Incognito for Literary Success

“You may impose silence upon me, but you cannot prevent me from thinking.” (George Sand)

The quote above originates from one of the most prolific writers of the 19th-century France. Someone who reads this sentence and does not know the story behind the pen name George Sand would immediately assume that the lines above are the words of a man. Amantile Lucile Aurore Dupin was just one of the numerous female writers who chose to go incognito, under a male nom de plume to make her voice heard.

Incognito female writers and male pseudonyms

The Brontë sisters had the same strategy at the beginning of their writing career, choosing to publish their works under pseudonyms such as Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. A more recent example from our century is the begetter of the world-famous Harry Potter series, the British author J.K. Rowling. In 2013 she published a mystery novel under the male pen name Robert Galbraith, to make sure that her new book will receive unbiased feedback. She was afraid that her previous success would cast shadow over her future literary attempts. Nevertheless, she did not changed her pen name into a female one.

“Not profound enough to warrant intellectual pride”

Many female writers fancied especially at the dawn of their career the idea of going incongnito as men. As she began writing, George Sand asked for the opinion of her confessor. Despite her voraciously reading of philosophy, religion, poetry an her innate literary talent, the feedback she received from the priest was: “I doubt, my daughter, whether your philosophical studies are profound enough to warrant intellectual pride.”

As she decided to go incognito and publish her first novels under the pen name George Sand, Amantile could taste the success even from the very beginning. She knew that she had to publish under a male pseudonym to succeed in the male-dominated literary circles.


Good writers must be male

And the bias persists up to our days. We go to bookshops to browse the latest titles and we catch ourself discarding promising works because of the female name that seals them. If it is a love story, we automatically think it must be silly and overly melodramatic. If it is a technical book, we assume it must be shallow and not worth to be taken seriously. If it is a mystery novel, we believe it must not contain enough suspense and plot intricacies as one written by a male author. If a woman writes about unrequited love, she is exaggerating or she is overly pathetic and she should finally move on and find something better to do. If a male writes on the same topic, he is a hero and the book is worth our attention and sympathy.

Going incognito proved to be the most convenient option for many female writers who wrote under a male pseudonym. But is that really the one and only solution to be taken seriously as a female author?


Cover image by Pixabay

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