When I see a book in a bookstore, I take it for granted that that author name listed with the title is the same one that appeared on the first edition. But that’s not always the case. Some writers withhold their names from a book’s original release because they don’t want the embarrassing content to be associated with the tamer works produced under their real names. Others are bound contractually to certain publication limits under specific names. But for a few women, especially in centuries past, it was all about being taken seriously.
Here are five such female authors who published their major works under assumed, and often male, names.
- Mary Ann Evans – I had never heard this woman’s name before, but her pen name, “George Eliot,” is world famous as the nom de plume affixed to the Victorian-era novel Middlemarch. She used the male moniker primarily to prevent readers from assuming that she was producing romance novels. Calling the book “Death, War, and Pestilence” might have helped as well.
- Charlotte Brontë – Today, readers easily associate the Brontë sisters (Charlotte, Emily, and Anne) with their Gothic prose and difficult lives. Clearly, the dots above the “e” in their last names were an attempt to put a happy face on their dark works. But originally, the names didn’t appear on their writings at all. Charlotte published her masterpiece, Jane Eyre, using the pseudonym “Currer Bell.” Emily and Anne followed suit, employing the names “Elias Bell” and “Acton Bell” respectively. Not to be outdone by her siblings, Charlotte also used the male manly masculine name “Lord Charles Albert Florian Wellesley” for another one of her books.
- Karen Blixen – The author of Out Of Africa published the book under the pen name “Isak Dineson.” Come to think of it, I can’t tell if that’s a man’s name or not. That’s all right, because she also wrote using the name “Pierre Andrézel” just to make it clear.
- Mary Chavelita Dunne Bright – In one of the strangest uses of a male pen name, Ms. Bright produced her short stories and novels under the name “George Egerton.” The use is strange because Bright was a notable “New Woman,” a late-nineteenth-century term for a feminist. She was an active suffragette, and held other typically feminist ideals.
- Louisa May Alcott – Known today for her friendship-themed chick-lit-esque Anne of Green Gables series Little Women, Alcott wrote some of her other works under the neuter name “A. M. Barnard.” But then again, she also used the pseudonym “Cousin Tribulation,” so perhaps she was just having fun with the reading public.
As for the author who didn’t wear any underwear at all, well, I can’t prove anything, but Lewis Grassic Gibbon, author of the Scots Quair trilogy, was from Scotland, and Scots sometimes wear kilts. Need I say more?
[Image Credits: Montgomery Ward, I think.]