black and white photograph, a woman writing at a desk by a window.

Six female writers from across Europe

Discover the works of these influential female authors

Europeana Foundation

Women's contributions to literature across Europe have often been overlooked.

This blog looks at six female writers from across Europe, who have left a mark on the world of literature.

Matilde Serao

Matilde Serao was a journalist and novelist. She was born in Greece, and moved to Italy in her childhood. She was the first woman to edit an Italian newspaper and, in 1904, her own newspaper Il Giorno.

black and white portrait photograph of Matilde Serao.

Serao was the author of several novels, and was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature six times. In 1916, she published Parla una donna, a collection of articles which had been originally published in her newspaper - these looked at women's experiences in Italy during World War I.

'…Esso non è uscito dalla penna di una scrittrice: in esso, parla una donna. Non vi troverai nessuna veste letteraria: ma vi sentirai, io spero, io credo, la sincerità di un vivo ma contenuto dolore, il fervore di una immensa speranza.'

'…do not be deceived about what this book is. It did not come from the pen of a writer: in it, a woman speaks. You will not find any literary guise in it: but you will feel, I hope, I believe, the sincerity of a lively but contained pain, the fervour of an immense hope.'

Jelena J. Dimitrijević

Jelena J. Dimitrijević was Serbia’s first feminist author. Born in Kruševac in central Serbia in 1862, she was well-educated until an eye injury forced her to quit school. Doctors even forbade her from reading or writing!

Dimitrijević ignored their advice, and continued her education. Over her lifetime, she learned to speak English, French, German, Greek, Russian and Turkish.

black and white portrait photograph of Jelena J. Dimitrijević.

At the beginning of the 20th century, she moved to Belgrade, where she quickly became a prolific writer and a member of the Serbian Writers’ Society. Over the next forty years, she travelled extensively and wrote: she published poetry, novels and travelogues.

'…šta bi bilo od žena - putnica? Jer za muškarce - putnike, ili bar za nekog od njih našla bi se neka Kalipsa, ako ne bi našli svi u moru grob. Nisam čula još ni za jednog boga koji bi spašavao žene - putnice prilikom brodoloma; niti sam čitala o ijednom bogu koji bi ih posle katastrofe zadržavao u svojoj pećini.'

'…what would become of women travellers? Because for men travellers, or at least for one of them, some Calypso would be found - if not, all of them would find a grave in the sea. I have not yet heard of any god who would save women passengers during a shipwreck; nor did I read about any god who would keep them in his cave after the disaster.'

Selma Lagerlöf

Swedish author Selma Lagerlöf was the first woman to win a Nobel prize in literature, which she was awarded in 1909.

Lagerlof was born in 1858 in western Sweden. She worked initially as a teacher between 1885 to 1895, while writing her first novel Gösta Berling's Saga which was published in 1891.

The novel's success attracted financial support, which allowed her to concentrate on writing. In the early 20th century, Lagerlöf was prolific, publishing many plays, novels and short stories. Her Nobel Prize was awarded for her 'lofty idealism, vivid imagination, and spiritual perception that characterise her writings'.

black and white portrait photograph of Selma Lagerlöf.

From 1894, Lagerlöf was in a relationship with Sophie Elkan, also a Swedish writer. Their writings suggest a deep emotional bond between them. However, as homosexuality was taboo between women, neither publicly revealed their relationship.

'För så länge det finns intressanta böcker att läsa, tycker jag inte att varken jag själv eller någon annan behöver vara olycklig.'

'So long as there are interesting books to read, it seems to me that neither I nor anyone else, for that matter, need be unhappy.'

Carolina Coronado

Carolina Coronado was a Spanish writer and poet of the Romantic period in the 19th century.

She was born in 1820 in Extremadura. Her education was mostly focused on fashion and housework, but she was interested in literature.

black and white photograph portrait of Carolina Coronado.

In 1839, her first poem A la palma was published, in a newspaper called El Piloto. In 1843, a collection of her poetry was published with new versions re-published in 1852 and 1872. In addition to poetry, she published novels and plays.

Her work addressed diverse themes, with a strong criticism of social injustices and violence and prejudice towards women.

'En esta población tan vergonzosamente atrasada, fue un acontecimiento extraordinario el que una mujer hiciese versos, y el que los versos se pudiesen hacer sin maestro, los hombres los han graduado de copias y las mujeres, sin comprenderlos siquiera, me han consagrado por ellos todo el resentimiento de su envidia.'

'With this shamefully backward population, it was an extraordinary event that a woman wrote verses, and that the verses could be made without a teacher, the men have graded them as copies and the women, without even understanding them, have consecrated me with all their resentment and envy.'

Dora Gabe

Bulgarian Jewish author Dora Gabe published poetry, aimed at adults and children, as well as essays, short stories, translations and travel books.

She was born in 1888 in Dabovic, a village in rural north-eastern Bulgaria. Her father was the first Jewish person elected to the Bulgarian National Assembly. Dora attended high school in Varna, and university in Sofia. She also studied in France and Switzerland.

a black and white photograph of Dora Gabe.

Пролет ('Spring'), one of her first poems, was published in 1900 when Gabe was still a teenager. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, she wrote extensively. In 1922, she founded the Bulgarian-Polish Committee and served as its president for many years, fostering relationships between the two countries through the arts.

Today, Dora Gabe is regarded as one of the most successful Bulgarian poets and is respected for her art and charity.

'Тия ниви! Ечемиците лъкатушат. Окото трепери, като ги гледа, и вятърът тича по тях. Вятърът е весел и ляга по гръб, влачи се по зелената черга. Дига се, хуква и размътя зеленият цвят на най-далечната нива, чак оттатък белите облачни кълба... Нивите пеят. Всяко стръкче си излива гласа, а вятърът грабва песента.'

'Those fields! The barley is meandering. The eye trembles looking at them, and the wind rushes over them. The wind is cheerful and lies on its back, dragging along the green brush. It rises, runs and blurs the green of the farthest fields, all the way beyond the white balls of cloud… The fields sing. Each blade pours out its voice, and the wind grabs the song.'

Gabrielė Petkevičaitė-Bitė

Writer, educator and activist Gabrielė Petkevičaitė was a pioneer of women's rights in Lithuania.

Gabrielė was an active part of the Lithuanian National Revival, a cultural and political period in the history of Lithuania that led to the formation of the modern nation. In 1920, she chaired the first session of the first parliament of the independent state of Lithuania.

black and white photograph, five women sitting or standing around a table.

She wrote regular articles for Varpas, a monthly Lithuanian language newspaper. It was published despite the Lithuanian press ban, which prohibited Lithuanian language publications in the Russian Empire from 1865 to 1904.

In all, Gabrielė wrote around 400 articles to various newspapers under her pen-name Bitė, which means bee, as she had a keen interest in beekeeping.

'Tik sąmoningumui išsiplėtojus, sakant, žmogui iš kūdikio vystyklų išaugus, patiriame visi, kokia mes, kiekvienas skyrium, dulkelė pasaulyje, tiesiog nepastebimas pasaulio didybės atomas... Todėl nesipykdinkime, pastebėję vaikų ir jaunuolių savingumą. Tai paprastas gyvenimo kelias.'

'It is only as consciousness develops, as a human being grows out of a baby's nappy, so to speak, that we all experience what a speck of dust we are in the world, just an invisible atom of the world's greatness... So let us not get angry when we notice the selfishness of children and young people. It is a simple way of life.'