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  • Writer's pictureKit Eyre

Don't #ReclaimHerName

You might've heard of the #ReclaimHerName project undertaken by the Women's Prize for Fiction. It plans to republish novels from 25 women who published under pseudonyms in the 19th and 20th centuries including the likes of George Eliot and Vernon Lee (those are their pen names, of course).

I'll admit, when I first heard about the project, I shrugged and moved on to the next news item. My initial response was that it might draw attention to some underrated authors and be a talking point, but it wasn't something I felt strongly about. That attitude altered the more I thought about it.

I understand the motives behind #ReclaimHerName but I agree with Lit Hub on this one - it ignores authorial choices and simplifies the lives of the authors included, representing them as something in need of saving. I'm not comfortable with that.

Yes, for some of these women, writing until a male pseudonym was not a choice but was the only way they could safely publish. Others, however, chose their names for other reasons in the same way that some authors only use initials to stop their male/female name clashing with the genre they're writing.

I'm the first to admit that I haven't heard of many authors included in the project, but that suggests more work needs to be done at reclaiming authors from the past in general, at least in non-academic fields. I come from an academic background where names like Charlotte Riddell, Rhoda Broughton and Florence Marryat are bandied about alongside Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Gaskell - the fact that those lesser-known authors aren't more widely appreciated isn't connected to their gender so much as the way the literary canon has been formed.

So many authors get lost in history as time passes. For some, it's probably a good thing. Writing to market in the sensation fiction genre was some times akin to painting by numbers, but I have a fond regard for some of the 'forgotten' authors, not least Edmund Yates, the journalist/novelist I wrote half my PhD about.

Maybe the point is that we need to reclaim authors rather than just their names. And, as a side point, I don't think anyone can argue George Eliot needs her name reclaiming - she's got a statue, for crying out loud!

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