Heteronyms, some hetero, some not
The most extraordinary case known to me of this phenomenon of authorship dispersal is that of the great Portuguese modernist poet Fernando Pessoa (1888-1935). According to his editor Teresa Rita Lopes, Pessoa invented at least seventy alternative identities, or “heteronyms” as he preferred to call them. Heteronyms differ from mere pen names (or noms de plume) in that the latter are simply false names generally chosen for some expedient reason. In Pessoa’s conception the heteronyms are characters having their own supposed physiques, biographies, and writing styles. Some of them know each other, criticizing and translating each other's works. As one who dabbled in astrology, Pessoa cast horoscopes for some of them.
Pessoa's best-known heteronyms are the poets Alberto Caeiro, Ricardo Reis, and Álvaro de Campos, each with a substantial oeuvre; the latter two consider the former their master. There are also two significant prose writers, Bernardo Soares and the Baron of Teive. All of these wrote in Portuguese; however, some of the others wrote in English and French. Finally, there is an “orthonym”: Fernando Pessoa, the namesake of the author, who also regards Caeiro as his master.
Why did Fernando Pessoa undertake this extraordinary enterprise of self-fragmentation? The most obvious explanation is that he wrote in various styles, which he wished to keep separate. After a time, though, he seemed simply to revel in the game for its own sake. There may have been deeper reasons. Having been educated as a child in South Africa, Pessoa was bilingual in English and Portuguese, so that early on he experienced a sense of divided consciousness. It is generally thought that he was a closeted homosexual, and may have cultivated the arts of concealment for this reason. Finally, since he had occult interests, he may have been acquainted with the Buddhist doctrine of the dispersal of the personality. In this view we have no core personality, but simply manage as best we can with an aggregate of island-like centers which are loosely connected.
In a previous posting I wrote about the art historian and connoisseur Giovanni Morelli (1816-1891). Even today the adjective “Morellian” honors the distinctive method of art analysis he pioneered.
Educated mainly in Swiss and German schools, Morelli preferred to write in the German language.
For a time, Morelli was active in Italian politics, urging reform in the administration of the fine arts. Eventually he headed a commission to bring under government control all works of art which could be considered public property. He appointed as his secretary G. B. Cavalcaselle, who was then engaged in collecting materials for a work on Italian art.
Morelli’s next move in the realm of the fine arts was produce a series of articles in German, which he subsequently gathered into books. His first contributions, a cluster of articles on the Borghese Gallery in Rome, were published in Lützow's Zeitschrift für bildende Kunst, 1874-76. Posing as an art-loving Russian, he adopted the pseudonym "Ivan Lermolieff." The surname is an anagram of his own family name with a Russian suffix, while Ivan corresponds to Giovanni. Further complicating matters, the essays were purportedly translated by Johannes Schwarze, another ruse (Moro = Schwarze). Why Morelli should adopt these devices has not been explained. It may be, as some have speculated, because he was a closeted homosexual, who had become accustomed to habits of secrecy and disguise.
In earlier times the sense of connection between literary works and personality ("authorship") was less firmly established than it is today. This was particularly true with religious writers. Thus the lengthy Hellenistic Jewish text known as the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs purports to be a set of writings left behind by those worthies. “Dionysius the Areopagite” was an anonymous Syrian Christian writing about 500 CE who chose a convert of St. Paul for his pen name.
Recent years have witnessed a somewhat similar, though less holy version of this practice. The contemporary economic journalist Adam Smith has chosen to write under the name of his great 18th-century predecessor. And the pop singer Engelbert Humperdinck has adopted the name of the composer of Hansel and Gretel.
At a more serious level, leaders of insurgent political movements have found the use of pseudonyms expedient. Take late Tsarist Russia, for example, where Joseph Stalin was born Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. Stalin’s great adversary Leon Trotsky had been born Lev Davidovich Bronstein. The use of these pseudonyms continued into the Soviet era, though the practice seems uncommon in Russia today. In Vietnam, the person behind the revolutionary Ho Chi Minh was Nguyễn Sinh Cung. So Ho Chi Minh City, the major center of southern Vietnam, is actually named after a pseudonym.
In my own small way, I employed this strategy as a teenager. Not wishing to get my parents in trouble when I sent away for some subversive pamphlets as a teenager, I used the pseudonym of J. Wolfgang Bizoler (presumably a German immigrant). In fact the name combined the monikers of two of my idols at the time, J. Wolfgang von Goethe and Hector Berlioz.
Some early leaders of the gay movement found it necessary to resort to pseudonyms. These figures include Karl Hermann Ulrichs, who wrote the first truly scholarly studies of homosexuality under the name of Numa Numantius. The distinguished classical scholar Paul Brandt published his fundamental studies of Greek homosexuality under the nom de plume of Hans Licht. However, the greatest leader of the German movement, Magnus Hirschfeld, usually employed his own real name.
As the modern American gay movement got started after World War II some of the pioneers used pseudonyms. In 1947 Edythe Eyde launched her short-lived periodical “Vice Versa” under the name of Lisa Ben (an anagram of “lesbian”). Three years later Harry Hay, the founder of the American movement, produced his seminal “Preliminary Concepts” for a group called Bachelors Anonymous, “a service and welfare organization devoted to the protection and improvement of Society’s Androgynous Minority” (July 7, 1950), This manifesto, a typescript for private circulation, was signed by “Eann MacDonald,” a pseudonym Hay dropped soon after.
Another early pioneer was William Lambert, a professor of architecture who abandoned this career to run the gay rights organization ONE, which he dominated from its inception in 1952 until his death in 1994. Lambert was almost always known as W. Dorr Legg, a composite he made up of some old family names.
Legg's contemporary Jim Kepner used a variety of pen names, including Frank Golovitz, J. K. Long, Lyn Pedersen, J. K. Symes-Horvath, and the satirical Dr. Fécal de Chevaux. His purpose seems to have been not so much concealment, but as a vehicle for his prolific journalistic activity.
This last instance shows that the motives for such disguises can be various, and were not always (as some have alleged) simply because homophobic pressures required strategies for concealment.