So many women past and present have hidden behind a male pseudonym when publishing their writing – famously, in the 1840s, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë were published as Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell and more recently (1990s) Joanne Rowling was told using her initials to mask her gender would ensure better sales at a young male target demographic and later went on to write crime under a male pseudonym, Robert Galbraith.
The fact that a female author is not treated the same as a male author (even today) is quite shocking proof that feminism is still required.
One prize organisation is attempting to give women back their name – by finally publishing the works of some male pen-name using writers under their birth names.
In celebration of the 25th year of the Women’s Prize for Fiction (sponsored by Baileys), the organisation are releasing a set of books highlighting the women behind their male pen names and they are doing so for free.
That’s right. These books are available in ebook form and are totally free on their website.
Some beautiful box sets are also being printed and issued to libraries for free.
25 books written by women but known to the public under male names – the most famous in the collection being Mary Ann Evans – whose novel Middlemarch was voted the Best British Novel of All Time (2015)
I’m surprised at myself for not knowing many of the works on this list but I’m grateful for the opportunity to read them now and appreciate the women behind the books.
The full list is as follows:
1) Middlemarch (1871-2) by Mary Ann Evans (formerly known as George Eliot) [novel]
2) Marie of the Cabin Club (1939) by Ann Petry (Arnold Petry) [novella]
3) Attila, My Attila! (1896) by Edith Cooper and Katherine Bradley (Michael Field) [play]
4) A Phantom Lover (1886) by Violet Paget (Vernon Lee) [novella]
5) Indiana (1832) by Amantine Aurore Dupin (George Sand) [novel]
6) Keynotes (1893) by Mary Bright (George Egerton) [short story collection]
7) A Diplomat’s Diary (1891) by Julia Cruger (Julien Gordon) [novella]
8) The History of Sir Richard Calmady (1901) by Mary Kingsley (Lucas Malet) [novel]
9) Valerie Aylmer (1870) by Frances Tiernan (Christian Reid) [novel]
10) Some Emotions and a Moral (1905) by Pearl Richards (John Oliver Hobbes) [novel]
11) Cecilia de Noël (1891) by Mary Hawker (Laine Falconer) [novel]
12) Echoes from Mist-land (1889) by Aubertine Woodward Moore (Auber Forestier) [novel]
13) Iras: A Mystery (1896) by Henrietta Everett (Theo Douglas) [novel]
14) Twilight (1916) by Julia Frankau (Frank Danby) [novel]
15) Ye Game and Play of Chesse and Other Stories by Alice Dunbar Nelson (Monroe Wright)
16) Takekurabe ‘Growing Up’ (1896) by Natsu Higuchi (Ichiyou Higuchi) [novella]
17) The Head of Medusa (1880) by Julia Fletcher (George Fleming) [novel]
18) The Life of Martin R Delany (1868) by Frances Rollin Whipper (Frank A Rollin) [biography]
19) Garden of Kama (1901) by Violet Nicolson (Laurence Hope) [poetry]
20) Atla: Story of the Lost Island (1886) by Ann Smith (J Gregory Smith) [novel]
21) For Our Country by Fatemeh Farahani (Shahein Farahani) [poetry]
22) The Roadmender (1902) by Margaret Fairless Barber (Michael Fairless) [novella]
23) Painted Clay (1917) by Doris Boake Kerr (Capel Boake) [novel]
24) The Silence of Dean Maitland (1886) by Mary Tuttiett (Maxwell Gray) [novel]
25) How White Men Assist in Smuggling Chinamen Across the Border in Puget Sound Country by Edith Maude Eaton (Mahlon T Wing)
This collection is not without controversy.
Many critics have brought up the fact that some of these authors used their pen names as an authorial intent, and that we cannot assume they felt forced into using a male name. Some may have preferred it or may have used it as a form of self expression and using their birth name could be akin to dead naming a trans person (though there is no evidence that any of these people were trans – except for perhaps Vernon Lee/Violet Paget who dressed “à la garçonne”, was a lesbian, and her pseudonym was used both professional AND personally.
There has also been criticism regarding the panel selecting the works and the lack of expertise involved in the selection.
You can read more about the criticism on this blog post by Olivia Rutigliano at LitHub.
For all the issues with such a collection, I am at least grateful that the majority of this collection is not mainstream, well publicised works but in fact often out of print obscure works that could do with a bit of a spotlight.
In writing this blog post I have already learned a lot about the people behind these texts and I look forward to reading more widely.
There is a range of genres and styles, poetry, novels and novella, short story collections, fiction, non-fiction from people of many ethnicities. The bulk of the works are from a span of about 100 years (1832-1939) – which I luckily have no issue with!
I can’t wait to start reading this collection and learning more about the authors.
If you want to read them too, you can download the ebooks here!