Virginia Woolf's secret career as a science fiction writer who inspired Attack of the 50 Foot Woman

Sometimes you come across a satire that sounds so plausible that you wish you lived in an alternative universe where it were true. Such is the case with this article from Check Your Facts about Virginia Woolf's pulp career writing under the pen name EV Odle to make money. The article reads, in part:

Virginia Woolf, arguably one of the most famous female authors of the 20th century, is best known for her novels that experimented with stream-of-consciousness and the underlying psychological as well as emotional motives of characters. Less well known are the early pseudo-science-fiction works that Woolf wrote under the pen name E V Odle, however in recent years it is these works that have arguably had more influence on popular culture.

Woolf was born in 1882 and showed a talent for writing from a very early age; however her first book The Voyage Out was not published until she was 33 in 1915. For the next few years she enjoyed mixed success as a novelist (not enjoying mainstream recognition under her own name until 1925's Mrs Dalloway) and so as a way to supplement her income wrote a number of short stories and novels to be published in popular magazines and newspapers.

In order to preserve her reputation as a ‘serious' writer and not detract from her true work she took the pen name E V Odle (it has also been suggested that the gender neutrality of this name helped her make a profit within a genre that was dominated by men). After a few adventure stories she settled into writing science fiction, a genre made popular at the time by H G Wells, and her first major financial success was the 1917 novelette The Houyhnhnm, based upon characters from Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels . . .

After a series of mildly successful short stories Woolf (still under the pen-name Odle) started work on a serial entitled The Puppeteer God (1919), a complex story about a lonely creature who drew energy from the dreams of others, leading him to enslave his victims in a dream like trance – the world we know – without any knowledge that they were actually his prisoners. The Wachowski brothers have acknowledged its influence in the development of their 1999 hit film, The Matrix . . .

Other influential works published under the name E V Odle were the 1923 novel The Clockwork Man, considered by most to be the first instance of a cyborg in fiction, and An Unwanted Guest (1925) in which an encounter with an ancient spirit sees protagonist Nancy Archer transformed into a giant. The book was later re-imagined as the 1958 camp film Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.

After the wide critical acclaim of Mrs Dalloway Woolf was able to focus on her more serious works and dropped the use of her pen-name, but her E V Odle books still enjoyed mainstream popularity way into the 1930s.


The weird part is that so few people know about EV Odle's actual career — he did in fact write a 1923 novel called Clockwork Man (though he didn't write the other novels listed) — that it's tempting to believe that he was actually the invention of Woolf. After all, Woolf did write fiction that was SF-inspired. And she did write fan mail to influential SF writer Olaf Stapledon, author of Odd John. I wish somebody would make a very weird, literary science fiction movie with Emma Thompson playing Virginia Woolf as she churns out EV Odle novels about cyborgs who play cricket.

Read the whole article about Woolf's alternate universe career at Check Your Facts.


Craig Michael Ranapia

After all, Woolf did write fiction that was SF-inspired.

It's not as if "SF/fantasy written by people who'd be mortified to have it called that" was a #FakeHugoAward that started with Margaret Atwood. :) I once got into a bizarre argument with someone who thought I was "demeaning" Woolf's writing by suggesting you could make a case Orlando was at least partially inspired by the fairy tales that would have been nursery staples for any literate upper middle-class late-Victorian child.