7 Novels About All-Women Households and Communities

From Electric Lit:

Depictions of women living without men can be found in literature since the advent of the novel. From Sense and Sensibility to The Golden Notebook to Bridget Jones’ Diary, such women are often unconventional, either unwilling or unable to fit the mould prescribed to them by society. They’re threats, failures, outcasts, but they can also be trailblazers—women who want to determine their own paths.

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The following books are all about women who are, in different ways, living without men—either out of choice, or because they’ve been compelled to, or simply because, unintentionally, that’s how their lives have turned out. Their situations are used contrastingly by each writer to explore women’s position in the world, their relationship to men and to society.

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The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh

In Sophie Mackintosh’s fairy-tale-like dystopia, three girls—Grace, Lia and Sky—live alone on an island with their parents, Mother and King. The girls were too young when they moved to now remember the outside world, but they know that it’s filled with toxins, and that the main source of these toxins are men. The girls have always relied on King for survival, but one day he leaves to get supplies and doesn’t come back, and the women are left alone. An exploration of toxic masculinity and patriarchy, Mackintosh creates a closed world which is meant to prioritize the safety of women, but where a sadistic man—King —remains entirely in charge. Only when he disappears, and three young men unexpectedly arrive on the island, do the girls start acting with autonomy and questioning what they’ve been told.

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To the North by Elizabeth Bowen

To the North, Bowen’s 1932 novel, tells the story of two young women who live together—Cecilia, recently widowed after less than a year of marriage, and Emmeline, the sister of Cecilia’s late husband. The novel follows Cecilia’s reluctant move towards a second marriage, and Emmeline’s destructive love affair with the selfish and predatory Markie. Set during the interwar period, a time of much debate about the position of the single or “surplus” woman after the deaths of so many men in World War I, Bowen’s novel explores the predicament of unconventional women pursuing independent lives. The cohabitation of Emmeline and Cecilia is treated with great suspicion by the other characters in the novel, a sign of the women’s dislocation from society, in a world where “home” for a woman means the home you find with your husband. As Emmeline reflects, when she discovers that Cecilia will remarry, “houses shared with women are built on sand.”

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Matrix by Lauren Groff

Set in a 12th-century English convent, Matrix is a reimagining of the life of Marie de France, a visionary poet about whom not much is known. Groff has creatively filled in the gaps, opening the novel with the 17-year-old Marie arriving at an English nunnery. She’s been thrown out of her beloved Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine’s court because she’s too unattractive to be married, and has been sent to an impoverished royal abbey to become prioress. Initially, Marie is lonely and depressed, but then she decides to take charge of the nunnery, becoming prioress and then abbess. In the creation of an all-women utopia, men are expelled from the lands surrounding the convent, and a labyrinth is constructed to protect the nuns from attack. Matrix is a beautiful and profound novel about visionary leadership and the addictive nature of power.

Link to the rest at Electric Lit