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Women have been writing under male pen names since before the Victorian age. And for some, especially during times when women had limited choices and freedom, it was the only way to publish their work.
Here are five famous female authors that wrote under male pen names and whose works became wildly successful.
Emily Brontë stands as perhaps the most famous Brontë sister, being the author of the English classic, “Wuthering Heights.” As poets during the Victorian era, the one obstacle in the sisters’ way to authentic publishing and recognition was the fact that they were women. Collectively, they published their work under the last name Bell. Charlotte went by Currer Bell, Emily went by Ellis Bell and Anne went by Acton Bell, keeping their real initials. It has been noted that in choosing their pen names, the sisters sought out Christian names that were gender ambiguous but would be assumed as male by the public. Charlotte has been quoted saying, “We had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice.”
Louisa May Alcott, famously known for her novel “Little Women,” published many stories under the pen name A.M. Barnard. While “Little Women” was published under her real name, many of her stories were considered “unladylike” in the Victorian age. Her solution was to publish them under a secret male pseudonym. The fact that Louisa May Alcott was publishing under the name A.M. Barnard was not uncovered until the 1940s.
Mary Ann Evans is the author of the popular novel, “Middlemarch.” As a woman in the Victorian period, she adopted the male pseudonym, George Elliot, in an effort to discourage female discrimination as an author. She also worked as an assistant editor at Westminster Review.
Alice Bradley Sheldon was a mid-20th century science fiction author who wrote under the male pseudonym of James Tiptree Jr. However, her resume does not stop at authoring novels. According to NPR, Sheldon worked for the CIA, had a Ph.D. in experimental psychology and was published in the New Yorker. As established as she was, she stuck to her male pseudonym. She has been quoted saying, “a male name seemed like a good camouflage. I had the feeling that a man would slip by less observed. I’ve had too many experiences in my life of being the first woman in some damned occupation.”
While we all now know J.K. Rowling as the female author of the “Harry Potter” series, it should be known that she intentionally chose ambiguity by using her initials. Rowling’s publisher felt that the young male demographic of “Harry Potter” would be disjointed if the author was presented under an obvious female name. Apart from that decision, J.K. Rowling also published “The Cuckoo’s Calling” in 2013 under the male pseudonym of Robert Galbraith. She made this decision with the hope of receiving honest feedback as a writer without the hype and expectation of her “Harry Potter” success overshadowing the book.