Some Pen-Names Used by Australian Women Writers between the Wars.

While the novelist Miles Franklin is best known for the classic Australian novel, My Brilliant Career (1901), and her ‘Brent of Bin Bin’ series, her now very rare (so scarce that it is not even held by the National Library of Australia) novel, The Net of Circumstance, a romance published by Mills & Boon in 1915, was, like most of her books, also written under a pseudonym. Franklin reversed ‘Talbingo’, the town where she was born, and came up with ‘Mr and Mrs Ogniblat L’Artsau’. This was partly adopted for anonymity after the success of My Brilliant Career, but the use of ‘Miles’, one of her middle names, rather than her first name Stella, for her first and most famous novel was chosen to suggest ambiguity.

Similarly, Ethel Florence Richardson published her novels, including the Australian ‘masterpiece’, The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, in three volumes between 1917 and 1929 as ‘Henry Handel’ Richardson. In her ADB entry on Richardson, the literary historian Dorothy Green wrote that the pen-name was ‘adopted for mixed motives’ but ‘probably militated against recognition especially when feminist literary history began’. Despite being turned down by Heinemann, but published at the author’s expense under its imprint, the final volume of the trilogy, Ultima Thule, was a critical and popular success, winning the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal for 1929. In the same year Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw published the first of their collaborative novels, A House is Built, as ‘M. Barnard-Eldershaw’.

The bestselling, but now forgotten author, Edith Lyttleton, wrote numerous novels as ‘G.B. Lancaster’, including Pageant (1933), one of the most successful books published by the the Bulletin’s short-lived Endeavour Press and another winner of the ALS Gold Medal. As ‘Leslie Parker’, Angela Thirkell, mother of Graeme McInnes, author of The Road to Gundagai (1965) &c., published Trooper to the Southern Cross (1934), a fictional account of a troop-ship voyage to Australia after World War I, and re-published as What Happened on the Boat in 1935 (and reprinted in paperback several times under its original title and her own name). Long before Joan Lindsay’s famous novel Picnic at Hanging Rock (1967), and the 1975 film, Lindsay published her first book, a travel spoof, Through Darkest Pondelayo: An Account of the Adventures of Two English Ladies on a Cannibal Island (1936) as ‘Serena Livingstone-Stanley’.

Lesser known writers using pen-names during the 1930s included Dorothy Blewett who published her first novel, Vision (1931), as ‘Anne Praize’; Doris Kerr, who wrote as ‘Capel Boake’, including her novels Painted Clay (1917; reprinted Virago, 1986) and The Dark Thread (1936); Marjorie Clark who wrote four novels – Jacqueline (1927), Tantalego (1928), The Difficult Art (1930), and She Dresses For Dinner (1933) – as ‘Georgia Rivers’, mostly published for the demands of the contemporary circulating library market, and all of which are now very hard to find; and Velia Ercole published her first ‘Margaret Gregory’ novel, Marriage Made on Earth, in 1939.

And Mary Mitchell, author of the popular success A Warning to Wantons (1934), also published three crime novels, now scarce – The Secret of the Sandbanks (1934), The Secret of the Snows (1935), and The Pazenger Problem (1936) – as ‘Josephine Plain’ and not known in literary circles at the time.

While the use of a male pseudonym suggests the barriers faced by women writers in getting published, Australian women writers made a significant contribution to the national literature published between the wars. As Drusilla Modjeska points out in her book about Australian women writers, Exiles at Home (1981), ‘[a]lmost half the novels written between 1928 and 1939 were by women.’ These include some of the best novels published before the war, notably My Brilliant Career, filmed in 1979, and The Fortunes of Richard Mahony ­– the latter first published as a one volume edition in 1930. Both are rightly still in print.

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