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Celebrating Women in Fiction

International Women's Day 2024
Celebrating Women in Fiction

This International Woman’s Day, travel from the political vicissitudes of Rome to the sun draped heat of the Sasanian empire, through cold moors and loveless houses, to gardens at the heart of England and London’s diluvian crowds.

Celebrating Women in Fiction

This week, we are celebrating the 8th of March by introducing you to some of the most illustrious female characters currently on our shelves. Join us as we encounter the famous and infamous women of fiction, from Scheherazade to Marian MacAlpin, and Cleopatra to Jane Eyre. Their stories, at times tragic, uplifting and even grotesque, are a fascinating record of the depiction of women and women’s lives in literature.

Discover our carefully curated range of female literary characters and the writers responsible for bringing their stories to our shelves.

1. Scheherazade in The Arabian Nights

'. . . I know the risk I run; but that does not frighten me.'

Scheherazade, The Arabian Nights (1825)

Welcome to the Sasanian Empire: Scheherazade sits at the right hand of a king, spinning stories that will save her life. In the renowned narrative of The Arabian Nights, the Sultana is forced to tell her husband a story each night for a thousand and one nights, in the hope of preventing her own murder. Her tales take us from Baghdad to the fabled City of the Magicians, and from China to the Middle East. Listen as she unveils the chronicle of Aladdin; or the Wonderful Lamp, Sindbad the Sailor, Beder, Prince of Persia and Ali Baba, and the Forty Thieves.


Richard WESTALL (illustrator). The Arabian Nights. London, 1825.

A scarce early edition of The Arabian Nights, engraved by Charles Heath from illustrations by Richard Westall.

2. Cleopatra in Antony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare

Age cannot wither her, nor custom stale Her infinite variety.

Antony and Cleopatra, by William Shakespeare

We are two thousand years in the past, in the hot turmoil of Rome, Egypt and the reign of Cleopatra. The infamous Queen is in love with Mark Antony, who has become entranced by her. One of the most memorable female monarchs to feature in the plays of Shakespeare, she is portrayed as alluring, powerful and infinitely changeable.


William SHAKESPEARE; Charles KNIGHT (editor). The Pictorial Edition of the Works of Shakespeare. London, 1866.

A handsome, eight-volume edition of the works of Shakespeare, illustrated and including a biography of the author by Charles Knight.

3. Elizabeth Bennet in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

'I am only resolved to act in that manner, which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconnected with me.'

Elizabeth Bennet, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

When Elizabeth Bennet utters these words she expresses, unashamed, the pride and fire that have made her a beloved character ever since she first stepped onto readers’ shelves in 1813. Although at times blinded by prejudice, her eloquence makes her an engaging and lively protagonist for Austen’s celebrated novel. 


Jane AUSTEN; C.E & H.M BROCK (illustrators). Jane Austen's Novels. London, 1898.

Complete with colour and black and white illustrations by the Brock brothers, a beautiful 10-volume edition of the works of Jane Austen.

4. Jane Eyre in Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

'I laughed at him as he said this. "I am not an angel," I asserted; "and I will not be one till I die: I will be myself. Mr. Rochester . . ."'

Jane Eyre, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

Our next stop brings us to the corridors of Thornfield Hall, where a small grey governess stitches by the fireside. Meet Jane Eyre, the unassuming heroine of the renowned novel by Charlotte Bronte. Although a restrained character, her determination to remain mistress of herself through despair, deprivation, abandonment and abuse make her a compelling escort through the author’s tale of love and lies in 19th century England.


Charlotte BRONTË. Jane Eyre. The Works of Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë. London, 1893.

A delightful collection of works by the Brontë sisters, including introductions, notes and biographical entries.

5. Rhoda in The Waves by Virginia Woolf

'. . . The wave breaks. I am the foam that sweeps and fills the uttermost rims of the rocks with whiteness; I am also a girl, here in this room.'

Rhoda, The Waves by Virginia Woolf

Now, we travel to the 20th century and the era of the Bloomsbury Group, into the dark, boundless world of The Waves. Here, Rhoda, Virginia Woolf’s intangible protagonist, begins to fade and disappear. As the limits of gender, soul and mind start to blur, Rhoda finds herself increasingly at odds with the confines of her body. One of Woolf's most enigmatic texts, The Waves weaves together the consciousnesses and sensations of Rhoda and her friends as they grow up, drift apart and reunite over the course of their lives.


Virginia WOOLF. The Waves. London, 1931.

The rare first edition of Virginia Woolf’s The Waves, issued by the Hogarth Press and complete with the dust jacket designed by Vanessa Bell.

6. Dinah in The Children of Sisyphus, by H. Orlando Patterson

'Ambition. She knew she had ambition. They said if you lived in the Dungle long enough there wouldn’t be any ambition left in you. But she had lived there fifteen years and she knew she still had ambition.'

The Children of Sisyphus, by H. Orlando Patterson

Dinah, a prostitute living in the Jamaican ghetto known as the Dungle, struggles to survive in a world of despair, poverty and betrayal. Desperate for escape, she spends her days seeking a life beyond her condition. Patterson’s novel provides an astute analysis of the deprivation and abuses of the ghetto, particularly in the context of the Rastafarian movement.


  1. Orlando PATTERSON. The Children of Sisyphus. London, 1964.

Rare first edition, first impression of The Children of Sisyphus, with the unclipped pictorial dust jacket.

7. Marian MacAlpin in The Edible Woman, by Margaret Atwood

'You've been trying to destroy me, haven't you . . . You've been trying to assimilate me. But I've made you a substitute, something you'll like much better.'

Marian MacAlpin, The Edible Woman by Margaret Atwood

Greed and grotesquery are on the menu in Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman. Join Marian MacAlpin as she navigates her way through a frightful world of unpalatable relationships, cannibalistic men and cake-like woman. A darkly comic tale which recounts MacAlpine’s gradual reduction and repression at the hands of the men around her.


Margaret ATWOOD. The Edible Woman. Toronto, 1969.

Scarce association copy of the first edition, first impression of The Edible Woman, inscribed by the Author and accompanied by an autographed letter, signed ‘Peggy A.’

As we come to the end of our exploration of female literary characters, enjoy our complete range of iconic female writers and artists or visit our Mayfair bookshop to discover the memorable novels that brought these women to the world!

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Shapero Rare Books is an internationally renowned dealer in London, specialising in antiquarian & rare books and works on paper, with particular expertise in fine illustrated books from the 15th to the 20th century, travel & voyages, natural history, modern firsts, rare children’s books, guidebooks, Hebraica & Judaica, Eastern European, and Islamica

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