Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Elena Ferrante, outing or outrage?

Should authors, artists and other creatives be allowed privacy by working under a pseudonym, and is it acceptable for that to be breached by journalists in search of a story?

Authors have written under pen-names for almost as long as books have existed: Stendahl, the Brontë sisters, George Eliot, Boz, George Sand, and many many more.

Over recent years we have seen various creatives working under an alias "outed" by the media. The ongoing hunt to pin down who is Banksy is one of the best-known examples, with frequent suggestions as to the possible identity of this "England-based graffiti artist and political activist."

Robert Galbraith's first crime novel The Cuckoo's Calling (2013) was revealed as having been written under that pseudonym by JK Rowling, despite her intention for it to not be connected with her previous success with the Harry Potter series. The latest revelation appearing is the naming of the acclaimed Italian novelist, Elena Ferrante, by investigative journalist Claudio Gatti.

Do authors have the right to write under a nom de plume or are readers entitled to know the real identity of who created the book they are currently reading?  BBC Magazine explores the latest row in Why is the exposure of Elena Ferrante causing such outrage?  Meanwhile, in an interview with Guardian writer Deborah Orr, Elena Ferrante gives her thoughts on writing under an assumed name and why it is important to her.

Thinking back to my teenage years when I read The Eiger Sanction by Trevanian (published in 1972 and later made into a hugely popular film starring Clint Eastwood), there was no clue as to the identity of the author as he (Rodney William Whitaker 1931 – 2005) refused all interviews and publicity work for his publishers until many years later. Did it spoil my enjoyment of the book? Not at all. In a way it enhanced it: there is something about reading an anonymous author's work that does away with any preconceptions that you might have about the person who wrote it and what may have influenced them.

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