It’s A Man’s, Man’s, Man’s Name for a Woman Writer

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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

Louisa_May_Alcott_headshot

Wikipedia

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 Act16770602295_6ae11cd887_non 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.

George Eliot

14888525980_dffa0d0947_n 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

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.

Harper Lee

Nelle_Harper_Lee

Wikipedia

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.

J.D. Robb

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.

J.K. Rowling

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Wikipedia

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?

3 Comments

  1. Reblogged this on Booknomics and commented:

    Of women writers and their pen names…

  2. Love this! Louisa May Alcott is one of my favorite female writers. She was rather progressive, and she stood up for what she believed in by use of the medium accessible at her fingertips.

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