Sunday, 30 October 2011

How Fiona Macleod was born

Three days ago I bought a book. In itself, this is nothing special. What intrigued me about this book however was not only the title (The Winged Destiny: Studies in the Spiritual History of the Gael) but the fact that the author's name was in double quotation marks. Why, I asked myself.

"Fiona Macleod" was William Sharp's pseudonym, which he kept secret for most of his life. This second identity was born in 1891, after he had an extramarital affair with Edith Rinder. According to some his pseudonym was a reflection of his confused sexual identity whereas others argue it was a pseudonym for work that was inspired by Edith Rinder. These works were the ones that were not only financially successful but also made him one of the defining writers of his era. Towards the end of his life he was also involved, it is said, in esoteric cults such as The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. More on this in this very interesting article: William Sharp and the Esoteric Order.

Born in 1855, William Sharp must have been aware of female writers who chose male pseudonyms, such as Mary Anne Evans 1819-1880 (= George Elliot) or Charlotte Bronte 1816-1855 (Currer Bell). Women chose these pseudonyms, afraid their works would not be accepted by the literary community otherwise. Interestingly, W.B. Yeats found Macleod's works more interesting than Sharp's, until he found out about the pseudonym. I wonder why Sharp felt the need to write under a female pseudonym. I think that perhaps he felt he could not be as expressive as a man as a woman was perhaps allowed to be. I have been reading the book (a collection of amazing Gaelic tales) and the language is very intrinsic, detailed and flowery and in my mind I always get the image of a female writer.

I thought it was quite interesting to share this with you. What do you think?

1 comment:

  1. It's interesting to note that William Sharp chose a female pseudonym when many female writers before and during his time opt to have male aliases in the hope of getting their works accepted and published.

    Nancy @ Simple Clockwork