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Originally published Saturday, June 18, 2011 at 7:03 PM

Book review

'Nom de Plume': why famous authors use pen names

Carmela Ciuraru's "Nom de Plume" examines the history and psychology behind famous authors' decisions to use pen names.

The Associated Press

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'Nom de Plume: A (Secret) History of Pseudonyms'

by Carmela Ciuraru

Harper, 368 pp., $24.99

In the annals of literature, pen names have long created as much intrigue about the authors as the pieces they write.

Carmela Ciuraru's "Nom de Plume" deftly tells the stories of some of literature's most famous pen names. She documents these secretive, often eccentric writers' lives and works and examines their decision to use pen names. From Lewis Carroll (born Charles Dodgson), to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) and Victoria Lucas (Sylvia Plath), one chapter is devoted to each, with so much detail that the authors seem to become characters in Ciuraru's book.

The book is as much a meditation on the creative process as it is a tell-all about names and the intrigue, branding or mind games that created them.

The names can be an excuse, reason or outlet to create. The Bronte sisters — Anne, Charlotte and Emily — wouldn't have been taken seriously — or even printed. The male pen names of Acton, Currer and Ellis Bell gave them a chance to be published.

Others, like Carroll, author of "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland," were well-established in their fields and wanted a pen name to separate their various selves.

One shortcoming of "Nom de Plume" is its lack of conclusion. The book is told as a series of short chapters on these authors, and many similarities among them pop out beyond their pen names. Ciuraru expertly tells their stories and draws conclusions within each section, but there's no explanation that brings the examination full circle.

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