Wednesday 17 July 2013

George Eliot and Lady Novelists

J.K. Rowling, it turns out, is Robert Galbraith. Or vice versa, I'm bad at keeping up with such things. And so people keep repeating the old canard that Mary Anne Evans had to change her name to George Eliot in order to be published.

I was told about this at school, and I've heard it since, and it's complete nonsense. If you want to know why Mary Anne Evans changed her name the best thing to do is to read an essay by a woman called Mary Anne Evans, which was published, importantly, under her real name.

The essay is called Silly Novels by Lady Novelists and you can read the whole thing here. I recommend it. It's a good essay (for a woman, you understand). But for those of you who can't be bothered I shall summarise.

1) Female novelists are almost all crap. (Remember these are George Eliot's thoughts, not mine. I love a bit of Muriel Spark). The novels they produce are almost all idiotic.

2) The reason for this is that the literary world is too kind to lady novelists. They let them write any old drivel and then review it well, just because they're women.

3) If people were nastier to lady novelists, maybe lady novelists would improve.

4) The greatest compliment that can be paid to a lady novelist is to be harshly reviewed (as Gaskell was).

The essay was published in 1856, when Mary Anne Evans was working on the Westminster Review. It was published under her own name. Three years later she published Adam Bede under the name George Eliot.

There were other reasons for a name change. Mary's private life was odd even by today's standards and pretty bloody freaky by Victorian ones. She therefore didn't want to draw attention to herself. But the reason for picking a male pseudonym is very clearly explained in Silly Novels by Lady Novelists.

No. It's by Mary Anne Evans.

1 comment:

  1. The essay describes a heroine that nowadays would be called "Mary Sue."