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I read every book Maeve Wiley references in Sex Education

Sex Education on Netflix is one of my all-time favourite series and, in honour of Season 3 finally coming out today, I thought I'd read (nearly) every book Maeve Wiley references in the series.

Maeve is one of my favourite characters and, throughout both seasons, she's constantly reading or talking about books, saying her thing is "complex female characters". So I wanted not only to see why she loved these books but also how I liked them, as someone who rarely reads the classics.

The first thing I noticed about Maeve's taste is that it is incredibly diverse when it comes to the format. We have essays, plays, lengthy novels, short stories collections and, with every book, I could see not only a relation to her story as a whole but also how Maeve has some traits from the characters' personalities.

I started with As You Like It by William Shakespeare. The main plot of the play is about Rosalind and her cousin escaping into a forest and finding Orlando, Rosalind's love. Disguised as a boy shepherd, Rosalind has Orlando woo her to pretend to cure him of his love for Rosalind, later revealing herself. Unfortunately, this was my least favourite of his works, but I can see how Rosalind is considered one of Shakespeare's best heroines. She's headstrong (as headstrong as she could be back then) and goes after what she wants.

We also have another two of Shakespeare's works mentioned in the series, as part of that year's required reading. Much Ado About Nothing, a comedy following two romantic pairings that emerge when a group of soldiers arrive in town. While Claudio and Hero's romance is threatened by Don John, Benedick and Beatrice are tricked into falling in love with each other. There was a lot of banter and, as we'll see from every book in this list, the recurring theme of female characters not conforming to what's expected of them.

She also reads Othello, a tragedy following Cassio, who's gotten a job promotion instead of Iago. Because of this, Iago seeks revenge and decides to undermine Cassio's relationship with their boss, Othello, by claiming he has a relationship with Othello's wife. In the end, it's a clear picture of how Desdemona's life was ruined by the whims of men, and how women had to grasp at whichever power they had. I also loved Emilia, Iago's wife and Desdemona's attendant. She's not only witty but imposing in a most refreshing way, not taking any bullshit from her husband. I absolutely loved this, but also loved to read both Othello and Much Ado through Maeve's lens. In the series, Maeve writes an essay on Shakespeare's relationship to female empowerment, examining this topic through the theme of marriage. She relates the women in Much Ado to Desdemona, and how these characters exercise the only power they have by choosing who they'll marry, against the better judgement of their families.

Throughout the series, Maeve also talks about Jane Austen as a whole, mentioning that her favourite work is Lady Susan, which she calls a "severely underrated piece of feminist literature". Lady Susan is a short novel, and the story is written through letters, depicting the life of Lady Susan, who's constantly involved with different men. I thought it was very interesting how the main character simply didn't care about people's opinion of her affairs and how, despite the shortness and the formal of the novel, we get to see how incredibly bold she is for her time.

We also see two other Jane Austen works in the series, Emma, that I sadly didn't manage to get to, and Pride and Prejudice, which I loved. I've always avoided the 2005 film adaptation like the plague because I knew I wanted to read the book first and I'm so glad I did. In this story, we follow the Bennets, a family whose main focus is marrying at least one of their five daughters well, seen as their estate could only be passed to a (nonexistent) male heir. After a new bachelor, Mr Bingley, has moved to their town for the season, accompanied by his dear friend, Mr Darcy, we see the relationship between the families and how the story focuses on marrying for love rather than wealth. Elizabeth Bennet is probably one of the most beloved female characters of all time, and I absolutely understood why. I see a lot of her resilience and boldness in Maeve, and here I am wishing Maeve's relationship with Otis has the same ending as Elizabeth's relationship with Mr Darcy. Honestly loved everything about this book and I'm so happy to have finally read it.

The next book I read was The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and I cannot express how amazing this book is. The Bell Jar follows Esther, a young girl working on a fashion magazine, and we follow her mental health slowly deteriorating. I'm not usually triggered by books, but this was surprisingly triggering for me. Because Sylvia Plath struggled with her mental health (it was what eventually ended her life), the depiction of depression is so absolutely accurate that it did end up triggering my own for a bit. The writing is phenomenal and, while listening to the audiobook, I couldn't help but feel like I was in the story with this character. Everything is so intricately detailed, I truly felt like I was in the main character's head, seeing what she was seeing, living what she was living. This book was marvellous and one I know I'll keep thinking about. One of my favourites from this list for sure.

Staying with books I absolutely adored, we have Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri, a short story collection following the life of multiple Indian-American women. Each story is impactful in its own way and I absolutely loved all of them. My favourite thing was Jhumpa Lahiri's writing though. It's so immersive and beautiful, I was hooked from the very beginning. I loved reading about these women of all walks of life and felt connected to almost all of the characters, something that rarely happens to me when reading short stories.

Maeve's favourite author is George Eliot, so I read both books mentioned in the series. Starting with the one that shows up multiple times throughout both seasons, Middlemarch. This is George Eliot's most famous work, and it's about the citizens of this fictional town called Middlemarch, with everyone's lives intersecting. I will say, reading this was a bit exhausting. This book is huge and the writing is so dense, it took me a while to get through it and, even then, I often had to listen to the audiobook. I enjoyed it though, and from the very start, I could see how the female characters, particularly Dorothea, defied the expectations placed upon her. Although naive at times, she had strong beliefs and didn't budge on her opinions. Even though back then, women had so few choices, I really loved seeing how these characters would go against society to do what they thought was right, and I believe that's what Maeve loves about them as well.

We also have Silas Marner by George Eliot, about a weaver named Silas Marner who's wrongfully accused of theft and decides to isolate himself in the town of Raveloe. There, Silas ends up adopting and raising a little girl he calls Eppie. With both books, I could see that George Eliot's writing style is incredibly descriptive and so very detailed. Her stories focus a lot on the characters' personalities and relationships to one another, and although they weren't my personal favourites, I can see how they'd pick an iconic author like George Eliot to be the most recurring throughout Maeve's story.

We then have the OG feminist piece of literature, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman by Mary Wollstonecraft. This is basically an essay defending how women should receive proper education because that would make them better citizens. I was slightly annoyed, however, when I noticed a recurring theme in the book depicting the concept that men are the ideal, and a woman's education is yet another thing that would benefit them. Nonetheless, it's still a very important essay defending women's education and, for the 18th century, it was groundbreaking. I can totally see how this is part of Maeve's characterisation and why our favourite feminist has this on her nightstand. It shows the beginnings of feminism and how women were pushing for equality at that time.

And lastly, but definitely not least, is A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. This is slightly similar in theme to the previous one but I loved it so very much. In this essay, Virginia Woolf talks about how there really aren't any fiction works by women before the 18th century, and she relates this to the fact that, before then, women didn't really have any resources in order to write. The theme she reaffirms throughout the essay, and its most famous line is that "a woman must have money and a room of one's own if she is to write". She basically talks about how women need support and stability in order to write, and that they didn't write because they didn't have the conditions in which to do so. I really related this to Maeve's own life, how, even though she hasn't grown up in the best environment, she carves a path for herself and show that she won't be defined by the circumstances in which she was brought up.

Honestly, what I noticed when making this blog post is simply how immaculate Maeve's taste is. I have found so many amazing books I wouldn't have read otherwise (not in a near future anyway) and I'm honestly surprised by how much I liked most of them. It's also made me appreciate her as a character even more, not only by reading what inspires her, but also when looking at the authors themselves. These writers went against all odds to pursue what they believed in and I can definitely see their resilience in Maeve. It just made me love her even more and I can't wait to see what she gets to in Season 3 and what other books she reads. Who knows, maybe it'll even lead me to make a part two to this post.




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