The amazing Emily Dickinson who wrote the most compact metaphorical poetry in English. She showed that a woman writer needed no one else but her imagination to bless her own work. She is the supreme spirited poet of the dark night of the individual soul. The Johnson Harvard edition is the the only book you need for getting to know her.
Virginia Woolf, whose stream-of-consciousness prose writing remains a Shakespearean pinnacle in women’s literature, has,likewise, long impressed me. The best novels, of course, are ‘incandescent’, a word she uses to describe Shakespeare’s work. She is also the top woman essayist of all time and we are fortunate that her husband Leonard collected many of these pieces in the posthumous essay collections issued.
If you want to read the best analysis of European and North American women’s lives from Shakespeare’s time on to the late 19th century, A Room of One’s Own is a must-read. She pointedly described the limits and limitations of early women’s lives and reviews the slow progress women writers made, notably by Austen, the Brontes, and George Eliot. Freedom, wider experience, and “incandescence” are what make for great writers like Tolstoy and Shakespeare BTW.
(A beautiful reading of a veritable feminist classic)
If I had to recommend essays, Room would be a foundational classic. If one wanted to learn about Life and consciousness, To the Lighthouse is a great stretch. But if you want to read a poetic masterpiece, then The Waves will do, though you must totally abandon any conventional notions of what a novel is.