Few days ago I read about “Reclaim Her Name” – a project launched by Women’s Prize for Fiction to celebrate its 25th anniversary. They re-released a collection of books written by women who used male pen names, this time with the author’s real name on the cover (… and what covers!!).

“Reclaim Her Name” books. Image from Baileys.com

I can imagine in the past it was quite difficult to be taken seriously as woman (remember the times when women did not have the right to vote?). While I find understandable that women chose to use male pseudonyms … it does not mean that their real names should remain forever in the shadow.

Out of the 25 writers presented in the “Reclaim Her Name” project I selected a list of 5 women writers to discuss in this post. Let’s go!

§ Mary Ann Evans as George Eliot

Most famous for “Middlemarch”, Mary Ann Evans published 7 novels (as George Eliot) and many other literature works (using her real name). She wanted to escape from the common idea that women only write romances, and also to separate her fiction work from her already widely known contribution as editor and critic (BBC.co.uk).

§ Violet Paget as Vernon Lee

Remembered especially for supernatural fiction (ghost stories), British Violet Paget wrote a large number of essays on art, music, and travel. She also wrote on politics and had ideas that were considered progressive for her time – she was supporting the women’s fight to vote, she was anti-war and the was involved in a group investigating the psychology of sex (Colby.edu).

§ Julia Constance Fletcher as George Fleming

At only 18 Julia Fletcher wrote her first book – “A Nile Novel” – and published it under the name of George Fleming. She wrote 4 more books, and was also a volunteer nurse in her home country Italy during WWI. As an interesting fact, few months after the publication of her first novel she met Oscar Wilde and they began a long-lasting friendship (Beside Every Man).

§ Doris Boake Kerr as Capel Boake

Doris Boake, original from Australia, lived in the world of books as librarian and book-keeper, and also as writer. She is known for being “one of the few Australian writers of her generation to fictionalise the everyday world of shop-assistants and secretaries“. Boake set the foundations of the “Society of Australian Authors”. And she also had a second male pseudonym (!) – Stephen Grey (AusLit.edu.eu)

§ Natsu Higuchi as Ichiyō Higuchi

Specialized in short stories, Higuchi was the first Japan’s outstanding female writer. Her masterpiece, “Growing Up”, is a story about the children living on the edge of the “pleasure district” of Tokyo (Britannica.com). Unfortunately Highchi died very young, at only 24 years old, but her works are still highly regarded in Japan. As of 2004, she appears on the Japanese 5000 yen banknote, being the third woman to be awarded the honor.

You can discover the other 20 women and also download their books (for free!) in pdf and book format – follow this link.

I love how the whole collection looks like – the design of the books covers is so appealing! Printed editions will only be made available as donations to selected libraries, so most of us will only enjoy the digital format.

Did you know that there were also men writers who wrote under female pen names? Would you be interested in reading a similar post about them?

‘Till next time … happy reading!


Later edit: after publishing the post I found out about this post on LitHub claiming that the #ReclaimHerName initiative ignores the authorial choices of the writers it represents. It is worth a read.

Sources: Book covers and images of the collection | Mary Ann Evans portrait | Violet Paget | Julia Fletcher portrait | Doris Boake Kerr | Natsu Higuchi

16 thoughts on “Reclaim Her Name: Women writers who wrote under male pen names

  1. Vernon Lee is so underrated, I’m glad you’ve included her on your list. I recently read A Phantom Lover and it’s such a complex yet brilliant story.
    Also thanks a million for sharing the link to the free ebooks, that’s just what I needed!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh, I’m happy you know Vernon Lee and you enjoyed her book!

      Regarding the link, you’re welcome! It’s an entire collection there ❤ I plan to read at least some of the books provided in this project. I am especially intrigued by "Growing up" by Natsu Higuchi (Ichiyō Higuchi) 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Yes, please! I am actually very interested to find out which male writer used a female pen name!
    Also, great article, very informative 🙂 Also, that collection looks amazing!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. This collection wasn’t in my radar before, but it sounds like a good project. About time the world recognized these female authors and gave them due recognition. I must buy them slowly.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I was amazed by how many women from all over the world used men pen names … and for sure there are many more! Plus we should also take into account the women who used gender-neutral pseudonyms, like J.K. Rowling.

      The books from the Reclaim Her Name collection can be downloaded from their website for free, in pdf and epub format, if you’re interested in reading some of them! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. This is fascinating and I am ashamed to admit I didn’t know that Elliot was actually a woman. I will put all of these on to my tbr list. Yes I would definitely be interested to learn of men who wrote under women’s pen names!

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hi Georgiana, I found your blog post as you linked it to one of mine (on the Transatlantic Literary Women Series’ webpage). How fascinating! Did you know that the Reclaiming Her Name series is quite controversial among academics? Mary Ann Evans , for instance, signed off letters as George Eliot, so clearly she preferred to be known under her pseudonym in public, while Constance Fletcher, used her own name in correspondence with editors — clearly she wouldn’t have a problem with the series! I imagine she’d be quite chuffed actually.


    1. Hello! I did not know is so controversial! I remember reading at some point that it’s not really fair to change the publishing name of the author (as you said, they made their choice, for one reason or another)…


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