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Feminism and Feminist Anonymity



The idea of Feminist Literary Criticism comes from the border aspect of feminism

in itself and is something famously associated with its second wave all over the

globe. One of the Champions of this idea of feminism is Virginia Woolf who

through her numerous writings has tried to convey to us the need for many

factors which will help a woman to associate with literary texts as well as write

about feminist literature. However, before we can go into this topic there are

certain social and literary understandings that need to be incorporated so as to

trace the rise of feminist literary criticism as an onset of second wave feminism.

Fourier is credited to have coined the term feminism which came up in France

and Netherlands in the 1830s and gained somewhat popularity by the 1870s.

Feminist theory grew out of feminism in the coming years to combat the sexism,

inherent racism as well as gender gaps between the sexes. It came as an

understanding that no sex is superior to other and the possible identity of many

sexes existing together without discrimination or a morbid superiority complex.

Out of many possible fields that rose, one of the most prominent would be the

application of feminism in literary criticism. Literature is a very powerful weapon

which communicates with anyone who is educated regardless of their class or

economic differentiation. Feminist authors have been trying to open windows by

which we can see how political, male dominated ideas of literature enforce ideas

of male conformity in society and how it is imbibed in the social, political,

economic and psychological identity of society. Feminists use a new lens to look

at both old and ancient works by authors as well as modern day writings and

conformity which still exists to stand reason towards the idea of a male

hegemony deciding the identity of society. The most important reason of this

conduct in my opinion comes from the fact that why women had to adopt male

pen names before they could be published and their writings could gain identity

and momentum. Let us understand why this happened, parts of which are

perhaps self-explanatory from some of the opening lines yet none the less

important to be repeated in a complete and constructed manner. We often

associate pen names or pseudonyms while writing to help create a different

identity, an alter ego if I’m allowed to say while presenting the views of authors in

a paper form and having it published. A pseudonym might also serve as one

identity under which many authors write as one, an example we can see in the

case of the Hardy Boys series written by Franklin W. Dixon which is actually a

name used by multiple ghost writers from the 1900s to the present day to


continue writing the Hardy Boy series. Joanne Rowling also decided to add a K in

her name to J K Rowling so that boys would read her Harry Potter series and even

adopted the pseudonym of Robert Galbraith to publish her Cormoran Strike series

because of the adult nature and vulgarity of the series which she believes would

not be accepted by the public if the true identity of its author came out. J K

Rowling is not a woman trapped in the ideologue of the 1880s but rather a

modern-day author and public figure. For her to make such vivid statements are

the biggest examples of what the feminist literary critiques are trying to point out

and argue as to how internalized the male stigma and domination is. Women of

the past wrote under pseudonyms because they grew up in a system which

expected them to only be a piece of attraction rather than be a mind of

intellectualism. The Bronte Sisters wrote under three separate pseudonyms

collectively called the Bells to have their works and writings published. Similarly, A

M Barnard is the creative name for Louisa May Alcott who wrote many significant

novels. Even Amantine Dupin, a champion feminist and non-conformist wrote

under the name George Sand to ensure her works would get published without

much difficulty and hitch. Mary Ann Evans who was George Elliot, Violet Paget

who was Vernon Lee, Karen Blixen who was Isak Dinsen, Katherine Burdekin who

wrote under Murry Constantine, Alice Bradley Sheldon who was better known as

James Triptee Jr just to name a few, champions of various genres, especially the

social, Gothic, horror and love faced many hardships and worked around the

system to get their literature published and red across the world. Why? For the

simple reason is why would society read a woman? Why would they take a

woman seriously and why would they even allow her opinions to be flashed for

public display? Pseudonyms work not only as a way of protecting the identity of

controversial writings by these women but also help to have a chance stood that

they will be published. Are these pen names no longer a way of creating an alter

ego put rather facets of patriarchal oppression? Many researchers and writers as

well a lot of modern feminists feel that these names only shield the patriarchal

identity of society and must be done away with to celebrate and cherish the idea

of what equality stands for and how voices of women have been systematically

oppressed to a point where they had to join the very system that sought to

confirm them and take them away from society. The traditional canon created by

men, endorsed by men, focuses on men and we make it a part of our learning

system. Let us see two examples I’d like to present. Two novels, one The Count of


Monte Cristo and the other The Centerville Ghost. Both books while excellent

reads, when focused on how the female characters are portrayed, we see that

they are seen as weak, in need of protection or property which is fought over by

men. Both these books make a very important part of a young child’s literary

study in many public schools even today. The way it is written and the way the

feminine characters are shown, shows how the idea of a woman was to these

authors and how it has evolved into the shape it has taken as we know now.

Women has to take up these pseudonyms not because of lack determination to

write with their real names but because of a system of oppression that forced

them to take a position which has led to many to fight for rights of women in a

still very patriarchal and unequal society. In the 1970s there were major

researches to understand the appeal women had as authors especially in the

Gothic genre popularized by Ann Radcliffe. While it is worth noting that at one

point a book written by ‘a lady’ would get great popularity and many men wrote

anonymously stating they were female writers, this was however to reinforce the

idea of the canon which was already in place and was reinforcing these ideas.

Feminist authors like Woolf had to fight to establish certain new ideas and norms

which was deemed unacceptable by society. Similarly many authors and critics

claim that women who used pseudonyms had to do so because of personal life

choices, a very common example is of George Elliot aka Mary Ann Evans who had

had eloped to Germany with her lover did not want to be seen by society as a

‘fallen woman’, however, the very fact that societal labels forced her to think of

herself as a certain character shows the need of intervention of feminism in large

and feminist literary critiques as well. Similarly, Mary Shelly had to publish her

work under her husband’s name (Percy Bache Shelly) to be taken as a serous

author. The work of women have to be taken into stride to understand how these

works were written in a time of a heavily patriarchal society and why these works

need to be published in a manner which will see them in a new light. All books

past or present need to be seen by the scope of a feminist literature critique to

not only ensure that there is not reinforcement of patriarchal identities but to

also preserve the years of hard work, writing, emotions, ideas put behind the

books of prominent women. Today the debate rages whether female authors who

used male pseudonyms be allowed to be published under their real names rather

than their pseudonyms which I believe is a very important debate so as to not

only dethrone the patriarchal ideas rooted in the canon but also the need to


recognize these authors and their contribution. A society of deceit can never

function properly and to erase deceit there must be truth. A truth as seen by the

lenses of modernity, feminism, a new canon with new ideas and improved

identities. Aiming for a society not bounded by the fear of what others will think

but rather habituated by what we all think. Pseudonyms are very important for

many authors indeed, however the idea of it representing the patriarchal bias and

a staunch need for conformity must be done away with and broken.

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