Virginia Woolf famously said, ‘I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.’ And she was probably right. Female writers have written under pseudonyms since time immemorial, occasionally out of a desire for anonymity, but usually in order to have their work read by a wider audience, or, in some cases, accepted for publication at all.
In 2015, Catherine Nichols wrote an article for Jezebel.com in which she outlined the drastically different responses she received to her novel manuscript when she sent it out under her name and then again under the male pseudonym George Leyer.
I sent the six queries I had planned to send that day. Within 24 hours George had five responses—three manuscript requests and two warm rejections praising his exciting project. For contrast, under my own name, the same letter and pages sent 50 times had netted me a total of two manuscript requests… Total data: George sent out 50 queries, and had his manuscript requested 17 times. He is eight and a half times better than me at writing the same book.
Fairly depressing, to say the least, and that was only two years ago. It’s pretty easy to see why women have been using male pen-names for hundreds of years. The following is a list of some of the most famous female authors who wrote under male names.
Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Brontë – Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell.
Anne, Emily, and Charlotte Brontë, revered as some of the greatest novelists of all time, originally published their work under the pseudonyms Acton, Ellis, and Currer Bell. In 1846, the three published a collection of poetry Poems by Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. Their decision to do this was ‘dictated by a sort of conscientious scruple at assuming Christian names positively masculine, while we did not like to declare ourselves women, because… we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.’ They went on to publish their novels, including Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights, under these names as well.
Mary Anne Evans – George Eliot
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Most famous for her novel Middlemarch, Evans said that she did so because of the following observation:
By a peculiar thermometric adjustment, when a woman’s talent is at zero, journalistic approbation is at the boiling pitch; when it attains mediocrity it is already no more than summer heat; and if she ever reaches excellence, critical enthusiasm drops to the freezing point.
Joanne Rowling – J. K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith.
Even the most successful female author of all time has used male or ambiguous pseudonyms. The Harry Potter author’s publishers advised her to use initials instead of her first name as they anticipated that the intended audience of young boys may not want to read a book written by a woman.
Via The Daily Touch
In 2013, Rowling published The Cuckoo’s Calling, a crime novel, under the name Robert Galbraith. She did this in order to see how far she could get without relying on the success she had already had, however her true identity was revealed just weeks after its publication. Carmela Ciuraru, author of Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms.”Sadly in certain genres, it still helps to be a man — particularly in crime or science fiction,” she told CNN. “Sometimes it’s easier to be taken seriously as a man, and J.K. Rowling is in a difficult position as her reputation means that her work can’t be judged on merit alone.”
Louisa May Alcott – A. M. Barnard
The Little Women author initially used a male pseudonym in order to get her sensational gothic stories published at a time when such tales were deemed unladylike. In Little Women, Jo, the character based on Alcott herself, also does this. According to The Culture Trip, Alcott published ‘A Long Fatal Love Chase, a dark love story written two years prior to Little Women, and the novella Behind a Mask, with themes of social class and manipulation,’ both under the Barnard pen name.
Nelle Harper Lee – Harper Lee
By leaving off the recognizably female first name, Lee’s name left her gender ambiguous. Though the novel’s central character is a young girl, To Kill a Mockingbird deals with broad themes such as racism and classism, and much of the novel’s action is carried by strong male characters such as Atticus Finch and so the novel was not seen as particularly feminine.
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