By Pranjali Wakde
Most authors are absolutely thrilled to have their names on their books – it just proudly speaks of their hard work and dedication. However, there exists a group that use a different name to vent their emotions out. These pseudonyms become their safe anchor, a name behind which they won’t get judged, or maybe just want to create a different identity altogether. Whatever the reason must be, many authors, to date, have resorted to pennames – and honestly, it makes reading books so much fun!
Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell:
This trio was bound to be on this list, because by now, who doesn’t know their real identity? It is the penname of the infamous sisters, Charlotte, Emily and Anne Brontë, usually referred to as the Brontë Sisters. Their works are classics and are still being read all around the world. But the readers have always speculated the reason why they used pen names to write their masterpieces? Unsurprisingly, women authors were not that easily accepted in their times – in Charlotte’s own words, “…we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice” – and therefore, the sisters had to find a way to not let that be a problem while writing. The solution? Pseudonyms!
When it comes to Mary Westmacott, let’s just say it was a situation of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This pseudonym was adopted by the amazing English crime writer, Agatha Christie, whose books are held in the highest regard in the genre of mystery and detective novels. However, after writing more than 60 detective novels and 15 short story collections, Christie understandably realized she wanted a break from writing the same old, same old. This thought process gave birth to Mary Westmacott, who worked like her ‘alter ego’; she wrote six romance novels as Westmacott. And guess what? Those had even better reviews than her thriller fiction!
There was a crime mystery published in 2013, that caused quite a stir – The Cuckoo’s Calling. It was written by Robert Galbraith and everyone wondered who this person was… until it was revealed that he was she and she is none other than J.K. Rowling! The author of the popular Harry Potter series has, unintentionally, made her own identity, i.e. someone who writes in the YA genre. And therefore, she took the same steps that every other women author does – taking on a pseudonym. On her decision, she said, “I was yearning to go back to the beginning of a writing career with this new genre, to work without hype or expectation and to receive totally unvarnished feedback.” Makes sense, don’t you think?
Snowqueens Icedragon/E. L. James:
A lot of speculation surrounds Fifty Shades of Grey – along with having that appealing yet controversial plot, it has been referred to as Twilight fan fiction. Let’s add even more to this list by saying that when that book – Master of the Universe – was published on Kindle first, the name of the author was ‘Snowqueens Icedragon’. Her works garnered positive reviews, which made her adopt a better name to go with her Fifty Shades trilogy, E. L. James. But who is this person who wrote such wild fiction? She’s Erika Mitchell, a British author, who poured her heart and desires into her work and gave the world a masterpiece.
George Eliot has been one of the few quintessential figures of the Victorian era, who gave us some amazing novels like The Mill on the Floss, Romola and Middlemarch. But George is not a he, but she! Yes, her real name is Mary Ann Evans and she was forced to adopt a pseudonym to protect herself and her works. As has been an unwilling trend of the earlier times, the female authors were always supposed to write romances. Not only did Evans want her work to be judged without any bias but also wanted to shield her relationship with George Henry Lewes, who was already married.
One of the most successful pseudonyms in the literary world has to be Elena Ferrante – because even her Wikipedia page doesn’t tell her real name. It just says, “… is a pseudonymous Italian novelist.” Ferrante has, however, published many novels to date, including the popular four-book series called the Neapolitan Novels. There has been a lot of discussion about who she might be because she has successfully kept her identity a secret since the publication of her first novel in 1992. Claudio Gatti, an Italian journalist, has claimed that she is Anita Raja – a translator from Rome – is the real person behind the ‘Ferrante’ façade. But there’s no confirmation yet, so we still don’t know the genius behind the masterpieces.
Believe it or not, Dr. Seuss name is not… Dr. Seuss – it’s actually Theodor Geisel! Dr. Seuss is a much-loved literary figure, who used to be a children’s author, poet, animator and political cartoonist. He regularly wrote and drew for the Dartmouth Jack-O-Lantern, a humour magazine of his college. This went on perfectly until he was caught drinking bootleg gin with his friends and was banned from contributing to the magazine at all. But since he still wanted to, he adopted his middle name as his identity – and Dr. Seuss was born. It feels wrong to say this but it is a blessing that the young Theodor got caught!
There are only so many reasons for the authors to have their names changed, but the result is always laced with the judgement of the work without any opinionated thoughts involved, the thrill and freedom of anonymity and a supposed increase in the readership. And if we think about it, any author really wishes for only this result – so, it’s a win-win situation, right?