George Eliot among 25 female authors published under their own name for the first time

The Reclaim Her Name project will publish 'debuts' from pen-named women authors who shaped literature.

The Reclaim Her Name Project. Image: Tamryn Kerr

For decades, those reading Middlemarch or A Phantom Lover have had to search beyond the books' spines for the true identity of their authors. These well-known novels were written by women who could only achieve publication by submitting their work under male pseudonyms. Now, decades – and in some cases, centuries – after they were published, these women are getting their real names on book jackets.

The Reclaim Her Name campaign is a project from the Women's Prize for Fiction, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this summer. Twenty-five books by women who were published under male pen-names have been made available to download as e-books for free, while physical box sets will be donated to selected libraries across the country. 

The project aims to encourage new conversations around the continuing challenges that women's history faces, as well as shine a light on some titles that have been lost over the years. Along with Middlemarch, voted the country's best-loved book, which will now be published under Mary Ann Evans' name rather than George Eliot's, are lesser-known works.

In 1893, Mary Bright published Keynotes as George Egerton. This collection of feminist short stories openly discussed female sexuality, but Bright was all too aware that her gender would hold her back, writing at the time: "I realised that in literature, everything had been better done by man than woman could hope to emulate. There was one small plot left for her to tell; the terra incognita of herself, as she knew herself to be, not as man liked to imagine her."

The Life of Martin R Delany was the first biography to be published by an African American – Frank A Rollin – in 1868. Now, Frances Rollin Whipper will have her own name under the title. In 1939, the debut short story of Ann Petry – who published Marie of the Cabin Club under the name Arnold Petri – made her the first African American woman to sell more than a million copies of a book, and now gets a new platform under Petry's real name. 

The collection has been chosen by a team commissioned by Baileys, a sponsor of the Women's Prize, who have been trawling archives and libraries for books written by women under male pen-names. The covers have been re-designed by a number of female illustrators. All 25 are now available to download for free here.

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