Nom de Plume
A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms
By Carmela Ciuraru
(Harper, Hardcover, 9780061735264, 368pp.)
Publication Date: June 1, 2011
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What's in a name?
In our "look at me" era, everyone's a brand. Privacy now seems a quaint relic, and self-effacement is a thing of the past. Yet, as Nom de Plume reminds us, this was not always the case. Exploring the fascinating stories of more than a dozen authorial impostors across several centuries and cultures, Carmela Ciuraru plumbs the creative process and the darker, often crippling aspects of fame.
Biographies have chronicled the lives of pseudonymous authors such as Mark Twain, Isak Dinesen, and George Eliot, but never before have the stories behind many noms de plume been collected into a single volume. These are narratives of secrecy, obsession, modesty, scandal, defiance, and shame: Only through the protective guise of Lewis Carroll could a shy, half-deaf Victorian mathematician at Oxford feel free to let his imagination run wild. The "three weird sisters" (as they were called by the poet Ted Hughes) from Yorkshirethe Brontesproduced instant bestsellers that transformed them into literary icons, yet they wrote under the cloak of male authorship. Bored by her aristocratic milieu, a cigar-smoking, cross-dressing baroness rejected the rules of propriety by having sexual liaisons with men and women alike, publishing novels and plays under the name George Sand.
Grounded by research yet highly accessible and engaging, these provocative, astonishing stories reveal the complex motives of writers who harbored secret identitiessometimes playfully, sometimes with terrible anguish and tragic consequences. A wide-ranging examination of pseudonyms both familiar and obscure, Nom de Plume is part detective story, part exposÉ, part literary history, and an absorbing psychological meditation on identity and creativity.
Carmela Ciuraru is not a pseudonym. Her anthologies include First Loves: Poets Introduce the Essential Poems That Captivated and Inspired Them and Solitude Poems. She is a graduate of Columbia University's School of Journalism and a member of the National Book Critics Circle. She has written for the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Newsday, Elle Decor, ARTNews, O, The Oprah Magazine, and other publications. She lives in Brooklyn.