Georges Sand (1876-1884) by Nadar (Gaspard-Félix Tournachon)Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Meet the women of their word – and their pen
If, as in the frequently misattributed adage by Marie Shear, “Feminism is the radical notion that women are people,” then the pen name has been one way that female authors have tried to level the playing field and get their voice heard… or rather, read. There are plenty of women who have paved their way through literature under the guise of male pen names and here are 5 worth reading about.
Amantine Lucile Aurore Dudevant Nee Dupin
Pen Name: George Sand
George Sand, by Nadar, 1876-1884 (From the collection of Los Angeles County Museum of Art)
Mary Ann Evans
Pen Name: George Eliot
LIFE Photo Collection
1870 (From the collection of LIFE Photo Collection)
Katherine Harris Bradley and her niece, Edith Emma Cooper
Pen Name: Michael Field
Widely known and accepted in 19th-century British literary circles for their poetic and dramatic writing, which often focused on female same-sex desire, these women (writing together as one man) actually had a romantic relationship for nearly forty years, dying within nine months of one another (both from cancer), despite a sixteen-year age difference between them. The most prominent Victorian male writers of the time, such as Robert Browning, Walter Pater, George Meredith and others, praised the work of Michael Field and they lived their lives in what constituted an open secret that mostly went unremarked upon. Their poetry collections Long Ago and Sight and Song represent the intricacies of the kind of relationship they knew intimately.
The Artist in the Character of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry (1782) by Angelica KauffmannOriginal Source: KENWOOD
The Artist in the Character of Design Listening to the Inspiration of Poetry, by Angelica Kauffman, 1782 (From the collection of English Heritage)
Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch
Pen Name: Magnus Flyte
A more recent pair of women writing as one man are the dynamic duo known as Magnus Flyte, the pseudonym for Meg Howrey and Christina Lynch. The two women met at a writers’ retreat, and decided to pool their resources and write mystery novels about a musicologist--under the mantle of a man. Writing tag-team or relay-style, they began their collaboration by showing one another what they had written without discussing plot or narrative arc and then simply picking up where the other woman left off and writing from instinct. Thus, was born City of Dark Magic and its sequel, City of Lost Dreams. Of writing under a pen name, Howrey has reported in a New York Times interview, “We always wanted a single author name, and we had both read a raft of articles talking about how men don’t buy books written by women.” But clearly some men are buying these books as well, since they’re bestsellers.
Pen Name: J.D. Robb
J.D. Robb is the pseudonym for one of the most prolific romance and crime novelists of our time, Nora Roberts (she’s written over 200 novels). The unusual thing about Roberts―or Robb―is that, when she’s writing romance, she’s Nora Roberts, but when she’s writing futuristic suspense novels, she becomes Robb. Her publisher had come to feel that Roberts somehow wasn’t writing absolutely as much as she humanly could, so her agent suggested she adopt a pen name and begin writing an entirely different kind of novel: thus, the In Death series was born. As Roberts put it in an interview, describing what her agent had said about her use of a pseudonym, “She said, Nora, there's Pepsi, there's Diet Pepsi and there's caffeine-free Pepsi. And that's when my light bulb went off and then, oh, let me rethink.” Roberts is the authorial equivalent of those three different kinds of Pepsi (well, in this case, just two, but still…).
Futurist Composition (1914) by Joseph StellaAmon Carter Museum of American Art
Futurist Composition, by Joseph Stella, 1914 (From the collection of the Amon Carter Museum of Art)