Nom de Plume by Carmela Ciararu

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As I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been struggling to post thoughts on the books I’ve read recently. But I saw this article and knew I needed to get these thoughts up now. The topic is an interesting one, and that article about the book I just read reminded me to get in gear and gather my thoughts.

Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms by Carmela Ciuraru was an enjoyable collection of miniature biographies about various literary figures throughout more recent history that have written and published under pseudonyms. Ms Ciuraru explores their personal and writing lives, and for our sakes she seeks to answer why each chose to write under an assumed name. Either they had secrets to hide, or they felt they had different identities, or they didn’t wish to embarrass their families, or … the list goes on. Although only about nine of the sixteen highlighted authors were ones I have read or heard of in the past, learning about all the authors was interesting.

I love biographies, but I rarely get to them. Also, by the end of 400 pages on one person, I usually feel a bit tired of the person. Ms Ciuraru’s snippet biographies were just right for me: I enjoyed the look at the authors’ personal lives, but I also finished each chapter still curious about the given author, and still intrigued to give their novels a try (for the classic authors at least).

In this age of blogging, I find it fascinating that bloggers can adopt a pen name and blog rather anonymously, at least for a time. Although I blog under my own name, I still felt rather anonymous. That is, I did until I started posting my picture and vlogging and otherwise letting myself be known.

But from the beginning of their fame, celebrities, even babies, cannot avoid the limelight on their personal life. I think even once a blogger reaches a certain point, personal life and public spotlight begin to cross, as I mentioned I feel it starting to do now, especially since people in my physical life read my blog and now I’ve personally met other once anonymous to me bloggers. One would struggle to remain completely anonymous in the modern world.

The authors of the past were better able to hide behind their names. From Acton, Currer, and Ellis Bell to George Eliot and George Sand, women found more freedom in a male pseudonym. I most enjoyed these chapters about the classics writers I was most familiar with. Other authors I knew and that I want to read more of include Lewis Carroll, Mark Twain, O. Henry, George Orwell, Isak Dinesen, Sylvia Plath. While I knew a little of their stories, reading how their pseudonyms affected their writing life was very interesting.

Of the authors I hadn’t read before or even heard of, I was most interested in the chapter on James Tiptree, Jr., author of science fiction novels and the pseudonym for Alice Sheldon. It goes to show Ms Ciuraru’s talent for capturing a life story that this chapter stood out to me. Alice Sheldon was far different from myself and wrote something I have no interest in (I am not a fan of science fiction). Yet I grieved for her struggle as a woman in a repressive (modern!) culture and was fascinated by her struggles. When I read of the reaction of the science fiction community on the revelation of her true gender, I wondered how far we really had come, or not, since the Bronte days.

Nom de Plume is popular nonfiction at its best, I think. It’s full of griping stories (and some fascinating secrets, as the title indicates). It’s thoroughly researched. (I was amazed by the depth of knowledge the author obviously had about each author.) But Nom de Plume is written  in a straight-forward, nonscholarly style. It is accessible to those who don’t read or haven’t read the authors she has mentioned, as well as those who may not normally read biographies.

As a whole, reading about pseudonymous existence made me wonder what is in a name, and the ways a name echoes one’s identity. When I was a child, I went by a nickname. As an adult, I began  introducing myself as Rebecca, and now only my family and old friends call me by the nickname. It’s interesting to me that even though I much prefer “Rebecca,” and that is how I think of myself, I still have that other identity inside of me too, who I see as as a little redheaded girl with pigtails and buck teeth. I’ve learned to embrace it.

If the Huffington Post teaser intrigues you, give the full book a try. You’ll probably enjoy it too! Also, see this interesting interview with the author.

Note: I received an autographed review copy at BEA. Nom de Plume is published by HarperCollins, June 2011.

Do you blog under a pseudonym? How does blogging under a pseudonym change things for you, or does it? (What secrets are you hiding?)



Reviewed on June 21, 2011

About the author 

Rebecca Reid

Rebecca Reid is a homeschooling, stay-at-home mother seeking to make the journey of life-long learning fun by reading lots of good books. Rebecca Reads provides reviews of children's literature she has enjoyed with her children; nonfiction that enhances understanding of educational philosophies, history and more; and classical literature that Rebecca enjoys reading.

  • I have a nascent but lively interest in at least two of the subjects discussed here (Pessoa and Gary—in fact I bought a copy of Gary’s Pseudo when I was in France, which is kind of a double-pseudonymed work), so this sounds worth checking out! I love detailed, full-length biography, so might find Ciuraru’s short segments to be a bit of a tease…but if I did I could always seek out a longer biographical work on the writers who particularly intrigue me. 🙂

    • Emily » Pessoa and Gary were two that I admit I had never heard of! But very fascinating stories. It definitely isn’t full length biography — so you might be disappointed — but in general I thought it was a wonderful introduction.

  • Interesting post–I need to find this book. Loved the article you linked to.

    I decided to blog under a pseudonym because I work at a public library and we have some wacky patrons. Sometimes I write–very generally–about my family or other slightly personal things and I was worried about putting that out on the internet with names attached. Most likely, if someone were crazy enough to want to track me down they could, though. Did you have any misgivings about using your real name for your blog?

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