25 Historic Women Authors Who Used Male Pseudonyms Will Be Published Using Their Real Names
Twenty five female authors who used male pseudonyms will now have their works published under their real names, via an initiative by the Women’s Prize for Fiction to mark their 25th year. This project, called Reclaim Her Name, will produce freely available e-books and print copies for select libraries.
Writers use pseudonyms for various reasons. But, historically, women writers used male pseudonyms as a means to protect themselves from censure, violence, and to be taken more seriously. Even now, books written by women receive less responses from publishers and are priced lower than books by men.
One of the most famous examples of this phenomenon is Mary Ann Evans, who wrote under the name George Eliot. Philosopher George Lewis, Evans’ partner and manager, confessed that the initial idea behind the pseudonym was to make sure Evans’ work was judged without the prejudices that accompany works by women writers. Evans herself once wrote, “Whatever may be the success of my stories, I shall be resolute in preserving my incognito, having observed that a nom de plume (pseudonym) secures all the advantages without the disagreeables of reputation.”
The reputation in question was Evans’ own, as she was a woman, living with a married man as his mistress, while writing novels. In order to keep her scandalous lifestyle separate from her writing, she chose to write under a pseudonym. However, even though Evans’ identity later became an open secret, she continued to write under the name George Eliot, commanding fees and enjoying a reputation equal to the likes of Charles Dickens.
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Unlike Evans, women who wrote with their real names couldn’t escape bad faith critique. When people think of women writers in the 19th century, the Brontë sisters are some of the first that come to mind. However, they too chose to use pseudonyms later on, because, according to Charlotte Brontë, “Authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice; we had noticed how critics sometimes use for their chastisement the weapon of personality, and for their reward, a flattery, which is not true praise.” The Brontës wrote poetry under the names Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.
In this case, projects like Reclaim Her Name are valuable, because it is a reminder of how rich the history of women’s literature truly is. In the modern day, it is common to see women’s names on serious, ‘literary’ works. But, seeing Mary Ann Evans’ name on a political/societal novel like Middlemarch cuts through the generalized perception of women in the 19th century as either voiceless, or the sort to only write about ‘domestic’ issues. People have and will always read women, then and now. It’s time we honor the legacies they left behind by using their real names