Historically, there has been a major disparity in the treatment of male authors in comparison to female authors. In an attempt to counteract this, some female authors publish under male or gender-neutral pseudonyms in order to avoid any potential sexist or misogynistic discrimination. One of the most well-known examples of this would be JK Rowling, author of the Harry Potter novels, who thought by hiding that she was a female author, more young boys would want to read her books.
The Women’s Prize for Fiction is a prestigious U.K. prize awarded each year to a female author who has published a full-length novel in the previous year. It can be awarded to any woman of any nationality who has published a book in English, within the time frame in question. The prize was set up in 1996, in order to “celebrate originality, accessibility and excellence in writing by women and connect world-class writers with readers everywhere”.
This year marks the 25th anniversary of the prize; to celebrate this milestone, a collection of twenty-five novels by women, that were previously published under male or gender-neutral aliases, will be re-issued with the authors’ real names. The titles will be available to download for free as eBooks and physical copies will be donated to the British Library – however, they are not available to buy.
Many of the books to be released in the “Reclaim her Name” initiative date back to the nineteenth century. The intention behind having the real names on the front covers of the novels is to give these women the credit and visibility which they did not receive within their lifetimes. The collection includes novels such as A Phantom’s Lover by Violet Paget (male alias: Vernon Lee), and The History of Sir Richard Calmady by Mary Kingsley (male alias: Lucas Malet). Each book that is included in the selection has been given a cover update by female illustrators from countries all over the world including Brazil, Russia, Jordan and Germany.
The daughter of Ann Petry, one of the women whose work is featured in the selection, stated: “When I was asked if my mother’s work could be included within such a worthy collection of books along with other impressive female writers, I was honoured. I’m incredibly proud of my mother’s work and it excites me that her writing has been introduced to a new audience through this collection. I know she would be thrilled to be a part of this as it’s an incredible conversation starter for such an important cause – my mother always believed in a world with shared humanity and I think this project encapsulates that.”
I believe this to be a very necessary celebration, and an opportunity to remember the journeys and trials of female authors past and present whose lives and careers have helped shape modern literature into what it is today.
It is worth remembering, most of these women writers were writing at a time when women in the U.K. did not even have the right to vote. It wasn’t until 1918 that women above the age of 30 who met a property qualification were able to vote, which still left around a third of the female population in the U.K. unable to do so, so it’s no surprise that so many nineteenth-century female authors hid their sex when having their work published.
Although steps have been taken since, initiatives like “Reclaim her Name” serve as a reminder that the journey to equality is far from over; women’s history is still being written as we speak.