By Jenny Fallover, Salomé Steering Committee Member
When I was growing up I was quite the book worm and devoured anything I could from the local library that sparked my imagination. At the time I wasn't aware or interested in the gender of the authors but they were likely to be predominately male.
As I got older and hit my teens I became more drawn towards female authors or, at least, male authors whose female characters were strong. I realised that some of my favourite 'male' authors were actually women who used male pseudonyms in order to get published. Below are some examples of women that had to, or chose to, use a male or androgynous pseudonym.
The Bronte Sisters
One of my favourite novels as an angsty teen was Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte, who went under the pseudonym of Ellis Bell. I also loved Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, whose pen name was Currer Bell. Another one of my favourites was The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, whose pseudonym was Acton Bell.
Quite a popular book on school syllabuses is Mill on the Floss. Who is this George Elliot dude? I thought, only to discover it was indeed Mary Ann Evans.
Known for her novel Little Women Alcott originally published as A M Barnard.
Born Helen Lyndon Goff she wrote the Mary Poppins books under her initials P L Travers.
To Kill a Mockingbird was published under her middle name as it was deemed more androgynous than her first name. This quote has always stayed with me:
You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.
I had to include E L James as the Fifty Shades series are very successful (though that is not a measure of the quality by any means).
The Well of Loneliness was published under her middle name Radcliffe Hall and is one of the earliest novels about overt lesbianism and androgyny that I know of. When first published in 1928 it became the subject of an obscenity trial and was ordered to be destroyed.
Rowling was advised to publish the Harry Potter novels under her initials as they thought boys/males wouldn’t read them otherwise. She also used the pen name Robert Galbraith.
It shocks me that even today female writers are having to hide behind androgyny or male pseudonyms in order to get published or read. So moving on from that I wanted to list some female authors that didn’t always do this, were successful and had a significant impact on me.
I read this as a teenager and I think Weldon has probably had the biggest influence on my personal writing style. The novel is feminist, cynical and dystopian and highlights the challenges that we can face as women, especially those that don’t fit into a particular stereotype. The story revolves around the unattractive protagonist Ruth who seeks to reinvent herself after she discovers her husband is having an affair. Though largely a tale of envy and revenge it highlighted to me the ridiculous obsession we have in society on appearance and how that affects those that don’t fit into desirable stereotypes. Here are some writing tips from Weldon.
Winterson is perhaps best known for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit but I loved The Passion as it took me to a fantastical world set during the Napoleonic wars and has more than one protagonist telling their story. Her writing seemed almost ethereal and was a great escape from the monotony of a daily commute. This article shows her 10 rules of writing.
I first read this as a teenager and the moody moors introduced me to the writing technique pathetic fallacy where nature mirrors the emotions of the protagonist.
This novel had all the aspects of a great Dickins story but with the twist that the two main characters are women from different backgrounds that form a close but duplicitous relationship. This article by Waters give some good tips on writing that I find useful.
I think this was the first book that I read that really highlighted the consequences of racism. I loved the way it was predominantly written through a child’s eye.
Highsmith, also author of the Ripley series, published this novel (now known as Carol) in 1952 that tells the story of a married woman who falls for a shop girl. I liked being transported back into that era and the angst of having to conform to society and hide your true self or face the consequences. Highsmith also published a book on how to write suspense fiction.
This novel was written the epistolary style and was about the lives of African-American women in 1930’s America. The writing is a very frank and explicit message on equality. Here is an interview with Walker giving writing advice.
This novel tells the story of the mad woman in an attic in Jane Eyre. Again this novel is feminist in tone and deals with race.
Singling Out the Couples is best described as modern fairy tale set in London where a princess without a heart delights in breaking up couples until she starts to fall for someone and grows a heart herself. In this article Duffy gives some writing tips.
Rebecca is a gripping novel written in the gothic style that was turned into an equally gripping Hitchcock movie. This article details Du Maurier’s writing habits.
If you have any female authors that had a lasting impact on you it would be great to hear about them.
Jenny has over 20 years’ experience in technology and currently works as a programme manager in the charity sector. She is also the London City Director for Lesbians Who Tech, an author at Gay Star News, an expert for Apps for Good and mentor for Coder Dojo. More recently she joined the steering committee for the new magazine for emerging female writers, Salome. Jenny was featured in the Brummel Top 30 Ones to Watch List in 2016 and was awarded LGBT Role Model of the Year in Jan 2017 by Stonewall. She has always had a passion for literature and completed a BA Hons in Humanities with Creative Writing.