Egerton, Eliot, Fleming and Sand may have all been the “men” behind some of the most widely celebrated works in the Western literary canon, but not a single George authored these texts. In fact, the writers of Keynotes, Middlemarch, The Head of Medusa and Indiana were all women who chose to adopt pseudonyms during a time when gender could hinder ones chances in being published.
Today, female authors still choose to use fake male monikers—the ever-controversial J.K. Rowling recently authored crime fiction novels under the name Robert Galbraith—as challenges to make women’s contributions to literature more visible and gender bias in the publishing industry persist.
In collaboration with the Women’s Prize for Fiction, the U.K.’s most prestigious annual book award celebrating and honoring fiction written by women, liqueur brand Baileys is launching a collection of 25 novels released for the first time with the true author names on the cover, including the first publication of Middlemarch under George Eliot’s real name, Mary Ann Evans. The limited-edition line, titled “Reclaim Her Name,” also features newly commissioned cover artwork from 13 female illustrators hailing from Brazil, Russia, Jordan, Germany and elsewhere in the world.
“Baileys has been a sponsor of the Women’s Prize for Fiction for many years now and together we have been dedicated to honouring, celebrating and championing women’s writing,” Women’s Prize for Fiction founder and director Kate Mosse said in a statement. “Together, we’re incredibly excited by the Reclaim Her Name campaign—it’s a lovely way to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Prize, by doing what we always strive to do—empowering women, igniting conversations and ensuring that they get the recognition they deserve.” The 2020 sponsors of the Women’s Prize for Fiction are Baileys, Fremantle and NatWest.
The 25 books featured in “Reclaim Her Name” are: Middlemarch, Marie of the Cabin Club, Indiana, A Phantom Lover, The Life of Martin R. Delaney, Keynotes, Takekurabe (“Growing Up”), Garden of Kama, How White Men Assist in Smuggling…, Attila, My Attila!, Ye Game and Playe of Chesse, Painted Clay, For Our Country, Iras: A Mystery, Atla- Story of a Lost Island, Twilight, The Head Of Medusa, Some Emotions and a Moral, Cecilia De Noël – Mary Hawker, Echoes from Mist-land, Valerie Aylmer, A Diplomat’s Diary, and The Roadmender. In an effort to increase accessibility and visibility, the full “Reclaim Her Name” collection will be available to download as ebooks for free.
The library was meticulously selected by its creators, New York-based global brand and customer experience agency VMLY&R, which searched archives and resources, both online and offline, to identify the female writers that hid behind pseudonyms.
“Many of the authors we selected were suffragettes and staunch feminists. I’d like to think of the project as our way of thanking them for what they did for us,” Tamryn Kerr, creative director at VMLY&R, said in a statement. “These titles were specifically chosen to not only introduce classic books to a modern audience, but also to encourage dialogue around why women felt (and still feel) the need to portray themselves as men in order to become accomplished writers.”
Recently, Barnes and Noble also attempted to reimagine classic books with “diverse” protagonists in collaboration with TBWA\Chiat\Day and Penguin Random House, but the bookseller’s Black History Month campaign was deemed a performative stunt and an example of “literary blackface” by critics. The backlash was so severe that Barnes and Noble ended up pulling the plug on the collection shortly after its debut.