The Women’s Prize for Fiction is marking its 25th anniversary by republishing 25 books by female writers who used male pseudonyms. Using sources from both sides of the Atlantic, including the British Library, a team of researchers whittled down a list of over 3,000 writers to the final set.
With one major exception – George Eliot, whose novel Middlemarch will for the first time appear under her real name, Mary Ann Evans – not only the true identities of the authors but most of the works on the list may be unfamiliar to modern readers. It’s time to set the record straight; here are six of the best.
Indiana by Amantine-Aurore-Lucile Dupin (aka George Sand, 1804-76)
Dupin is remembered as much for her bohemian personal life as for her writing – she counted Chopin among her lovers – but hers was some of the most popular fiction of the early 19th century.
Indiana (1832) was her first novel; it follows a young woman in search of freedom from an unhappy marriage.
A Phantom Lover by Violet Paget (aka Vernon Lee, 1856-1935)
Paget’s fiction can be frightening. Her 1886 novella A Phantom Lover is the psychologically tortuous tale of a housewife who falls in love with a ghost. She was also an art critic and theorist and was painted by John Singer Sargent.
Twilight by Julia Frankau (aka Frank Danby, 1859-1916)
Frankau’s first novel Doctor Phillips (1887), a social satire set in that world, was instantly popular. She went on to write several books about 18th-century art and a further 14 novels, the last of which was Twilight (1916). The plot concerns a woman on her deathbed who is inspired to write about another woman’s death.
Keynotes by Mary Bright (aka George Egerton, 1859-1945)
Her 1893 short-story collection Keynotes, her first published work, explores relationships between women across class barriers. Bright was briefly famous enough to be lampooned in Punch.
Takekurabe by Natsu Higuchi (aka Ichiy? Higuchi, 1872-96)
When she died from tuberculosis at just 24, Higuchi was already a celebrity, and her short stories have since left a footprint on Japanese literature. Her experiences living in poverty near Tokyo’s red-light district influenced Takekurabe [Growing Up], a novella that tackles the plight of women in 19th-century Japan.
Marie of the Cabin Club by Ann Petry (aka Arnold Petrie, 1908-97)
Petry became the first black American woman whose work sold over a million copies with her 1946 novel The Street.
The short story Marie of the Cabin Club, published in 1939, was her first piece of fiction. It’s about a girl working at a jazz bar who stumbles into an espionage ring.
The Daily Telegraph