July 24, 2012


Writings the authorship of which is unknown, unacknowledge, or concealed by a fictitious name, a practice employed since classical times to thwart censorship and protect authors from retaliation for publications on matters of controversy. Because much early literature was orally transmitted and was therefore remembered for its own sake, not the author´s, the names of early poets and storytellers were forgotten, so that such literature (Beowulf, the ballads, the Norse sagas) is usually anonymous. Throughout history, some authors have deliberately hidden their identity by withholding their names or using assumed names.

There are various reasons for this. In times of political or religious controversy it may be unsafe or unwise to publish the writer´s name. The Marprelate Tracts (1588-89), by the pseudonymous Martin Marprelate, attacking the English episcopacy in somewhat ribald fashion, resulted in the rack for the printers and hanging for the suspected author. The anti-government letters of Junius, published in the London Public Advertiser (1769-72), have been attributed to or claimed by some 50 authors.

When it was not considered respectable for women to be writers, the author might be indentified as "A Lady". Other women writers adopted masculine names -George Eliot (Mary Ann Evans) and George Sand (Lucie Dudevant, née Dupin). Some authors writing in more than one kind of literature prefer to keep their literary careers separate by using pseudonyms: the 20th-century English detective-story writer Nicholas Blake is the poet C. Day Lewis. Ithers prefer to adopt pseudonyms in deference to their professional standing -James Bridie (the Scottish physician O.H. Mayor).

In the 16th and 17th centuries, the golden age of pseudonyms, most writers used one at some stage in their careers -one of the more bizarre examples was "Aceeeffghhiilmmnnoorrssstuu", an alphabetical anagram of the name Christoffel von Grimmelshausen. A more predictable later derivation is that of Mark Twain (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) from the call meaning "two fathoms deep" used on Mississipi river boats.

In the 19th and 20th centuries, Scottish authors were said to use pseudonyms most, with Poles coming next. In the 18th century the French philosopher Voltaire (François-Marie Arouet) used at least 137 pseudonyms, and the American Benjamin Franklin used 57.

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