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Why Famous Writers Create Alter Egos

May 2017Words by Mr Sam Leith

Photograph by Alinari/REX Shutterstock

Not long ago, there was an enchanting discovery made in literary academia. Mr Walt Whitman, founding father of American poetry, had written a long-forgotten newspaper advice column under the name Mr Mose Velsor, in which he gave his opinion on everything from the correct use of beards to the diets and exercise regimes his readers ought to follow. The whole lot has just been republished as Manly Health And Training.

If you’re a writer with an established reputation, why would you work under a different name? Sometimes curiosity, sometimes discretion, sometimes a change of genre, sometimes just the wish for a clean start. But you’d be surprised at how many of the biggest names in literature have, at one time or another, snuck out some work under some, well, smaller names in literature.