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Born Edith Newbold Jones, Edith Wharton was an American novelist and short-story writer who won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence (1920). She grew up as a member of a distinguished New York family and married a wealthy banker, Edward Wharton, in 1885. Wharton began writing a few years after her marriage, exploring the bitter realities of New York society in novels such as The House of Mirth (1905). She is perhaps best known for Ethan Frome (1911), a novella set in rural New England.

Gustave Flaubert was a French novelist who is best known today for his novel, Madame Bovary (1857). At the age of 22, Flaubert decided to abandon his law studies to become a writer instead. The publication of Madame Bovary, a sharply realistic story about an adulterous wife from the bourgeois class, led to his trial on charges of immorality (Flaubert was later acquitted). An expert on French realism, Flaubert attained widespread acclaim for his devotion to finding the exact word (le mot juste) and achieving complete objectivity.

Jane Austen was an English novelist who is well known today for her comic accounts of love among the landed gentry. Her family was large but close-knit, and she grew particularly close to her father and her older sister, Cassandra. She wrote six full-length novels: Sense and Sensibility (1811), Pride and Prejudice (1813), Mansfield Park (1814), Emma (1815), Persuasion (1817), and Northanger Abbey (1817). Her writing is often praised for its wit, realism, and sympathetic exploration of women’s social and economic standing at the time.

Born in London and educated at Cambridge, Edmund Spenser was a major English poet during the Renaissance. His first important work, The Shepheardes Calender, was published around 1579. Shortly thereafter, he was posted to Ireland to serve as secretary for the Lord Deputy, Arthur Grey. There, he wrote most of his masterpiece, The Faerie Queene (1590), an allegorical poem which glorifies the reign of Elizabeth I and imaginatively pits the forces of Protestantism against the threat of Catholicism.

John Milton was an English poet most famous for his epic poem in blank verse, Paradise Lost (1667). Milton was a prominent supporter of Oliver Cromwell and held public office under the Commonwealth of England. During this time, however, he steadily lost his eyesight. After the Restoration of Charles II to the throne in 1660, the now-blind Milton was stripped of his public title and spent the rest of his life in seclusion, where he completed his major works of poetry.

Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most important poets of the Middle Ages. He developed the legitimacy of the vernacular, Middle English, during a time when literature was dominated by French and Latin. As such, he is known to many today as the Father of English literature. His best-known work, The Canterbury Tales (1475), weaves together the lively stories of various pilgrims making their way to Canterbury Cathedral.

Marie Curie was a Polish physicist and chemist who completed the majority of her research in France. In 1903, Curie and her husband, Pierre Curie, and their partner, physicist Henri Becquerel, were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their compiled research on radiation. Curie was the first woman to be awarded a Nobel Prize. In 1911, she won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for her discovery of the elements radium and polonium. During the First World War, Curie used her scientific knowledge to assist the Red Cross. She produced x-ray equipment and helped to establish France’s first military radiology centre. It is believed that Curie’s death, in 1934, was a result of her long-term exposure to radiation.

Simone de Beauvior was a French writer, feminist and existentialist philosopher. She is best known for her novel, She Came to Stay (1943), her treatise, The Second Sex (1949), and her long-term relationship with fellow existentialist philosopher, Jean-Paul Sartre. In The Second Sex de Beauvior argues that women are as capable of choice as men and are therefore able to move beyond the ‘immanence’ and reach ‘transcendence’. Previous philosophers had believed that women were not able to reach this position of freedom, choice and responsibility.

Hannah Arendt was a German-American political theorist. She believed that philosophy described ‘man in the singular’ and referred to her work as that of political theory because it related to all of the men who inhabit the world. Arendt wrote several books throughout her life, the most influential and well-known work being The Human Condition (1958), which develops her theory of political action in relation to the existence of a public realm.

Anne Boleyn was the second wife of Henry VIII of England. As a result of their marriage and the nullification of Henry’s first marriage to Catherine of Aragon, the Pope excommunicated Henry and thus instigated the first break between the Church of England and Rome. In 1533, shortly after being crowned Queen of England, Anne gave birth to Elizabeth I, the future Queen of England. After three miscarriages and no male heirs, Anne was arrested for treason and sent to the Tower of London. She was found guilty and beheaded in May of 1536. During the reign of her daughter, Elizabeth I, Anne was revered as a martyr and heroine of the English Reformation.