I was watching Netflix and came across The Wife, I seemed to remember it had been nominated for a Bafta so thought it was worth seeing. This film is about the wife of a successful writer, played by the wonderful Glenn Close, who’s husband is awarded a Nobel Prize for literature. The plot then goes back decades to when they first met and you start to see their life together unravelling and a secret they have kept is discovered by an annoying journalist. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it shows the male-dominated publishing world and how badly women writers were treated at the time.
This got me thinking about woman writers in the past and how many had written under a male pseudonym to publish their work. Even Agatha Christe one of the worlds top- selling authors considered writing as Martyn Waites or Mostyn Gray, luckily, she changed her mind. I recently read the autobiography of the Bronte Sisters who started writing short stories as Currer, Ellis and Acton. When asked about this, Charlotte Bronte stated that;
“We didn’t want to declare ourselves as women, because at the time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what was called feminine. We had a vague impression that authoresses were looked on with prejudice”
George Sands otherwise known as Amantine Lucile Dupin, one of the 19th centuries most prolific writers was also one of the most controversial, appearing in Parisian society wearing men’s clothing and smoking. I think in the main to prove a point.
Woman writers who had achieved success under their own names, often still wrote under a male non de plumes, if they wanted to produce non-romantic novels. Louisa May Alcott, the writer of the children’s classic Little Women, wrote gothic thrillers as A M Barnard.
George Elliot otherwise, Mary Ann Evans, was a leading Victorian novelist who wrote Middlemarch, which was regarded as one on the greatest books of the time. She wrote politicly astute social history of the time and felt that a male alias would prevent female stereotyping. A common thought amongst many famous female writers.
Of course, today we are living in enlightened times, so this should not need to still happen? However, when Joanne Rowling’s was publishing her first Harry Potter Book, her publisher’s felt that a young, male target audience would prefer to read a book by a male author. So, she became the ambiguous J K Rowling.
Women’s books continue to be reviewed by other woman in the main, whilst woman critics review books by both sexes. Surely there is a market for both male and women writers, it feels archaic that double standards still exist.
I finish with a quote from a male writer, as I would hate to be accused of prejudice myself.
Male writers obsess about establishing a reputation whilst ignoring the importance of just writing something good!