‘George Eliot’ joins 24 female authors making debuts under their real names

The Reclaim Her Name project, marking 25 years of the Women’s prize for fiction, will introduce titles including Middlemarch by Mary Ann Evans

Middlemarch is to be published for the first time in almost 150 years under George Eliot’s real name, Mary Ann Evans, alongside 24 other historic works by women whose writing has only ever previously been in print under their male pseudonyms.

Evans adopted the pen name of George Eliot in the mid-19th century, in order to ensure her works were taken seriously. Middlemarch, originally published in eight parts in 1871-72, has never been released under her real name. Evans said she was “resolute in preserving my incognito, having observed that a nom de plume secures all the advantages without the disagreeables of reputation”, while her partner George Lewes said “the object of anonymity was to get the book judged on its own merits, and not prejudged as the work of a woman, or of a particular woman”.

Now the work voted the greatest British novel of all time is finally coming out as Evans’s, as part of the Reclaim Her Name campaign from the Women’s prize for fiction and prize sponsor Baileys, to mark the 25th anniversary of the award.

Some of the books, like Middlemarch, are well-known, including A Phantom Lover, a ghost story from Violet Paget, who wrote as Vernon Lee; and Indiana, a romance from Amantine Aurore Dupin, the 19th-century author better known as George Sand, who famously scandalised society by wearing male clothing and smoking cigars in public.

Others are being brought to the forefront after forgotten decades, such as Keynotes, a collection of feminist short stories from 1893 that includes open discussions of women’s sexuality. The stories were written by Mary Bright, who wrote as George Egerton, in 1893; she would say of them that “I realised that in literature, everything had been better done by man than woman could hope to emulate. There was one small plot left for her to tell; the terra incognita of herself, as she knew herself to be, not as man liked to imagine her.”

Frances Rollin Whipper published The Life of Martin R Delaney in 1868 under the pseudonym Frank A Rollin. She was the first African American to publish a biography. Fatemeh Farahani published poems in 19th-century Iran as Shahein Farahani. Ann Petry, who wrote as Arnold Petri, was the first African American woman to sell more than 1m copies of a book, and joins the list with Marie of the Cabin Club, her first published short story, from 1939.

“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,” said Petry’s daughter, Liz Petry. “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.”

The Reclaim Her Name collection will be available to download as ebooks for free, said Baileys, which hopes the project will give the authors “the visibility and credit they deserve”, as well as encourage “new and important conversations around the continuing challenges women face in publishing and authors’ many reasons for using a pseudonym”.

“This was about looking back to the women in whose footsteps we walk – the way that other women did get their work into print or couldn’t get their work into print. It’s just such a joyous idea,” said the novelist Kate Mosse, who founded the Women’s prize 25 years ago, following an all-male Booker prize shortlist.

More than 3,000 pseudonymous writers were considered by a team of researchers commissioned by Baileys for inclusion in the collection. “They kept their names hidden for all sorts of different reasons,” said Mosse. “There is that idea of hiding the fact that you’re a woman because it’s not appropriate for women to be out there in the public sphere. But it is not very long ago that Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban for daring to go to school. So there are obviously some women writers who are hiding their identity through fear of persecution, either by male relatives, but equally by the state – they’re writing works that would get them into trouble.”

Mosse said the promotion was intended to make sure “that on the shelf, women are visible, because if their identities are hidden, it’s as if women didn’t write any of these books, that the past is an unbroken line of beards and every now and again, you get one woman. This collection is purely celebrating some amazing women of the past who have never quite had their due as women.”


Alison Flood

The GuardianTramp

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