Perhaps it was always bound to happen. In 2016, you can only stay hidden for so long.
I’m talking about last week’s revelation by Italian investigative journalist Claudio Gatti, after plenty of detective work, that he had found out the identity of the international bestselling author who goes by the pseudonym of Elena Ferrante. He was able to obtain payment records from her publishing house in Rome, Edizioni E/O, that showed a huge uptick in royalty payments to a certain Italian translator since 2014, the year Ms. Ferrante’s books began to take off. If you haven’t read about this yet and are interested in knowing the specifics about who Ms. Ferrante really may be, you can find all you need to know in Mr. Gatti’s article in the New York Review of Books.
As for myself—I don’t really want to be part of that, and I’m not going to give the author’s real name here. If this author chose to go by a pseudonym, she undoubtedly had a very good reason for it, whatever that may have been. Now her cover is blown. Will she ever again have the anonymity she craved, the anonymity that allowed her, as a writer, to quietly observe the human interactions that fed her work? Probably not. It’s surprising that she was able to guard her identity as long as she did in the age of hackers and Google. It’s pretty clear now that any major bestselling author who attempts to choose the path of privacy will always be fair game.
In 1996, it took only six months after publication for the anonymous author of the political roman-à-clef Primary Colors to be unmasked as reporter Joe Klein. More recently, it took even less time than that to prove that the acclaimed debut mystery The Cuckoo’s Calling, by one Robert Gailbraith, was really the work of none other than J.K. Rowling. Of course, that sent the modestly-selling book’s sales rocketing skyward, a fact that probaby did not make Rowling too unhappy.
Things were quite different back when the French erotic classic L’Histoire d’O was first published in 1954 under a pseudonym. It created such a sensation that people were determined to find out who the real author was. But the author, Anne Desclos, was able to successfully keep her identity under wraps. Not until 1994, shortly before her death, did she choose to disclose the truth in an interview.
It seems no such privacy privileges exist for authors now—or anyone else, for that matter.
Do you believe the public is entitled to find out who’s hiding behind a pseudonym? Feel free to respond and let me know.