, by Mrs. Henry Wood.
East Lynne, by Mrs. Henry Wood.
Wood, Henry, Mrs., 1814-1887.
When a foolish mistake takes a woman from the husband and children she loves, she returns in disguise as governess to raise her children.

Book cover for Falkner : a novel
Falkner : a novel
Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft, 1797-1851.
Through the lives of three people not related by blood, but deeply related by circumstance, the author considers the meaning of innocence versus guilt, and societal norms versus personal passions.

Book cover for Hope Leslie, or, Early times in the Massachusetts
Hope Leslie, or, Early times in the Massachusetts
Sedgwick, Catharine Maria, 1789-1867.
Call Number: Ed.b
Two sisters are sent to live with a Puritan family. During an Indian raid, one sister is taken captive, while the other continues to live with the Puritans. This story shows the two cultures in relief.

Book cover for Jessie Phillips : a tale of the present day
Jessie Phillips : a tale of the present day
Trollope, Frances Milton, 1780-1863.
The Bastardy Clause of the New Poor Law of 1834 protects fathers from responsibility for children born out of wedlock, leaving Jessie to face her situation alone. This is a novel of social consciousness, yet the narrative is balanced by the stories of Ellen and Martha, two intelligent, independent, and well-off young women, both of whom have young men in their lives.

Book cover for Lady Audley's secret
Lady Audley's secret
Braddon, M. E. 1835-1915.
Call Number: Ed.d
Bigamy, murder, and madness encroach on this domestic world.

Book cover for The lamplighter
The lamplighter
Cummins, Maria S. 1827-1866.
Call Number: Ed.a
An unwanted orphan, considered a troublemaker, spends most evenings outside where she gets to know the lamplighter. When the child is kicked out of the house for good, the lamplighter takes her to live with him in his hovel where they face life together.

Book cover for Marcella, Mrs. Humphry Ward ; with a new introduction by Tamie Watters.
Marcella, Mrs. Humphry Ward ; with a new introduction by Tamie Watters.
Ward, Humphry, Mrs., 1851-1920.
Call Number: Ed.b
Marcella is a late nineteenth-century woman. She is deeply interested in improving the lot of the poor, although she herself is one of the landed gentry. It is a time when people know change is coming, and there is tension in the air. Marcella is loved by Lord Maxwell's son who will have that title himself one day. She finds it hard to reconcile his beliefs with her own.

Book cover for Maria, or, The wrongs of woman
Maria, or, The wrongs of woman
Wollstonecraft, Mary, 1759-1797.
Call Number: Ed.a
This is a harsh, dark story of a time when wives were legally the property of their husbands. It should not come as a surprise that it was written by the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women.

Book cover for Marriage
Ferrier, Susan, 1782-1854.
Call Number: Ed.c
This is a family saga. Many of the family are minor aristocrats, some Scottish, some English. The English relatives have the typical prejudices of their day towards the Scots. The reader does have to put up with some narrowly drawn minor characters, plus some Scottish dialect. But most of the book centers on a few major characters, including twin sisters, one raised in Scotland and the other in England. The book title does not refer to one marriage, but to the state of being married and why people choose the ones they do.

Book cover for Memoirs of Emma Courtney
Memoirs of Emma Courtney
Hays, Mary, 1759 or 60-1843.
Call Number: Ed.b
Emma Courtney has fallen in love with a man who has not made any moves towards her, and now he is going away. In complete disregard for formalities, Emma openly declares that she loves him. The rest of the story goes from there. An interesting sidelight is that the author, Mary Hays, in the same year that this novel was published, similarly declared her love for a man she knew.

Book cover for Miss Marjoribanks
Miss Marjoribanks
Oliphant, Mrs. 1828-1897.
Call Number: Ed.a
A young lady relentlessly pursues her ambition to improve the social climate in her community.

Book cover for Mrs. Dymond
Mrs. Dymond
Ritchie, Anne Thackeray, 1837-1919.
Call Number: Ed.a
This book has two locales. One is the countryside of England; the other is Paris. There are also two atmospheres. The one is comfortable and quiet; the other is volatile. Moving between these two worlds, young Susanna is forced to puzzle out the complexities of life.

Book cover for Paul Ferroll
Paul Ferroll
Clive, Caroline, 1801-1873.
Paul Ferroll has a wonderful family and career, yet he seems withdrawn. His first wife was murdered. Is there a connection?

Book cover for Ruth
Gaskell, Elizabeth Cleghorn, 1810-1865.
Call Number: Ed.a
Ruth, an unwed mother, is taken into the home of caring people who introduce her to their friends as a widow.

Book cover for Ruth Hall and other writings
Ruth Hall and other writings
Fern, Fanny, 1811-1872.
Call Number: 818 F362
The author's career was as a newspaper columnist and she uses her knowledge of the publishing world in her novel. The characters throughout the book seem either all bad or all good, and the simplicity of this can be annoying. But in the end there is a symmetry that satisfies as Ruth Hall, a woman of natural sophistication, weathers the storms of life.

Book cover for A simple story
A simple story
Inchbald, Mrs., 1753-1821.
This simple story is, as you would expect, a love story. No doubt, therefore, it will be complicated.

Book cover for The wild Irish girl : a national tale
The wild Irish girl : a national tale
Morgan, Lady 1783-1859.
Call Number: Ed.a
Reflecting the typical English prejudices about the Irish during this period, an English father decides to punish his unruly son by sending him to live on the family's Irish estate. Once there, the young man hides his identity to avoid being hated by the locals. But as he gets to know them, he learns about Gaelic history and culture, and even falls in love. The author has included her own footnotes to enrich the reader's appreciation of the story and of the Irish people.