With International Women’s Day around the corner, I decided to explore why women authors used male pseudonyms. This was prevalent in the 18th and 19th centuries, where many women felt the need to mask their true identities so that they would be taken seriously. From Louisa May Alcott, best known for her literary marvel “Little Women”(which thankfully was published under her real name) to the Bronte Sisters, who knew that the literary world was strongly prejudiced against female writers, many found freedom of expression cloaked in a man’s identity.
One would have thought that the world is less prejudiced today, yet when J.K.Rowling, the creator of Harry Potter, turned out to be Joanna Rowling, many wondered why the much acclaimed author of a record breaking epic series, shied away from writing under her real name. Wondering whether her stories would be accepted by her target audience- young boys, she decided to listen to her publishers and use her initials instead. As she had no middle name, she chose K (for “Kathleen”) as the second initial of her pen name, from her paternal grandmother. She further went and wrote her detective thriller The Cuckoo’s Calling, as Robert Galbraith, again for reasons best known to her. Sales soared, when it came out that it was Rowling again, who brought Comoran Strike to life.
Digging in deeper to understand how far rooted this trend was, a whole new plethora of literary marvels opened up. Some may have felt intimidated, hence resorted to male names to skirt past discrimination, but there were many who wrote as themselves, even in times when it was literally a man’s world. History is proof that women have always been writers, creators of fine literary treasures. Now, with publicists, agents and the social media the world is a different and it’s much easier to make your name as a writer. But, in centuries past, when women were neither seen nor heard, a few rose and made a niche for themselves on their own terms and in their own names.
It is to these women, that my 8th of March,2015 is dedicated. May the pen of a woman always create beauty, wisdom and love.
Sappho, of the Isle of Lesbos, shines through the fragments of antiquity, just like her lyrical poems. What remains of her poetry, are fragments which have been pieced together painstakingly to bring out the artistic flair of her exuberant and enchanting style. Melodies from 600 BCE can be heard today and Sappho stands tall even today.
“O Venus, beauty of the skies,
To whom a thousand temples rise,
Gaily false in gentle smiles,
Full of love-perplexing wiles;
O goddess, from my heart remove
The wasting cares and pains of love”
Ancient China, with its edifices, porcelain, silks and logograms mesmerises the world even today. In this strongly patriarchal society, women were neither seen nor heard. In a man’s world where Astronomy, Mathematics, Politics, Poetry and Prose determined the stature, Ban Zhao peeked out from behind the shadows and made her mark. As a teacher in the royal court in 100 CE, she gained political influence and prominence. Known as the first female Chinese historian, she is credited with Lessons for Women, an advice manual for women of that period- teaching them the art of being submissive!!!! She became China’s most famous female writer; the Ban Zhao crater on Venus named after her.
For Christine de Pizan, writing came naturally and this medieval author wrote poetry and prose to support herself and her three children. She served as a court writer in medieval Franceand her work reflected her astute knowledge of aristocratic custom and fashion Christine’s view on mythology, legend and history gave her a niche over other writers during that period. This Italian French author,is best known for her famous literary works, The Book of the City of Ladies and The Treasure of the City of Ladies. While the first brings to light the past contributions of women to society during the medieval period, the latter works as a guide to women in 14th century on how to imbibe the qualities from the first one. Her practical advice for women in that period was sought after. According to her, “Rhetoric is a powerful tool that women could employ to settle differences and to assert themselves”.
Often credited with being the first woman writer to earn a living by her pen, Aphra Behn started writing plays for the London Theatre to support herself. Having spied for the British crown and being imprisoned for debts once she returned to London, she saw writing plays, poems and then novels, as a safer way to sustain herself in 17th Century Britain. Her story, The Royal Slave written in 1688 narrates the tale of an African prince forced into slavery in Surinam. With more than fifteen plays to her credit, Behn along with Eliza Haywood and Delarivier Manley is regarded as one of the most influential writers of 17th and 18th century. This “Fair Triumvirate of Wit” died a pauper despite her success as a writer in her lifetime.
DID YOU KNOW???
|Famous Novel||Pen Name||Real Name|
|Fifty Shades of Gray||E.L.James||Erika Leonard|
|The Hardy Boys||Franklin W. Dixon||Leslie McFarlane|
|Out of Africa||Isak Denisen||Karen Blixen|
|The Mill on the Floss||George Eliot||Mary Ann Evans|
|In Death series||J.D.Robbs||Nora Roberts|
|The Townsman||John Sedges||Pearl S. Buck|