Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms

From The Christian Science Monitor:

Nom We often think of writing as a form of self-expression, but how much do words truly reveal about their authors? This question is at the heart of Carmela Ciuraru’s Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms, a fascinating investigation of why writers use pen names. The book begins with a meditation on the power of naming. “Names are loaded, full of pitfalls and possibilities, and can prove obstacles to writing…” Ciuraru explains. “A change of name, much like a change of scenery, provides a chance to begin again.” With skilled research and palpable empathy, Ciuraru chronicles the lives of secretive storytellers – those who wished to communicate without being known. In our tell-all age, such shyness might seem strange, but there was a time when pseudonyms were common.

Many literary giants have disguised their identities – including George Eliot, Lewis Carroll, and O’Henry – and Nom de Plume gives us insight into the men and women behind the masks. Through well-chosen quotes, Ciuraru lets the authors speak for themselves. By sampling extensively from letters and diaries, she shows the vast gulf that can exist between an author’s identity and his or her persona on the page. Here is an example. A profile of Alice Sheldon – who wrote science fiction under a male pseudonym – includes Sheldon’s pathetic confession that “I’m fond of a hundred people who no more know ‘me’ than the landscape of Antarctica.” These kinds of quotes flesh out the historical figures Ciuraru describes and help readers understand their motivations.

More here.

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