Emma Watson has made her name as two very famous bookworms – Hermione Granger, from the Harry Potter films, and Beauty and the Beast’s Belle. And, as UN Goodwill Ambassador, she is also renowned for her incredible work with and for women all around the world.
So it should come as no surprise to learn that she’s combined her two greatest passions – books and feminism – to curate her very own essential feminist reading list.
Watson was asked to join the team behind the Unsilencing the Library project at Compton Verney Art Gallery and Park in Warwickshire, which reimagines the Women’s Library originally created by Georgiana Verney, wife of the reclusive 17th Lord Willoughby de Broke, in 1860.
An enthusiastic champion of women’s reading, women’s education and ultimately, women’s suffrage, Verney designed a “mock library”: it featured a set of imitation book covers to symbolise the absence of real books available to women at that time.
Now, at last, those shelves have been filled – and Watson has been placed in charge of a bookshelf, which she has filled with her 10 essential feminist reads.
- The Argonauts – Maggie Nelson
- My Life on the Road – Gloria Steinem
- Half the Sky – Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn
- The Vagina Monologues – Eve Ensler
- Persepolis: The Story of Childhood – Marjane Satrapi
- Mom & Me & Mom – Maya Angelou
- Women Who Run With Wolves – Clarissa Pinkola Estes
- The Color Purple – Alice Walker
- How to be a Woman – Caitlin Moran
- The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
The titles will be familiar to followers of Watson’s digital book club, Our Shared Shelf, as she has waxed lyrical about the tomes before (not to mention hidden some of them on the London Underground for commuters to stumble across).
Speaking about The Handmaid’s Tale (all the more timely a choice, considering the popularity of the TV show and the current war on women’s rights across the world), the actor said: “Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale is a gripping read, but it won't make you feel comfortable.
“It is set in a dystopian future where a society (which was once clearly the USA) is ruled by a fundamentalist religion that controls women's bodies.
“Because fertility rates are low, certain women – who have proved they are fertile – are given to the Commanders of the Republic of Gilead as 'handmaids' in order to bear children for them when their wives cannot.”
Watson continued: “Margaret Atwood wrote The Handmaid's Tale over 30 years ago now, but it is a book that has never stopped fascinating readers because it articulates so vividly what it feels like for a woman to lose power over her own body.”
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On Women Who Run with the Wolves, Watson said: “[When this book] was first published in 1993, it created a furore about the idea of the Wild Woman archetype and how women had lost our connection to our natural, instinctual selves.
“Estes' ideas are both ancient and completely new. She points to storytelling, our ancient narratives, as a way for women to reconnect to the Wild Woman all women have within themselves, but have lost.”
She concluded: “Estes retells ancient myths and fairy tales from around the world and in doing so shines a light on a path which leads us back to our natural state – and help us restore the power we carry within us.”
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Speaking about The Vagina Monologues, Watson had this to say: “This book isn't strictly just a book – it's a play that became a political movement that became a worldwide phenomenon.
“Just say the title The Vagina Monologues and, even now, 20 years after Eve Ensler first performed her groundbreaking show, the words feel radical. I'm very excited about spending the months of January and February reading and discussing a book/play that has literally changed lives.
“I'm so interested to see which monologues we all like best, and which ones still shock us. Has the world moved on in 20 years, or are there still aspects of women's sexuality we can't talk about, through our own fears or because others try to stop us?”
How to be a Woman is one of the funnier tomes on the list – but no less important.
“I read this on a plane from London to New York: I laughed out loud and cried so much, I think the whole of my cabin (airline staff included) thought I was losing my mind,” Watson said.
Watson’s books will be freely available to read in the Compton Verney library from next week and will also be on sale in the museum shop.
Dr Sophie Ratcliffe, project leader at Oxford University’s Research Centre for the Humanities, said: “Researching Georgiana’s Victorian ‘shelfie’ has been fascinating and is an inspiring model for the exhibition.
“What’s struck me, working on this project, is how the common thread of reading can draw diverse communities together. The choices are wonderfully various – but they end up showing us how much we have in common.”