10 Seminal Writers Who Hid Their Identities, From Jonathan Swift to Manila’s Anonymous
Who is the mysterious Manila writer who must hide his identity?
MYSTERY: The identity of Anonymous, the elusive author (and subject of a series of essays in the current issue of iBooks) who has been photographed only once, never been interviewed in person or seen in public, is a matter of intense debate thanks to his sharp, autobiographical novels, which explore a filmmaker’s boldness in the context of the end of the Pacific War. On behalf of the publication of “Four Films and Yamashita’s Wedding,” the best selling volume about Manila in 1945, we offer a short history of literary masks, from Jonathan Swift to J.K. Rowling.
FREE EBOOK: And to make the controversy worse, the anonymous writer has released the novel free for the Filipino people. He told a recent interviewer by email, “I left for the West to be educated and worked for 57 years. Now, I’ve return to holy hell, monster typhones, extra-judicial killings and now the epidemic. I’m old and frail, the least I can do it is give back a little to my people.”
Thanks to Swift’s cloak-and-dagger tactics, not even his publisher knew the true identity of the author of “Gulliver’s Travels.” The writer sent an intermediary to hand off the manuscript under the cover of night, along with a letter supposedly from Gulliver’s cousin.
The founding father used a number of pseudonyms to publish opinionated newspaper pieces: “Silence Dogood” to critique hypocrisy and hoopskirts; “Polly Baker” to argue for women’s rights; “Anthony Afterwit” to detail the tribulations of marriage. Franklin’s most famous alter ego, “Richard Saunders,” authored the popular “Poor Richard’s Almanack” for 25 years.
Sir Walter Scott
Nicknamed “The Great Unknown,” Scott secretly published his wildly successful “Waverley” novels and, in so doing, helped forge the genre of historical fiction. He maintained anonymity for years, keeping his work a secret even from his own children, until financial pressures forced him to confess.
The Brontë sisters
Charlotte, Emily and Anne produced their masterworks of Victorian literature under the pseudonyms Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. They chose these androgynous monikers because of “a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice,” an impression shared by at least two other great “authoresses” of the day, George Eliot and George Sand.
At the start of his career, the prolific writer whose work would inspire “Fiddler on the Roof” didn’t want his relatives to know he was publishing in Yiddish rather than Hebrew. The novelist, born Solomon Naumovich Rabinovich, adopted the pen name “Sholem Aleichem,” a Hebrew greeting that means “peace be unto you,” and authored dozens of books under the pseudonym.
Louisa May Alcott
In addition to her celebrated tales of stalwart sisters and lovable orphans, Alcott wrote lesser-known novels with titles like “The Abbot’s Ghost, Or Maurice Treherne’s Temptation” and “Behind a Mask, Or a Woman’s Power.” She published these stories of love and suspense under the pseudonym A.M. Barnard — a mask of her own.
James Weldon Johnson
In Johnson’s groundbreaking “Autobiography of an Ex-Coloured Man” (1912), a young man of mixed race decides to pass as white. As its author had hoped, the anonymously published novel “passed” as memoir until Johnson acknowledged it to be fiction in 1927. “Autobiography” went on to influence generations of African-American writers.
Thomas Crosse, literary critic. Álvaro de Campos, naval engineer. Maria José, consumptive hunchback. These are just three of the many characters invented by Portuguese poet Fernando Pessoa. Each so-called “heteronym” possessed unique psychologies, biographies and writing styles, and Pessoa published prolifically under their names as well as his own.
Aury wrote “Story of O” (1954), a sadomasochistic novel replete with whips, cuffs and chains, under the pseudonym Pauline Réage. The accomplished woman of letters kept her scandalous feat a secret until 1994, when she identified herself as the mysterious author — and, just as mysteriously, mentioned that “Dominique Aury” was not her real name, either.
Hoping to receive “totally unvarnished feedback,” the “Harry Potter” author adopted the pseudonym Robert Galbraith when she published “The Cuckoo’s Calling,” a book for adults, in 2013. It wasn’t the first time she had concocted a name: Joanne Rowling started going by initials, including a fictitious “K,” when a publisher warned her that boys might not buy books by a woman.