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Book review: 'Nom de Plume'

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A (secret) history of pseudonyms. Von Carmela Ciuraru '96JRN (HarperCollins).

By Phoebe magician |Fall 2011

Whatever the success of my stories, Mary Ann Evans wrote to an editor in 1857, I will be determined to keep mine inkognito after observing that a Pen name ensures all the benefits without the inconvenience of reputation. Evans then signed the letter and all subsequent work to George Eliot.

in the Nom de Plume: A (secret) history of pseudonyms , Carmela Ciuraru (her real name) records the lives of 16 notable authors who wrote under false names and tells the lives of the pseudonyms themselves. Samuel Clemens, for example, was born in Missouri in 1835, but Mark Twain was born in Nevada in 1863, and Ciuraru '96JRN explains both stories. Mary Ann Evans - a woman in Victorian England who not only lived with someone else's husband, but worse, Novels written - agreed with her claim that George Eliot's reputation was more respectable than her own.

Ciuraru doesn't shy away from the inconvenience of reputation and instead presents a serious work of literary criticism that still reads like a literary one in places Us weekly . She argues that overall great writers were a strange and lonely bunch, blessed with imagination but scarred by childhood trauma, compulsions, and drinking problems, and that the pseudonym enabled them to express themselves without fear. Even more convincing, Ciuraru skillfully used diary entries and letters from her subjects to illustrate how characters from Sylvia Plath to Isak Dinesen to the Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa sensed the presence of at least one other being. As Dinesen wrote in one of their stories, they believed that all people in the world should be, each of them more than one, and they all would. . . be lighter in heart. Turning to duality, the same Ciuraru seeking a better understanding of the English canon also delights in clapping tidbits, revealing that Charlotte Brontë (aka Currer Bell) has too big a head for her body and a terrible, unrequited crush on her dashing ones Boys had editors; that science fiction writer Alice Sheldon used her alter ego, James Tiptree Jr., to flirt with the women she secretly desired; and that William Sydney Porter could never meet a deadline, using the name O. Henry in part to hide the fact that he began his writing career in an Ohio prison.

The underrated writer Henry Green (a smelly drinker with brown teeth and dirty hair whose real name was Henry Yorke) noted that reading prose should be a long intimacy between strangers. While authors themselves prefer to be known only through their work, Feather name will satisfy readers who want to deepen the relationship.

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