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Downe House's Pupil Editor: people who inspire me

By Isabel, Year 12
02 May 2023

Our pupil editor initiative is designed to give budding journalists, writers, photographers and videographers a platform to show off their brilliant talents – and this term, we invited pupils to submit a piece of work around the theme 'people who inspire me'.

Below, Downe House pupil Isabel explains how two influential authors and their novels – written almost two centuries apart – have inspired her, and countless others around the world...

To claim that the vast majority of literature written by women inspires me would be a rather vague approach, however it would not be far from the truth. Within literature, there is something for everyone. Everyone can be inspired by something, it may be a whole novel, just a chapter, or even a single quote.

There are two novels that, whilst written 172 years apart, I instantly pair together. I had read many books prior to first approaching Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice; however, it was not until re-reading the novel for a second time that one quotation really resonated with me. Elizabeth Bennett, the protagonist, asks the question: “what are men to rocks and mountains?” This novel was published in 1813, is widely regarded as one of the most substantial and significant pieces of classical literature, and yet the feminist perspective is already emerging. Austen takes the view that men are constantly changing and therefore do not have the stability of rocks and mountains. However, there is also the comparison of the beauty of the natural world in contrast to the dangers that men can present. Why is it that a woman should feel the need to conform to social normalities and marry a man, when instead she could spend her time observing and travelling across the rocks and mountains of our world - owning her individuality. When I noticed this moment and all its significance, I was around fourteen years old, however having now read a different novel, at the age of seventeen, which is equally outstanding in its own fashion, this moment resonates with me further.

In 1985, possibly one of the most significant and influential women of our time published one of the most outstanding and important novels of the modern day. Whilst published 38 years ago, the novel is more relevant now, than ever before. Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale highlights some of the inequalities that our world currently holds, and the ones that we are potentially heading towards. Somehow, despite being written so much further in the future than Austen’s novel, women’s rights have decreased. They do not have the freedom to explore the world, instead they have been grouped off to best benefit society, lacking any freedom or individuality.

It should not be that we feel Elizabeth Bennett has more freedom as a woman in Georgian England, yet in comparison to the world that is presented to us in The Handmaid’s Tale, she does. There is nothing new about the novel and it is remarkable just how well Atwood has predicted our future. Upon reflection, it is incredible that two women, almost two centuries apart, inspire so many women across the globe, so significantly. But still, it should be thought that a novel like Atwood’s should not be such a harsh reality.

Atwood states that 'a word after a word after a word is power'. I believe that in the hands of writers like Austen and Atwood it certainly is.