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J.K. Rowling's use of a pseudonym shows literature is still divided into gendered domains
Readers of The Cuckoo's Calling, a detective novel, might have imagined Richard Galbraith as a crusty old army veteran who could spin a good yarn. Published this February, the book had received glowing reviews. Would Galbraith's sleuth have been as "complex and compelling" if critics had known that the real author was J.K. Rowling? Last year, the author's first Muggle book, The Casual Vacancy, had been published to universal disdain. Galbraith had an unfair advantage over Rowling; not being known as one of the best-selling authors of all time must help in managing expectations. But it is worrying that the Currer Bell phenomenon persists in the literary world of the 21st century.
When Jane Eyre, by a "Currer Bell", was published in 1847, it was instantly popular. But as speculation grew that Currer Bell was actually a woman, the language and sentiments of the novel suddenly appeared "coarse". Critic G.H. Lewes advised Bell, or rather, Charlotte Bronte, to write more temperately, following in the measured footsteps of Austen. It was common for 19th-century female novelists to write under male pseudonyms — George Eliot and George Sand, among others. Those who did not were expected to maintain a certain feminine propriety. Some of these prejudices followed women authors into the 20th century, especially in crime writing. P.D. James, for instance, prefers clipped, gender-neutral initials. Female crime writers may be allowed to write cosies, such as those of Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, but the grittier stuff was more believable when it came from men, publishing choices seemed to suggest.