Feminist long fiction features female characters whose quest for self-agency leads to conflict with a traditionally masculinist and patriarchal society. These novels have been harshly criticized and dismissed—and even ridiculed—for their nontraditional female characters.
Feminist ideology in the Western world traces its roots to the late eighteenth century. One particular work considered foundational to feminism is A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, with Strictures on Political and Moral Subjects (1792), by English writer Mary Wollstonecraft (1759-1797). Not until the twentieth century, more than one hundred years later, would women begin to reap some of the benefits of a long campaign for basic human rights. Feminism led to radical changes for women in politics, the public sphere, the workplace, the home, and the cultural realm, including the arts and literature. Popular literature, especially, began to reflect women’s previously silenced voices.
As early as the end of the seventeenth century, however, women were publishing works of literature. Aphra Behn (1640-1689), likely the first Englishwoman to support herself through writing, published the highly popular Oroonoko: Or, The History of the Royal Slave (1688), a prose romance. This novel was the first in English to express sympathy for the plight of slaves.