Have you wanted to write using a pseudonym?
People do this for several reasons. Sometimes their own name is very common, other times their content does not blend well with their day job. Another reason is that authors wish to remove bias when having their work assessed.
Women have had a tough time getting published. Many brilliant female writers have been forgotten when their less talented male counter parts were supported and promoted.
Gwen Harwood’s(1920 – 1995) work is sublime, and she is one of Australia’s finest poets. “Barn Owl” is iconic. We honour her with a most significant poetry prize – The Gwen Harwood Poetry Prize. Gwen had her work rejected when publishing under her name. She used many pseudonyms: Walter Lehmann, W.W. Hagendoor, Francis Geyer, Timothy (TF) Kline and Alan Carvosso. She was seeking to bypass the prejudice she experienced as a female poet. She had work rejected but creative ideas stolen. In 1961 she protested by submitting two sonnets to The Bulletin under the pen name Walter Lehmann. On publication, she revealed the sonnets, called “Abelard to Eloise” and “Eloise to Abelard” were acrostic. The first letters of the lines divulged the phrase “so long Bulletin” and “F!@#$ all editors”. This caused a great controversy.
Earlier in the century, Marjorie Barnard (1897 – 1987) and Flora Eldershaw (1897 – 1956) had to publish their works under the nom de plum M. Barnard Eldershaw. They collaborated on five novels from 1920s to 1950s . “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is deemed to be one of Australia’s original science fiction novels. It was not published in its entirety until 1983 and was highly regarded.
Ethel Handel Richardson (1870 – 1946) wrote for decades under her pen name, Henry Handel Richardson. She was challenging the widely held belief that the writing of women could be detected. It never was. Her novel “The Getting of Wisdom” is now an Australian classic. The Richard Mahony trilogy took her twenty years to complete. It is considered the ultimate accomplishment in Australian fiction. Following its success, her identity was finally revealed.
Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879-1954) wrote under the name of Miles Franklin. Her influence was acknowledged in 2013 with the establishment of the Stella Prize. The annual prize celebrates and promotes the excellence of Australian women’s writing. It is awarded annually for the best work of literature.
Women who revealed their gender suffered prejudice. These authors include Rosa Praed, Ada Cambridge, Christina Stead and Tasma the pen name for Jessie Couvreur.
We have barely heard of Mary Hannay Foott (1846 – 1918), Queensland’s first female journalist, who is attributed to inventing bush poetry. Despite her prodigious talent she was relegated to the “Housekeeper” column and the “Women’s Page”. A small consolation occurred in 1895, when she undertook two major interviews with women writers for The Queenslander. The first was with the famous novelist Rosa Praed who wrote of Gladstone. The was second was with Melbourne journalist Florence Blair.
Many of these names are no longer recognised. They were often denigrated as lady novelists whose work was frivolous, commercial and marginalised.
The names we do recognise such as Miles Franklin and Henry Handel Richardson still do not have their work published under their actual name. Publisher Percy Reginald Stephensen (1901 – 1965) from Maryborough, Queensland published these women’s works under several publishing companies. These included P.R. Stephensen and Endeavour Press. He knew because of the gender bias, they would suffer if they used their real names.
He also published the first Aboriginal authored newsletter Abo Call … but that is another story.