THE classic novel To Kill a Mockingbird has been voted the most influential book ever written by a woman.
Harper Lee’s novel was awarded the title after thousands of readers voted in a social media competition, created by the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
The competition looked to highlight the most life-changing novel written by a female.
The campaign – launched this year with the support of a range of high-profile women including Jennifer Saunders, Susannah Reid and Kate Moss – asked readers across the UK to nominate the novel written by a woman that has had the most profound effect on their life.
Following thousands of submissions, To Kill a Mockingbird took the top spot, with Margaret Atwood’s dystopian The Handmaid’s Tale and Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre completing the top three. Edinburgh-based JK Rowling made fourth place with her Harry Potter novels.
To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960, follows three years in the life of the Finch family – Atticus, his son Jem and daughter Scout – in America’s deep south in the 1930s. Atticus is a lawyer and the story revolves around his defence of a black man, Tom Robinson, against the charge of raping a white girl, told through the eyes of his six-year-old-daughter Scout.
Meanwhile, Shami Chakrabarti was yesterday named as chair of the judges for next year’s Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.
Ms Chakrabarti, director of Liberty and Chancellor of Oxford Brookes University, revealed she voted for To Kill a Mockingbird and said that Lee’s novel gives hope to people across the world whose human rights are at risk.
She said: “With human rights under attack the world over, the enduring appeal of Harper Lee’s great tale gives hope that justice and equality might yet triumph over prejudice.”
Nearly half of the top 20 books were published before 1960, including Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women and Middlemarch by George Eliot.
Competition organisers said this confirms classic novels, many of which are taught at schools across the UK, continue to inspire readers today. A number of celebrities joined in a social media campaign to choose the best women’s book. JK Rowling picked 2012 Orange Prize winner The Song of Achilles, by Madeline Miller.
Musician Sharleen Spiteri agreed with Ms Chakrabarti on the power of To Kill a Mockingbird, hailing it as a book “you’ll pass on to people and recommend”, while historian Mary Beard selected the “unlikely romance” of Jane Eyre.
Former Orange Prize winner Lionel Shriver also appears on the list with We Need to Talk About Kevin, chosen by Good Morning Britain presenter Susannah Reid, while Game of Thrones star Gwendoline Christie singled out I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith.
The Baileys prize is the UK’s only annual book award for fiction written by a woman in English. It celebrates excellence, originality and accessibility in writing from all over the world.
The Baileys prize is in its 20th year and the judging panel is made up of five women. The full panel for 2015 will be announced in the autumn.
Lee only wrote one novel and in an interview after it was published said: “I never expected any sort of success with Mockingbird. I didn’t expect the book to sell in the first place.
“I was hoping for a quick and merciful death at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement, public encouragement.
“I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I’d expected.”
The book, which won the Pultizer Prize for fiction, was made into a 1962 film with the same title, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch.