In honor of legendary author Doris Lessing, who died on November 17 at the age of 94, I’d like to take a moment to recognize a handful of my favorite literary bluestockings.
I did say “bluestockings.”
Would Lessing be offended?
I think not.
While it almost sounds like a derogatory term (think: “blue hair”), bluestocking is actually an old English term that describes a “woman with considerable scholarly, literary, or intellectual ability or interest.”
The word appears to have originated in the 18th century, when “bluestocking” referred to worsted wool stockings worn as informal attire (in contrast to the black silk stockings that were fashionable at the time) by a specific group of intellectual women led by Elizabeth Montagu, a British social reformer, patron of the arts, literary critic, and writer.
Here are a few lovely literary bluestockings who preceded Doris Lessing.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning:
Baroness Karen Blixen (with her brother, engineer Thomas Dinesen):