In our “Romanticism Beyond the Academy” series, we invite literature-lovers to reflect on the significance of Romantic-era writers and ideas in the contemporary world and/or in their own lives.
In the following interview moderated by Communications Director Anna Mercer, Communications Fellow Mariam Wassif interviews Lauren Burke and Hannah K. Chapman, creators of the “Bonnets at Dawn” Podcast and authors of Why She Wrote: A Graphic History of the Lives, Inspiration, and Influence Behind the Pens of Women Writers (Chronicle Books, 2021), illustrated by Kaley Bales.
The book is a compelling graphic collection featuring 18 women—including Mary Shelley, Jane Austen, Louisa May Alcott, Alice Dunbar Nelson, Anne Lister, and more. It is both accessible to newcomers and thoroughly-researched, offering fresh approaches and perspectives. It is funny and playful, with tongue-in-cheek references to bonnets and revealing anecdotes, such as the story of Charlotte Brontë hiding behind a curtain to avoid a visitor. The book also highlights many fascinating and little-known connections between the writers, such as the fact that Charlotte Brontë wrote an unfinished and posthumously published novel called Emma, which is thought to have inspired Frances Hodgson Burnett’s novel The Little Princess, or that Frances E.W. Harper named a character Janette Alston in homage to Jane Austen.
In six thematic chapters each focusing on three women writers, this graphic history asks a simple question: in a time when being a woman writer often meant being undervalued, overlooked, or pigeonholed, why did she write?