Nom De Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms
By Carmela Ciuraru
Harper, 331 pages, $24.99
Writers are always looking for new ways to tell stories, and Carmela Ciuraru has found hers in “Nom De Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms.” In her latest book, Ciuraru, editor of eight poetry anthologies, chronicles the role of the pseudonym in the last couple of centuries through sixteen literary figures, some more obscure (Fernando Pessoa, Henry Green, Anne Desclos), and some from the highest echelons of literary renown (Mark Twain, George Orwell, Sylvia Plath).
“Nom De Plume” never feels gimmicky, though, because pseudonyms reveal a lot about an author’s relationship to identity. As in the case of the Bronte sisters (who originally published as Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell), Aurore Dupin (George Sand) or Marian Evans (George Eliot), pseudonyms were a necessity for women who wanted their work to be taken seriously.
At other times, the decision to use a pseudonym derived from conflicted sexual identity (science-fiction writer Alice Sheldon wrote as James Tiptree, Jr. to explore her masculine side), aversion to celebrity (Oxford University professor Charles Dodgson didn’t want his students to know he was the children’s book writer Lewis Carroll) or a desire for reinvention (Sylvia Plath experienced intense bouts of self-doubt). Ciuraru writes of the young, cantankerous Plath: