In May we will be reading Silas Marner by George Eliot. But as we know, George Eliot is a pseudonym for Mary Ann Evans. Mary Ann chose a pen name to avoid stereotypes of women's writing being associated to superficial romantic novels and the scandal associated with her controversial lifestyle. Eventually she had to come out when a man claimed to be George Eliot himself. But still today she is better known as George Eliot, in fact this name is first on her tombstone.
Who were Samuel Langhorne Clemens, A.M. Barnard, Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, Eric Arthur Blair and Ellis Acton and why did they use pen names? Read on to find out!
Samuel Langhorne Clemens a.k.a Mark Twain
One reason for using a pseudonym is to adopt a name that reflects the writer's chosen genre or subject matter. Samuel used different pen names throughout his career but when he wrote about the Mississippi River he chose Mark Twain.
Twain is an old world for "two" and on the river the boatmen shouted "by the mark twain", meaning "according to the mark [on the line], [the depth is] two [fathoms]" (3.7 m) deep and it is safe to pass."
In Life on the Mississippi, he wrote:
'Captain Isaiah Sellers was not of literary turn or capacity, but he used to jot down brief paragraphs of plain practical information about the river, and sign them "MARK TWAIN", and give them to the New Orleans Picayune. They related to the stage and condition of the river, and were accurate and valuable; ... At the time that the telegraph brought the news of his death, I was on the Pacific coast. I was a fresh new journalist, and needed a nom de guerre; so I confiscated the ancient mariner's discarded one, and have done my best to make it remain what it was in his hands – a sign and symbol and warrant that whatever is found in its company may be gambled on as being the petrified truth; how I have succeeded, it would not be modest in me to say.'
Loiuse May Alcott a.k.a A.M. Barnhard
Alcott's family had financial difficulties, and she worked to help support the family from an early age. Perhaps she chose a pen name because it could be shameful for a man to admit that his children were working, as it meant he could not afford to maintain them himself. In fact Loiuse used an ambigious name mainly before the success of Little Women in 1868 that made her financially independent. The novels she did write under her pseudonym, like Behind a Mask (1866) were considered risqué, perhaps not appropriate for a woman and are very different from Little Women.
Charles Lutwidge Dodgson a.k.a Lewis Carroll
As well as being a writer, Charles had many professional roles: mathematician, logician, Anglican deacon, and photographer. A lover of word games, he considered "Edgar Cuthwellis", and Edgar U.C. Westhill (anagrams of his first two names) and first used 'B.B.' to sign his non-professional writings. But in the end a magazine editor finally chose Louis Carroll (translating his name into Latin: Lutwidge = Ludovic = Louis, Charles = Carolus).
Edgar Arthur Blair a.k.a George Orwell
Born Eric Arthur Blair in India, George Orwell is most famous for 1984 and Animal Farm. He chose his pen name to sound more English ( Blair is a Scottish nam ). "George" comes from the patron saint of England, Saint George, while "Orwell" comes from the River Orwell in Suffolk, one of his favorite places. Edgar wanted to keep his private life separate from his writing as if George Orwell were another person. Apparently Eric Blair chose the name George Orwell because he wanted a name that started in the middle of the alphabet so his books would appear on the middle shelf in bookstores—not too high, not too low!
Ellis Bell a.k.a Emily Bronte
Emily was disappointingly not so imaginative with her choice of pen name!
She explains her motives thus
'we did not like to declare ourselves women, because — without at that time suspecting that our mode of writing and thinking was not what is called 'feminine' — we had a vague impression that authoresses are liable to be looked on with prejudice . . .'
The surname Bell could come from the bells of their father’s St. Michael’s and All Angels church, or their father’s assistant curate – Arthur Bell Nicholls. The Ellis part is less certain but may come from Ellis Cunliffe Lister, Anne's employer's father, member of Parliament for Bradford.
Do you know any other authors who use pen names? Let me know in the comments.
Starting May 2 in the Lost in Classics Facebook Group we will be reading Silas Marner by George Eliot aka Mary Ann Evans. If you have been thinking about joining us but still need convincing, check out these 5 reasons why you should!
1. It's a short introduction to reading George Eliot
Middlemarch might be considered 'the best novel in the English language' but at 263 thousand words it's a bit of a challenge. Silas Marner is a more doable 29 thousand.
2. It's full of interesting vocabulary and Language
Don't worry, despite its shortness the language is meaty enough to really sink your teeth into, what with the country dialect, the references to old trades, in particular weaving and the description of clothes! It also has many instances of words that used to have a meaning that is different from the current one. In fact I will be creating some infographics to help you make sense of it all. Please let me know if you interested and I will be happy to send you a copy.
3. It is an excellent example of what 'realism' really means.
Reading about George Eliot you will be told about her use of realism, that she herself describes in Adam Bede
“my strongest effort is to avoid any such arbitrary picture, and to give a faithful account of men and things as they have mirrored themselves in my mind. The mirror is doubtless defective; the outlines will sometimes be disturbed, the reflection faint or confused; but I feel as much bound to tell you as precisely as I can what that reflection is, as if I were in the witness-box narrating my experience on oath”.
But in Silas Marner she literally picks up harsh reality and slaps you in the face with it when she goes from describing pretty dresses at holiday parties in one chapter to showing a drug addict mother traipsing through the snow with her infant child. We tend to think of such things in modern cities, not in the countryside of 19th century 'Merry England'.
4. It is a reflection of its time.
Silas Marner was written in 1861 but is set at the beginning of the 18th century, in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. During this time, there was mass migration of workers from the country to the cities to work in factories. Although the inhabitants of Raveloe, the fictional village where the story is set are superstitious and cautious of 'foreigners', they are faithful churchgoers who help their neighbours in times of need. Perhaps the book is like a nostalgic snapshot of idyllic country life, compared to the disconcerting search in the big town for an area that no longer existed, taken over by a big factory.
5. It's not all about the relationship between Silas and the 'abandoned' girl.
Devil worshipping, black magic, potions, Scrooge-like greed and coveting, drugs and alcoholism, tradition, religion, love, social roles and status, secrets and lies, Silas Marner has it all!
I hope these sparks have ignited your desire to join us.
Leave your email address on the contact page and I will add you to the Group.
"Of those immortal dead who live again / In minds made better by their presence"
Next month starting May 2 in the Facebook Group we will read Silas Marner by George Eliot.
George Eliot is the pen name for Mary Ann Evans ( 22 November 1819 - 22 December 1880 ) without which her career would not have taken off, in fact the pen name appears first on gravestone. Indeed, George Eliot's life could have been quite different if she HAD been a man.
Today new definitions of gender are currently being reanalysed, but in the Victorian age a person's whole life was set out according to their sex. Women should marry and have a family. But Mary Ann was, quite unfairly I think, considered ugly ( Henry James said 'She is magnificently ugly - deliciously hideous'! ) because she was not typically beautiful.
It was for this reason that her father ruled out the possibility of her marrying and educated her instead in the hope that she could be taken on as a governess. But Mary Ann was highly intelligent, learning foreign languages and translating religious texts. This does not mean that she didn't want to settle down. She moved in with George Henry Lewes, English philosopher and critic, and they lived together as a married couple despite the fact that he was already married.
This was highly scandalous and led her to be cut off by her family and caged up in her house for the shame. The shame was all hers however as her partner could go out freely.
When Mary Ann published her first novel, Adam Beade, in 1859, she chose to use the pen name George Eliot to be taken more seriously as a writer and to protect her family from a public scandal of her 'living in sin'. When it came out that Mary Ann Evans was George Eliot, her work was denegrated because of her unacceptable lifestyle. What is more her stories did not speak of the romantic heros and heroines characteristic of women's literature ( that Mary Ann herself put down ) but of the ordinary lives of common people. But her popularity as a writer continued to grow.
After the death of George Lewes she finally got married to John Walter Cross, normalizing her social status. Despite being one of the most important writers of the Victorian era, she was not given the honour of being buried in Westminster Abbey because she was a dissenter, so she was instead buried in Highgate Cemetery next to her comoon law husband. It's amazing to think how much society has changed
This month in the Facebook Group we are reading Ethan
Frome by Edith Wharton, an American writer. Although there are some differences between American and British English the biggest challenge is the informal dialogue that has characteristics common to both variations of the language.
I remember my first days in Paris as a university student were utterly bewildering. The French I had learnt at school was grammatically correct, in complete sentences and always polite. My heart sank when after having plucked up enough courage to finally go into a bakery and ask for some bread, I was greeted not by 'Vous desirez?' ( translation 'What would you like?') but by 'Messieursdames?' ( a contracted form of Ladies and Gentlemen') I mean is that even a word??
The truth is we all make mistakes when we speak our own language so just get over it, the word on the street is brief, simplified and straight to the point.
Here I will speak about the three main types of informal Language
- omission, informal contractions and simple mistakes.
To beginner students I often explain that we must always specify the subject, otherwise as verb forms change little it is not clear who we are refering to. But this is not strictly true. In fact, if the person you are talking to is clear, you CAN omit the subject and even the auxiliary verb. Someone asking you the time in London will rarely say 'Have you got the time?' but rather 'Got the time?'. The most important objective when speaking English is to communicate your message, we don't care if it sounds elegant or clean, we don't have time to lose speaking, just say it! In Italy where I live the weather is generally good so people can take their time speaking and expressing themselves carefully; in England you just want to do your business and get back to the dry and warm of your home. Examples of ommission in Ethan Frome are
'(I) Guess you forgot about us Zeena', '(Is) That all?'.
On the excellent website, English Club, you can find an explanation of common informal contractions, such as the use of expressions like 'gonna' ( going to ), 'wanna' ( want to ) and 'lemme' ( let me ). Check out the website to discover the meanings of these phrases and more.
One informal contraction that we see in Ethan Frome is 'kinder' 'kind of', but the most common contraction is 'ain't'. But is it the negative form of 'have' or 'be'? Both actually!
'Ain't you riding Mattie?' = 'Aren't you riding Mattie?'
'Ain't it lucky?' = 'Isn't it lucky?'
"I hope Zeena ain't broken anything she sets store by," - I hope Zena hasn't broken anything that is important to her.
Can you honestly say that you speak your mother tongue 100% correctly all the time? Of course you can't! Sometimes you apply a rule incorrectly, or you repeat something you have heard without knowing the real meaning. Well, English is no different.
We all know that irregular verbs and past participles are a nightmare for students but they are also difficult for native speakers. Mother tongue children often class regular verbs as irregular, with the aim of making some sense of the mess. For example a child would say 'I goed' instead of 'I went'. So it should come as no surprise to see past simple and past participle forms confused as for example in the phrase 'The cat done it' (The cat did it).
When I was at school and I was talking with friends about regrets about things in the past that perhaps didn't go exactly how we expectedwe would say ' I should of come'. What we really wanted to say was 'I should have come'. However each word in English that has more than one syllable has one part that is stressed more than the ohers, for example we say 'comPUter' and not 'COMputer' or 'compuTER'. This stress is present also in phrases where certain words (nouns, main verbs, adjectives, adverbs) are more important than Others (articles, prepositions, auxiliary verbs). So also for native speakers words like 'have' have a softer sound and 'have' can be confused with 'of'. 'Of' can be further abbreviated to 'a' ( If I'd supposed you'd 'a' made any objection.
As in the Group we are studying Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton, our second American writer this month ( The first was Edgar Allan Poe in January ), I thought it would be a good opportunity to discuss the differences between American and British English.
There are many guides online explaining how British and American English are different so here I would like to try to give some insights into why, how we got to where we are now.
Generally people believe that American is a ‘simplified’ rather ‘dumbed down’ version of British English, but watching ‘The Adventure of English’ by Melvyn Bragg on Youtube recently I discovered that this might not be the case after all.
Reading the dialogue of Ethan Frome we can find a lot of informal language common to both British and in American English. I will speak more about this next Monday. But the narrative appears more standard. What is the reason for this? Well, Ethan Frome is set in New England, where the Puritans first landed in 1620, searching for the freedom to worship how they pleased using their English language Bible, and the language remained an important symbol of freedom for them. Since its origins, English had incorporated many words from the languages of the many invaders of the British Isles, Danish, German, French, Latin but in America at first it adopted very few from the Native Americans. The settlers avoided any interference to keep their language pure and defend themselves against the natives. They also wanted their children to speak English well and education and a good standard of language were important. Lord Gordon, British politician commented in 1764 that the Americans spoke English better than the British!
It was in Noah Webster’s “American Spelling Book” 1783, that changed the spelling of some words that he considered illogical. This was when many words with ‘ou’ lost the ‘u’, for example ‘colour – color’ or ‘honour – honor’. Another change was the reversal of ‘re’ endings to ‘er’, for example ‘centre – center’, ‘theatre – theater’. The original spellings follow French, so maybe he had something against the French! In English two of the same consonant together have the same pronunciation as one, so he omitted one, for example ‘traveller – traveler’. Some words ending in ‘ce’ were changed to ‘se’ which is more phonetic, like ‘defence – defense’, whilst some silent letters such as the ‘e’ in ‘axe’ were axed!
But in other aspects the language remained pure, and Americans continued to use old words that the British had dropped. I thought that calling ‘autumn’ ‘fall’ was another example of American simplification, but as it turns out, the British also used to use the word ‘fall’ in the past, perhaps adopting ‘autumn’ from the fashionable and more elegant French.
It was when settlers began to expand west that the language started to change and take on its own character. Immigrants started to come in not only from England but also from Scotland, Ireland, France expanding as far as California and thus absorbing Spanish influences. American became more ‘Wild West’, ‘cowboy’, ‘gold rush’ and ‘railroad’ and less ‘Puritan’. This resulted in the increase in American substitutes for British words. There are many words that are different today between the two languages. ’Cookie’ instead of ‘biscuit’ or ‘subway’ instead of ‘underground’ are commonly known and understood but watch out for misunderstandings when talking about ‘pants’ ( which means underwear in British English and trousers in American ) or ‘rubber’ ( better say ‘eraser’ in American English or they may think you are referring to a rubber sheath! ).
A language changes when speakers of other languages enter a country bringing their view of the world with them. The influx of immigrants to the US from Europe is perhaps the cause of another important difference between British and American English, that the Present perfect ( have/has + past participle ) is used less in American English. The present perfect is used to join the past and the present and it is used in American English too to talk about something that started in the past and continues in the present. For example the question ‘How long have you lived here?’ is the same in both dialects. But in American English the difference between finished and unfinished time is less clear, probably because this concept is not present in other European languages; for Americans ‘What did you do yesterday?’ and ‘What did you do today?’ Is the same but for the British the second question should be ‘What have you done today?’
Less use of the present perfect could also be the explanation for the American preference for ‘have’ instead of ‘have got’. Often it is said that ‘got’ is used for emphasis but actually when we say ‘I have got a car’, we mean ‘I have obtained a car in the past and I still have it now’.
But the differences are not as clear cut as they may seem in the many guides you can find online. They are of course cases when Americans use the present perfect and they use ‘have got’ also. Some differences are associated with spelling. The fact that some verbs are regular in British English and irregular in American English is probably largely a spelling issue. Standardization of spelling is a fairly recent phenomenon. ‘Dreamed’ and ‘dreamt’ both appear in Shakespeare for example.
I have said before that a language is like a person, it is unpredictable, does not respect rules and is always moving. As the language travels it mixes with others as is transformed by them and this is particularly the case with English which is now a global language, used by each person in his own way. The important thing is to communicate your message correctly. English has changed greatly over the years and is still evolving so don’t stamp your feet get on board and enjoy the ride!
Every month, I publish a review of the book I ahve read that month.