To celebrate the Women's Prize for Fiction's 25th anniversary
August 12, 2020 2:04 PM   Subscribe

Reclaim Her Name is a set of 25 books by female authors who published under male pseudonyms in their lifetime. The new edition has their real names on the cover, and they can downloaded for free as ebooks. Authors include Mary Ann Evans (George Eliot), Alice Dunbar Nelson (Monroe Wright), Natsu Higuchi (Ichiyō Higuchi), Fatameh Farahani (Shahein Farahani) and Amantine Aurore Dupin (George Sand). Alison Flood wrote about the project in the Guardian.
posted by Kattullus (10 comments total)

This post was deleted for the following reason: Poster's request -- goodnewsfortheinsane

I'm looking forward to learning more about several authors here. I'm also curious if anyone knows more about their individual feelings on this topic. The Guardian article mentions authors having many reasons for adopting a name but still seems to assimilate them to "hiding" a real name ("'They kept their names hidden for all sorts of different reasons,' said Mosse"). Reading George Sand's letters to her own mother from July, October, and December of 1826--before any of her major publications--she appears to sign her name as G.S., Aurore, and G. Sand, maybe indicating more of a personal experiment or attachment than any kind of concealment. I know her son also took up Sand as his own last name when writing, likely for practical reasons but maybe also as an honorary matronym. Anyway, I'm all for her work getting more attention.
posted by Wobbuffet at 3:18 PM on August 12 [4 favorites]

The idea of "real names" makes me uncomfortable, as does the idea that they can be "reclaimed" in this way. As Flood's article notes, there are many reasons why someone might choose to use a different name in different contexts.

I think the most problematic of these is George Sand, whose gender identity was clearly complicated and for whom the name she chose was not simply a pseudonym. It's difficult to map modern ideas of gender onto historical people, but I think Sand can be seen through a non-binary lens pretty easily. So "reclaiming" her name brings up the questions of for who? And for what purpose?

Projects like this seem to reflect an urge to flatten people's identities.
posted by death valley compound at 3:20 PM on August 12 [19 favorites]

Victorianist Twitter, yours truly included (all the better, given my pseudonym here), was a bit grouchy about the assumptions behind this project. Some of the pseudonyms, for example, were transparent--everyone knew that Frank Danby was Julia Frankau (already a published nonfiction author under her own name). Several writers were deliberately trying to dissociate themselves from their names given at birth, like Vernon Lee and Lucas Malet, and so would hardly have welcomed this gesture (Lee in particular). In the case of George Eliot, it's difficult to figure out how you would identify her "real name" (Marian? Mary Ann? Mary Anne? Evans? Lewes? Cross?), and "George Eliot" was a carefully-constructed public performance in its own right. "Let's restore everyone to the names their parents gave them!" is not a liberatory project!
posted by thomas j wise at 3:24 PM on August 12 [15 favorites]

Finally, a liquor company is giving Vernon Lee the name she really wanted.
posted by theodolite at 3:25 PM on August 12 [1 favorite]

"This collection is purely celebrating some amazing women of the past who have never quite had their due as women."

Yikes. As a someone who has published things under deliberately non-gender-specific pseudonyms, I would be so personally bummed if later editors wanted to "restore" a deliberately hidden identity to my work, because -- for me -- the pseudonym itself is part and parcel of the whole artistic project.

Grace Lavery, an Eliot scholar, has a brief Twitter thread thoughtfully critiquing the project: "C19 authors were not *forced* to use masculine pseudonyms; literary writing has always been a practice of imaginative self-fashioning."

(I was curious about how Baileys, noted purveyer of cream liqueur, got involved in this project, but presumably it's from the same impulse that led them to briefly take over the Orange Prize. Baileys, what's...going on in your marketing department?)
posted by toast the knowing at 3:31 PM on August 12 [5 favorites]

Oh, no, I don't like this. Certainly many of these were women who adopted male pseudonyms for commercial reasons, but that is definitely not a guarantee in every case. I understand why someone thought this was a good idea, but I don't think it is.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:56 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

Without knowing the author's actual motives for writing under a pseudonym, presuming to change their nom de plume is a serious disservice. If we have reason to believe that they would have preferred to publish under their birth name, that's fine, but the presumption built into this project is pretty awful, *especially* for writers like Vernon Lee for whom there is considerable evidence that their published names were their preferred names.
posted by tclark at 6:12 PM on August 12

This project strikes me as misguided and suspiciously TERFy. Treating names given at birth as "real names" while seemingly ignoring these authors own feelings is just... ugh.
posted by CarolynG at 9:59 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

Proud of Mefi here, who basically stated everything I was going to say. I think that assuming that self fashioning is oppressive is a deeply (and i would argue current politics in England) not accidental Terfy project.
posted by PinkMoose at 10:17 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]

I assumed the researchers behind the project had selected authors which had adopted male pseudonyms out of necessity. But clearly they either didn’t do their due diligence, or worse.

I’ll ask the mods to delete this post.
posted by Kattullus at 10:47 PM on August 12 [3 favorites]

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