‘I have a feeling that inside you somewhere, there’s somebody nobody knows about.’ (Alfred Hitchcock and Thornton Wilder, Shadow of a Doubt)
I came across this quote in a book I recently finished reading: The Bride Stripped Bare by Anonymous and it resonated with me. In fact, the book itself left a deep impression on me. This quote not only encapsulates the book perfectly; it also reveals the power and danger inherent in the art of writing.
The book itself is described as an explicit look at the sexual desires of women and in this case, a woman who is seen as ‘the good wife’ by her husband and by society at large. Yet her diary, to be discovered and read once she disappears (at the end of the book) reveals a woman so radically unlike the image she presents to the world that the question is asked ‘whether it is ever possible to know another person.’
Her writing reveals who she truly is behind her mask: a woman with deep-seated sexual longings that take fruition when she meets a younger man, Gabriel. Her language is brutally honest, pornographic even, yet expose what is hidden within the deep recesses of her soul.
Central to the storyline and the character’s development is another book that itself was written anonymously in the 17th century: Womans Worth. The writer of this treatise declares that a wife should take another man if her husband isn’t satisfying her, that a woman in all her badness is still superior to a man in his goodness, that indeed, Adam was more sinful than Eve.
The heroine of The Bride Stripped Bare feels a bond with the above writer, the book having been in her family for generations, and she imagines a woman who is seen as both good and chaste writing in secret; this 17th century woman is a rebel, a subversive wanting to challenge traditional gender roles. Her ‘Elizabethan friend’ has been pushing the heroine of The Bride Stripped Bare on in her journey of self-discovery.
By choosing to publish The Bride Stripped Bare anonymously, the author stated that she was able to write with honesty and with a sense of liberation. This anonymity, thus, enabled her to write a sexually graphic story of fantasy and fulfillment; a story that could easily be a memoir of her own life and the lives of her female friends.
The writer of this book had been ‘outed’: she is no longer anonymous.
I was tempted to write my first novel Daughter of Odysseus under a pseudonym or even under anonymity. Why? I think partly it was due to fear; fear of people finding out who I truly am, of people judging me and my work, in turn stifling my creative freedom. Fear of being analysed and scrutinised – fear that the enigma that is ‘me’ will be revealed to people I don’t know, people I may not even like.
However, I found the strength to write under my name, but I chose my Greek name – Vasiliki. This too, in a way, is a form of anonymity because this is not how people address me or know me.
Writing anonymously has its advantages, of course; as we can see from the above example, it is liberating and also therapeutic.
But could it also give us too much freedom in how and what we write? Social media, for example, is a good example of how anonymity and ‘freedom of expression’ are intimately linked. Oh, what joy when we, hiding behind our computer screens – fingers tap, tapping away – respond to a comment we deem ‘offensive’ or ‘wrong’ on Facebook because it doesn’t fit in with our worldview. This response, written in the ‘heat of the moment’ – is all too often scathing and dripping with rage and sarcasm.
Who cares who you offend – who you hurt - whose self-esteem you shatter as long as you tell a complete stranger – often on the other side of the world – that what they said was ‘wrong, stupid, moronic, pathetic,’ – that the writer of such comments is an ‘idiot, fuckwit, snowflake, fascist, moron,’ and this is the reason why.
I have been guilty of all of the above. I have been a victim of all of the above. And as I slowly move away from the toxic trap of social media and its ‘freedoms’ I have come to realise that writing needs to be treated as a gift that brings joy and meaning to others. As the reader unwraps the layers of the words, the images and rich literary symbolisms, they find within something that will build them up, make them a better person, edify them, make them think deeply, give them truth and beauty, bestow on them wisdom both ancient and modern, make them laugh and yes – make them weep.
‘All writing is revenge…’ says our heroine from The Bride Stripped Bare and I can’t help but agree to some point. But it is more than that, and I hope my writing enriches your life, even in an infinitesimal way.