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Biographies of interesting/inspiring women

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Showing 1-25 of 71 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 11 Apr 2012 16:03:53 BDT
I have recently enjoyed biographies of Nancy Mitford (author), Josephine Baker (1920s exotic dancer turned war spy), Lady Murasaki (10th-century Japanese writer and Imperial lady-in-waiting), Marilyn Monroe and Coco Chanel, and would like some more ideas of women who have had interesting or inspiring lives, who I may not have heard about please!

I'm not interested in: self-plugging authors, `real people' biographies (I want a bit of glamour!), misery memoirs, modern celebs, sporting achievements or anything too political. Sorry to be so picky!

Thanks very much!

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 19:45:13 BDT
JoJo says:
Hi, I'm currently reading a biography Freya Stark: Passionate Nomad, which is about an amazing woman traveling around the Middle East, charting the regions and immersing herself into the culture. I'm only about half way through and so far set up to the 1930's. She's also an beautiful letter writer and am on the look out for a collection of her letters. I'm also interested in biographies of inspiring women and so I shall follow this thread closely!

Passionate Nomad: The Life of Freya Stark (Modern Library)

Not a biography, but an imagined biography set on a real person is 'The final confession of Mabel Stark' that I enjoyed immensely. A female tiger trainer in the circus in the early part of the century. The Final Confessions of Mabel Stark

I've just noticed that they are both 'Stark's'!

Posted on 11 Apr 2012 20:31:34 BDT
Oh, thank you! They do sound good, female tiger trainer especially!

I've just been trawling the 'Inspirational biographies: role models' thread and it's mostly self-plugging but this one sounds like a gem - The Wilder Shores of Love by Lesley Blanch, about four Victorian women -

Isabel Burton (who married the Arabist and explorer Richard), Jane Digby el-Mezrab (Lady Ellenborough, the society beauty who ended up living in the Syrian desert with a Bedouin chieftain), Aimee Dubucq de Rivery (a French convent girl captured by pirates and sent to the Sultan's harem in Istanbul), and Isabelle Eberhardt (a Swiss linguist who felt most comfortable in boy's clothes and lived among the Arabs in the Sahara). They all escaped from the constraints of nineteenth century Europe and fled to the Middle East, where they found love, fulfillment, and "glowing horizons of emotion and daring".

Also forgot to mention - anything on Frida Kahlo goes down well, and really loved Flush by Virginia Woolf which is the 'autobiography' of Elizabeth Barret Browning's dog, and have been meaning to read a biography of the actual woman!

Posted on 12 Apr 2012 13:21:50 BDT
matt 13 says:
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Posted on 12 Apr 2012 13:49:54 BDT
JoJo says:

It's the quality, not the size that counts. Any woman could tell you that one! ;)


In reply to an earlier post on 12 Apr 2012 13:57:37 BDT
JoJo - so true! :)

Posted on 12 Apr 2012 17:40:46 BDT
JoJo says:
Couldn't resist retaliating to that comment lol

Isabelle Eberhardt turns up i the book I'm currently reading and so The Wilder Shores of Love might be a good follow on.

Completely forgetting a totally amazing woman, have you ever read the Maya Angelou autobiographies? Wow! Definitely read her work!

I was also recommended MOVING MOUNTAINS by Claire Bertschinger, the woman who inspired Live Aid. It's her account of working with the starving kids. They guy that recommended the book was taught by her and I quote "claire was our course leader on our diploma in tropical nursing course, shes a f*****g legend and an amazing woman". Think it may be worth a read!


In reply to an earlier post on 13 Apr 2012 13:21:29 BDT
matt 13 says:
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Posted on 18 Apr 2012 17:18:37 BDT
literates says:
I edited the books of Christa Unnasch, who wrote about the history of her family, her life in Prussia, the dammned war, her father didn't return, the experience as refugee and then the migration to Australia. There, she built a new life with his husband and her children and she wrote of so many remarkable people, also migrants, but now real Aussies.
Interested? There they are: Of Prussian Heritage, The Migrants Part 1 - My new life in Australia, The Migrants Part 2 - The remarkable Mertins ... by Christa Unnasch.
Soon: No Glory in War

Posted on 18 Apr 2012 17:50:54 BDT
Last edited by the author on 18 Apr 2012 17:54:24 BDT
nocheese says:
Three of my favourites; the first is by Iris Murdoch's husband John Bayley: Iris: A Memoir of Iris Murdoch

The other two are autobiographical.

Bad Blood: A Memoir Lorna Sage

Scoundrel Time Lillian Hellman

Posted on 19 Apr 2012 00:16:53 BDT
Rachel says:
I read a fantastic book about a Georgian lady, the Countess of Strathmore, who got tricked into marriage by the 'Georgian Britain's worst husband' and not only survived but made huge steps to making the law fairer to women. It's so well written, and it doesn't drag on the last half like so many biographies seem to. I really would reccommend it to anybody, it's pretty shocking how women were treated then, not only by their spouses but by the lawWedlock: How Georgian Britain's Worst Husband Met His Match

Posted on 19 Apr 2012 09:58:15 BDT
These all sound amazing, thank you! Especially the Countess of Strathmore - I'm very interested at turning points in women's rights.

Just remembered another one to recommend - Lizzie Siddal: The Tragedy of a Pre-Raphaelite Supermodel by Lucinda Hawkesley, about the girl who posed as Ophelia for Millais and became Rossetti's lover and muse.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 May 2012 12:47:25 BDT
Last edited by the author on 4 May 2012 12:50:13 BDT
A.S. Bond says:
Hi JoJo,

There are quite a few works by or about inspiration women travellers, if you seek them out. A surprising number were travelling in far flung places when their sisters were at home in Victorian parlours, or even earlier! The Cornish writer, Clara Vyvyan, wrote several books, including an autobiography, and my personal favorite, the Gwitchin and the Rat (the name of a recent edition, I can't recall her original title), about her journey across the Yukon and Alaska by canoe. Mina Hubbard made a similar journey, in 1908, across eastern Canada, completing a journey begun by her husband, who had died of starvation after just a hundred miles. She finished in style, drew the maps and claimed the glory. Her account of the journey 'A Woman's Way through Unknown Labrador' is a little dry, so try my modern account about re-creating the journey a hundred years later; 'Lost Lands, Forgotten Stories; A Woman's Way Through Unknown Labrador."Lost Lands Forgotten Stories: A Woman's Journey to the Heart of Labrador

Posted on 7 May 2012 23:41:46 BDT
LY says:
Isadora Duncan's autobiography: - My Life

Beautiful Forever, about Madame Rachel of Bond Street - Cosmetician, Con-Artist and Blackmailer: Beautiful for Ever

Ellen Terry, actress, and her daughter: Ellen Terry

Kathleen Scott, artist, single mother, adventurer and widow of Scott of the Antarctic - A Great Task Of Happiness The Life Of Kathleen Scott

Princess of Siberia, Maria Volkonsky, who followed her exiled Decembrist husband to Siberia in 1826 after the failed uprising against the new tsar, Nicholas : The Princess of Siberia: The Story of Maria Volkonsky and the Decembrist Exiles

The Wilder Shores of Love is brilliant.

I did write one of these, but if I don't tell you which perhaps it's not self-plugging -

Posted on 9 May 2012 23:56:26 BDT
Anyone interested in classical music would find a wonderful picture of life in Germany in the 19thc., in Amy Fay's letters, and subsequent autobiography.
You could also tap in on Amazon the name Esther Copley, someone who was far ahead of her time, an early feminist, of remarkable vision and achievement.

Posted on 10 May 2012 12:57:55 BDT
[Deleted by the author on 14 May 2012 16:36:01 BDT]

Posted on 11 May 2012 08:39:55 BDT
Purplelotus says:
An Interrupted Life the Diaries of Etty Hillesum written by a young Jewish woman in occupied Holland. Really inspiring and quite amazing.

Posted on 11 May 2012 14:19:03 BDT
I only ever read biographies and one of the best I have ever read without a doubt is Edwina Mountbatten - A life of her own. Find it here on amazon.
Edwina Mountbatten Biography: A Life of Her Own
What a fascinating and interesting life. You said that you wanted glamour and this has it by the bucket load!

In reply to an earlier post on 13 May 2012 18:07:21 BDT
JoJo says:
Oooh, am a big fan of the Pre-Raphaelites so Lizzie is a good one for me!

Posted on 14 May 2012 06:11:20 BDT
Papaya says:
I was very impressed with both Precious Williams's 'Precious, A True Story' Precious: A True Story and Cupcake Brown's 'A Piece of Cake' A Piece Of Cake Both are action packed stories about very plucky and rather inspiring women

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2012 16:00:36 BDT
R. Turner says:
Try The Rugged Road by Theresa Wallach - incredible journey from London to Cape Town by motorcycle and sidecar, or Fay Taylour Queen of Speedway

In reply to an earlier post on 15 May 2012 17:14:12 BDT
FJ says:
Nicole Nobody is a book that I go back to time and again, haven't read Nancy Mitford but imagine its set at similar times. Can recommend both Freya Stark, Gertrude Bell and Jane Digby as biographies too.

Posted on 23 May 2012 02:45:19 BDT
Reader says:
I Witnessed A Killing (Book 1)

Posted on 26 May 2012 17:49:06 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 May 2012 17:49:53 BDT
LittleMoon says:
How about Hilary Spurling's Burying The Bones: Pearl Buck in China biography of (almost forgotten) Nobel Prize winning writer Pearl S Buck. I found her (Buck's I mean) autobiography, My Several Worlds, even more interesting.

In reply to an earlier post on 26 May 2012 18:07:21 BDT
Anne says:
If you want misery memoir, then I can point you in the right direction. I've copied a short description of Sunday's Child for you to see: Sunday's Child tells of the harrowing systematic abuse of a little girl by her grandmother, while giving the reader a glimpse of the political and cultural climate of 1980′s Guyana.

In a desperate economic crisis, Guyana is forced to resort to food and energy rationing. Acclaimed author Anne Lyken-Garner's tale picks up on the humorous aspects that the young girl experiences while forced to spend hours in food lines, simultaneously unfolding the sadness and desperation that is her everyday life.

A soldier in Jonestown, where more than nine hundred people committed mass suicide, the young girl's uncle tells her of the dead bodies he's seen - but she doesn't mention the one that she herself has witnessed. When she loses the one person in her life who cares for her - and tries to save her - she knows in her heart that her life is about to end...

That's it! Sunday's Child by Anne Lyken-Garner is here on Amazon. I won't leave a link because Amazon sometimes removes comments with links. Let me know what you think. It fits your brief perfectly.
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