Weird Women of Fiction

weird women in fiction


Women writers are coming to the fore when it comes to the bizarro world of weird fiction…

Historically speaking, women have rarely discovered fame as often as their male counterparts. We all know of Mary Shelley and Margaret Atwood, but what of Charlotte Perkins Gilman or Alice Sheldon? And who are the new weird and wonderfuls slithering under the radar? It’s about time we invited them for tea and biscuits.

weird women writers

Victorian writer Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’ is must-read eerie, startling feminist fiction. Edgy stuff. Haunts you for decades.

Charlotte Perkins Gilman was a successful writer during the late Victorian period. The birth of her first child, however, saw her nerves begin to suffer. She was prescribed ‘the rest cure’, a treatment she explores with terrifying detail in short story ‘The Yellow Wallpaper.’

Dosed up on ‘phosphates’ – strong codeine – and forbidden to do anything other than lie in bed, her marbles began to jangle. When her husband finally allowed her to write again she produced her most famous story, angrily sending a copy to her doctor. It worked; he refrained from ever suggesting rest cure again.

The sixties brought free love, psychedelia and sea monkeys, but for some the change was all too slow. James Tiptree Jr. wrote dark and complex science fiction stories and was often complimented for his portrayal of women. There was a good reason for this -– his real name was Alice B Sheldon.

weird women writers

Science fiction writer Alice B Sheldon chose the nom de plume of James Tiptree Jr.

At the time women in genre fiction weren’t taken seriously, and Sheldon was quoted as saying in the late seventies, “I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”

She isn’t the first to have hidden her gender in this way. Gabrielle Campbell, better known under the pseudonym Marjorie Bowen, released many supernatural tales as Joseph Shearing and was even described by the New Yorker as “a master of horror.” Many of her stories have since been made into films, and most people are now aware of her gender.

These days, one needs only to look to the world of manga for a fix of odd. Never a culture to shy away from the strange, Japan has produced a number of women comic writers including Clamp, an all-female collective whose comics are often adapted into anime. Yana Taboso‘s series Black Butler, featuring a demon employed by a young boy, has also been produced into a fully-fledged anime film.

weird women writers

Art: Bizarro Magazine issue 3

Equally ‘out there’ is the Bizarro genre. Described as the ‘literary equivalent of a midnight movie’, there are many women bizarro enough to contribute – and yes, actually run things.

Rose O’Keefe is the head of publisher Eraserhead Press and Constance Fitzgerald co-edits at the Bizarro Central website, to name a couple. With titles like How to Eat Fried Furries and Placenta of Love it’s possibly not the kind of storytelling you’re used to…

Thus concludes our journey around some of the strong women of strange and unusual fiction. Try not to feed them as you go past, don’t throw things, and remember that necromancy is illegal. Probably.


Try Skein Island by Aliya Whitely.

Main illustration: Bizarro Magazine issue 2