Women have been discriminated against since our ancestors dwelled in caves and chased hairy mammoths over cliffs. And it seems that this is a world-wide phenomenon, not unique to the East or the West, India, England, Nigeria or your neck of the woods.
The literary world has been no different and as a result some women have taken to donning breeches to hide their soft curves. At least with their pen names. Probably if Jane Austen had taken a leaf out of their books, she would have been better appreciated in her lifetime.
Louisa May Alcott
Although Little Women was published under Alcott’s own name, she started out writing as A.M. Barnard. Mr. Barnard was a regular contributor to Atlantic Monthly. He became a very notorious figure.This publicity might have helped Louisa May to get published under her own name later on. Miss Alcott used her influence to promote woman’s suffrage and civil rights. She was one of the earlier fighters for gender equality.
The Bronte sisters
“Literature cannot be the business of a woman’s life,” Robert Southey, the then British poet laureate advised the Bronte sisters. Charlotte and her two sisters then made the decision to publish their poetry under the names Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. In 1846, Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell saw the light.
Jane Eyre was also published by Currer Bell. Charlotte Bronte avoided the negative associations that plagued female authors. Today Jane Eyre is published under Bronte’s name, but it became a success under a man’s name.
Emily Bronte also published Wuthering Heights as her masculine alter ego, Ellis Bell. This secret was kept until after 1848 when Ellis was finally laid to rest. Emily’s name appeared on the cover for the first time in 1850, when Charlotte edited and published the book on her departed sister’s behalf.
Mary Ann Evans, aka George Eliot, purposely hid behind a male moniker to be taken seriously. Even though women were being published under their own names in the late 1800’s, they were thought of not being capable of producing much more than “lighthearted romances.”
It is true that she also wanted to avoid public scrutiny of her private live, which included an “interesting” relationship with a married man, but her main reasons were apparently literary.
George Eliot’s first published work was ironically titled Silly Novels by Lady Novelists, a book where the work being produced by women writers of the day was criticized. The question is whether Mary Ann Evans was being facetious or serious. What do you think?
Isak Denisen penned Out of Africa. It is thought that this twentieth century author, Karen Blixen, chose a male nom de plume more for her own privacy, rather than anything else. Since she was from a well-known Danish family, this is what she craved for.
To Kill a Mockingbird is a well-known exploration of racism in the United States. This Pulitzer winner was written by a white woman Nell Harper Lee. A white woman writing a novel that exposes white on black racism in the USA of 1960 would face a lot of negative publicity. You can appreciate her motivation, if this indeed was why she chose to not be Nell.
Nora Roberts has already attained success in the romance genre, before changing into a man. J.D. Robb is well-known for his “In Death” series. This detective series, a genre which is dominated by men, interestingly enough, features a female protagonist, Eva Dallas.
It is unclear why Nora masqueraded as a man, but most probably she wanted this series to stand on its own and not lean on her previous works.
I never knew this, but J.K. Rowling is a man’s name! The publishers worried that the Harry Potter series might not appeal to boys if they knew this was written by a “girl.” Joanne Rowling, desperate to be published, said that she did not mind what they called her as long as her books get published.
Level playing field
One would think that since the late twentieth century, at least, women should now be as publishable and reputable as their male counterparts. Just think of all the famous women authors of this era.
To name but a few, Jodi Picoult, Margaret Atwood, Stephenie Meyer, Danielle Steel, Patricia Cornwell, Hilary Mantel and many others, have reached success under their own personal feminine names.
Yet according to a 2010 survey carried out by Vida, an organization for women in Literary arts, women still get a raw deal. Generally books written by men are reviewed much more regularly than those written by women.
Referring to the above mentioned survey, it is safe to say that at least two-thirds of all reviewed books, in Britain and the US, have been written by men.
Even though there are still discrepancies between the way male and female authors are treated, we can see that there has also been quite a lot of progress. Has enough ground been covered? What do you think?