Saturday, December 27, 2008

Another Feminist Myth

Tonight I noticed a new post on CBE's blog, "The Scroll". It begins with this myth:

"In years gone by, no publisher would print a book written by a woman and so women writers had to use pseudonyms to get their work recognised. "

While the author of the post doesn't clarify the period she has in mind when she writes, "In years gone by . . .", given the reference to pseudonyms, I can't helped thinking of the famed, and oh so supposedly repressive long 19th Century. While I admit to being a fan of the cigar-smoking, trouser-wearing Aurore Dupin, Baronne Dudevant (better known as George Sand) and believe that Mariann Evans (better known as George Eliot) penned the greatest novel in English literature (Middlemarch), I am also aware of one or two other lady novelists from the same century who did not feel the need to dress up in men's clothes in order to succeed. Anyone ever heard of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters (lookee there, a whole clutch of female novelists in one family!), or Elizabeth Gaskell? And let us not forget the queen of Victorian Sensation fiction, Mary Elizabeth Braddon or the grande dame of the gothic, Anne Radcliffe.

I can't help thinking one of my New Year's resolutions is going to be to re-read Middlemarch next year. I will admit though, I cannot read it without wanting to run away with Will Ladislaw in the form of the actor Rufus Sewell.

5 comments:

Michael said...

> the "oh so supposedly repressive long 19th Century."

Ah, the good old days! ;o)

> I am also aware of one or two other lady novelists from the same century who did not feel the need to dress up in men's clothes in order to succeed.

They must've somehow not gotten the word that immitating men was a prerequisite for success.

> Anyone ever heard of Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters (lookee there, a whole clutch of female novelists in one family!), or Elizabeth Gaskell?

Glad very feminine Jane Austen isn't alive to see the mess we're in today.

Anonymous said...

I would suggest you research a little about the lives of Jane Austin and the Bronte sistes. Austin published anonymously and the Bronte sisters published under men's names until they became popular.

Kamilla said...

Anonymous, you'll to help me out here.

Sure, Sense and Sensibility was published anynomously, the author being listed as, "A Lady" on the title page. But how anonymous could Miss Austen really have been if, a mere four years later the King was saying he had a set of her works at every one of his residences -- and was issuing her permission to dedicate her next novel to him?

In the case of the Sister Bronte, you are wrong about them using male names. In fact, they specifically chose ambiguous surnames instead of men's to avoid the appearance of an intent to deceive. And only did so because of their aversion to personal publicity, not because of any supposed difficulty for lady authors.

If that were the case, you'd still have to explain the other lady authors such as Mrs. Gaskell.

Just sign me,

Brave Lass, Feminist myth-slayer

pentamom said...

I had the same thought about the Brontes -- I think it's a stretch to say that in the 19th century, Acton, Ellis, and Currer were ambiguous. They might have been ambiguous enough to deflect criticism that they were being unfeminine in choosing such names should they be discovered, but they surely definitely gave a male impression.

That said, though, you're right about Jane Austen. Another example that comes to mind is Mrs. Radcliffe. It's just not true that women "couldn't" get published unless they used male names. And how is "a lady" a psuedonym that combats anti-female prejudice?

And it's a common trick (or mistake) as well to look at particular events in the 19th century and claim that "all of history up to our enlightened age" had a certain attitude about something. There were many women prior to that era who had no trouble getting published, as well.

pentamom said...

Oh, and how about the FEMINIST authors from the same era, e.g. Mary Wollstonecraft and her daughter Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley?