Women’s Pen Names

Here’s an interesting post by Michelle Smith at The Digital Reader: The Evolution of Female Pen-Names from Currer Bell to J.K. Rowling

Here is the interesting point, which is not one that I had thought of before:

[T]he cultural reasons behind women writers concealing their names have shifted dramatically since the nineteenth century. Today female names vanish to avoid industry and reader perceptions of what women’s fiction is like. Historically, in the British tradition, female names were hidden because of the perceived inappropriateness of women writing novels. To understand this difference, it is important to know that the very act of reading novels was heavily policed for girls and women in the nineteenth century.

Of course that is true! But somehow I never actually thought of that in so many words.

Smith then goes on to discuss, though briefly, the use of gender-neutral pen names today.

I will add, I would LOVE to see a social experiment where ALL authors used initials on their books and, on their websites, pictures of pets or avatars or whatever rather than photographs of themselves. Let everyone just guess about gender for ten or twenty years. I wouldn’t mind a bit seeing everyone be totally wrong as they tried to guess the gender of their favorite and most-admired authors.

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2 thoughts on “Women’s Pen Names”

  1. I had been hopeful that K.J. Parker was a woman, but the Tom Holt revelation a couple years ago wrecked that! (And now that I’ve read more Parker, I feel like it’s obvious that KJP is a dude.)

  2. I do think it’s seldom that obvious, even in retrospect. Or else people wouldn’t have held up James Tiptree Jr as such a great example of masculine writing. Also, today, every single romance author is probably writing under a female name, but I know some are guys.

    While I suspect a good many guesses would be right if we tried the initials experiment, I bet quite a few would be wrong.

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