Tuesday, 25 July 2017

A Gender-Neutral Post from N.C. Andrew

I hear that male novelists have taken to writing for the women's market - the only fiction market that seems to be thriving - under names that give no indication of their sex, forenames being represented by initials. The wisdom of the market is that women only want to read novels by other women - preferably novels with titles containing the word 'Girl' or, at a pinch, 'Woman'. Among recent titles, Final Girls, The Girl Before and The Woman in the Window were all written by men using 'gender'-neutral names - and so was the big-selling Before I Go to Sleep, a Girl-free title.
  If it's true that women only want to read novels by other women - and, by the same logic, men only want to read men - then it's a dismal lookout. (Me, I seem to greatly prefer women novelists - but then, I'm not in the market for contemporary, or genre, fiction.) It might seem like some kind of payback that male novelists are now having to pass themselves off as women, rather than the other way round. However, I've never really bought the notion that, in the bad old days, women writers could only expect to be taken seriously if they pretended to be men. For one thing, it's a pretence that isn't going to last long; it might be useful in order to get published, but after the first successful publication, the truth will out, and will make no difference. The Brontes were a special case in every way,  and did Mary Ann Evans really have to call herself 'George Eliot' in order to be published and taken seriously? Was there anyone still under the impression she was a man by the time Middlemarch was published? Did any male reader, discovering the subterfuge, fling it aside as a novel fit only for women? Most Victorian women writers of all kinds kept their own names and were taken no less seriously for it.
  All of Ivy Compton-Burnett's novels were published under the name 'I. Compton-Burnett'. Was this a serious attempt to pass as a man? Did readers recommend 'the new one by this chap Ian Compton-Burnett'? It seems unlikely.


  1. Sometimes it might have been that the female Christian name having class or other connotations. Rebecca West changed her name from Cicely Fairfield (which I rather like) because she thought it just reeked of middle-classness, which was not what she wanted her writing to be about. (Of course she pilfered "Rebecca West" from Ibsen, signalling that she was a strong "new woman"). Maybe George Eliot had concerns about Mary Ann, or Ivy Compton-Burnett might have felt someone named "Ivy" (as opposed to Jane, or Augusta) would not be taken seriously. There are fashions in girls' names, as we know.

  2. I've published several novels under the name Georgina Eliot. No one seemed to notice.

  3. Good point, Foose - there's probably a lot in that. And men do the same, I guess - Victor Pritchett doesn't sound half as good as V.S., or Cecil Forrester as C.S. And then there was the vogue for suppressed first names - H. de Vere Stacpoole, H. Montgomery Hyde, L. Marsland Gander, etc...

  4. How did you alight on N. C. Andrew to title this blog? Is the 'Andrew' a hint at 'andrew-gynous'? or is that too subtle? Is the 'N. C.' indicative of a desire to maintain anonymity? - suggesting here the Latin 'nolle clamare' - do not utter/name 'Andrew'? all very mysterious, but thought-provoking enough to take time out from de-fleaing the cat to work the puzzle. Or is there a puzzle (that being a puzzle in itself)?