Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature

Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature

by John Mullan
     
 

Some of the greatest works in English literature were first published without their authors' names. Why did so many authors want to be anonymous--and what was it like to read their books without knowing for certain who had written them? In Anonymity, John Mullan gives a fascinating and original history of hidden identity in English literature. From the

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Overview

Some of the greatest works in English literature were first published without their authors' names. Why did so many authors want to be anonymous--and what was it like to read their books without knowing for certain who had written them? In Anonymity, John Mullan gives a fascinating and original history of hidden identity in English literature. From the sixteenth century to today, he explores how the disguises of writers were first used and eventually penetrated, how anonymity teased readers and bamboozled critics--and how, when book reviews were also anonymous, reviewers played tricks of their own in return.

Today we have forgotten that the first readers of Gulliver's Travels and Sense and Sensibility had to guess who their authors might be, and that writers like Sir Walter Scott and Charlotte Brontë went to elaborate lengths to keep secret their authorship of the best-selling books of their times. But, in fact, anonymity is everywhere in English literature. Spenser, Donne, Marvell, Defoe, Swift, Fanny Burney, Austen, Byron, Thackeray, Lewis Carroll, Tennyson, George Eliot, Sylvia Plath, and Doris Lessing--all hid their names. With great lucidity and wit, Anonymity tells the stories of these and many other writers, providing a fast-paced, entertaining, and informative tour through the history of English literature.

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Editorial Reviews

Wall Street Journal - John Gross
[Mullan] has written an excellent book—in essence, a series of case histories of anonymous or pseudonymous publication. . . . Some of the cases involve major works, others curious minor ones. All of them are recounted with crisp good sense and a lively eye for anecdotal detail.
Times Higher Education Supplement - Duncan Wu
Mullan is a shrewd observer of the stratagems devised by women writing as men, men writing as women, political pamphleteers, reviewers and confessional writers.
Financial Times - James Robertson
[An] excellent new volume. . . . [A] compelling exploration of an important and neglected literary phenomenon.
Daily Telegraph - Robert Colvile
[An] engrossing study.
Sunday Telegraph - Pat Leslie
[Mullan] performs some shrewd literary criticism on the writings (some obscure, others less so) that fall within the intelligently concocted parameters of his study, and addresses the common reader with none of the rhodomontade associated with learning.
Observer - Robert McCrum
[A] thought-provoking volume, full of good examples and research.
Evening Standard - David Sexton
[Mullan] has . . . filled a major gap in literary history with this comprehensive survey of the phenomenon. . . . . [A] thoroughly useful survey of the form.
New York Sun - Denis Donoghue
Fresh and continuously engaging.
Choice - C.S. Vilmar
Organized into suggestively titled chapters—'Mischief,' 'Modesty,' 'Women Being Men,' 'Men Being Women,' 'Danger,' 'Reviewing,' 'Mockery and Devilry,' 'Confession'—this book offers a readable, well-documented study of anonymous and pseudonymous publication. . . . [T]he book is engaging, even absorbing.
Harvard Crimson - Manning Ding
[T]horoughly-researched examples reveal Mullan's keen eye for detail and his mastery at dissecting and interpreting text. Through close reading, both of the authors' novels and correspondences, Anonymity offers startling insight into the lives and psychological workings of the writers profiled. Given the academic nature of Mullan's material, he still manages to ground his literary scholarship in a relatively accessible tone. . . . John Mullan's book, then, rescues the authors from anonymity by giving readers their life's story, their reasons for concealment. This, I think, is the true treasure in Mullan's book.
Myrtle Beach Online - John Mark Eberhart
Not at all the dusty tome one might expect from an academic. The verdict: I couldn't put it down . . .
From the Publisher

"[Mullan] has written an excellent book--in essence, a series of case histories of anonymous or pseudonymous publication. . . . Some of the cases involve major works, others curious minor ones. All of them are recounted with crisp good sense and a lively eye for anecdotal detail."--John Gross, Wall Street Journal

"Mullan is a shrewd observer of the stratagems devised by women writing as men, men writing as women, political pamphleteers, reviewers and confessional writers."--Duncan Wu, Times Higher Education Supplement

"[An] excellent new volume. . . . [A] compelling exploration of an important and neglected literary phenomenon."--James Robertson, Financial Times

"[An] engrossing study."--Robert Colvile, Daily Telegraph

"[Mullan] performs some shrewd literary criticism on the writings (some obscure, others less so) that fall within the intelligently concocted parameters of his study, and addresses the common reader with none of the rhodomontade associated with learning."--Pat Leslie, Sunday Telegraph

"[A] thought-provoking volume, full of good examples and research."--Robert McCrum, Observer (lead review)

"[Mullan] has . . . filled a major gap in literary history with this comprehensive survey of the phenomenon. . . . . [A] thoroughly useful survey of the form."--David Sexton, Evening Standard

"Fresh and continuously engaging."--Denis Donoghue, New York Sun

"Organized into suggestively titled chapters--'Mischief,' 'Modesty,' 'Women Being Men,' 'Men Being Women,' 'Danger,' 'Reviewing,' 'Mockery and Devilry,' 'Confession'--this book offers a readable, well-documented study of anonymous and pseudonymous publication. . . . [T]he book is engaging, even absorbing."--C.S. Vilmar, Choice

"[T]horoughly-researched examples reveal Mullan's keen eye for detail and his mastery at dissecting and interpreting text. Through close reading, both of the authors' novels and correspondences, Anonymity offers startling insight into the lives and psychological workings of the writers profiled. Given the academic nature of Mullan's material, he still manages to ground his literary scholarship in a relatively accessible tone. . . . John Mullan's book, then, rescues the authors from anonymity by giving readers their life's story, their reasons for concealment. This, I think, is the true treasure in Mullan's book."--Manning Ding, Harvard Crimson

"Mullan's book convincingly demonstrates that anonymity (or pseudonymity) is a counterintuitively successful method of self-promotion."--Toronto Star

"Not at all the dusty tome one might expect from an academic. The verdict: I couldn't put it down."--John Mark Eberhart, Myrtle Beach Online

Wall Street Journal
[Mullan] has written an excellent book—in essence, a series of case histories of anonymous or pseudonymous publication. . . . Some of the cases involve major works, others curious minor ones. All of them are recounted with crisp good sense and a lively eye for anecdotal detail.
— John Gross
Times Higher Education Supplement
Mullan is a shrewd observer of the stratagems devised by women writing as men, men writing as women, political pamphleteers, reviewers and confessional writers.
— Duncan Wu
Financial Times
[An] excellent new volume. . . . [A] compelling exploration of an important and neglected literary phenomenon.
— James Robertson
Daily Telegraph
[An] engrossing study.
— Robert Colvile
Sunday Telegraph
[Mullan] performs some shrewd literary criticism on the writings (some obscure, others less so) that fall within the intelligently concocted parameters of his study, and addresses the common reader with none of the rhodomontade associated with learning.
— Pat Leslie
Observer
[A] thought-provoking volume, full of good examples and research.
— Robert McCrum
Evening Standard
[Mullan] has . . . filled a major gap in literary history with this comprehensive survey of the phenomenon. . . . . [A] thoroughly useful survey of the form.
— David Sexton
New York Sun
Fresh and continuously engaging.
— Denis Donoghue
Choice
Organized into suggestively titled chapters—'Mischief,' 'Modesty,' 'Women Being Men,' 'Men Being Women,' 'Danger,' 'Reviewing,' 'Mockery and Devilry,' 'Confession'—this book offers a readable, well-documented study of anonymous and pseudonymous publication. . . . [T]he book is engaging, even absorbing.
— C.S. Vilmar
Harvard Crimson
[T]horoughly-researched examples reveal Mullan's keen eye for detail and his mastery at dissecting and interpreting text. Through close reading, both of the authors' novels and correspondences, Anonymity offers startling insight into the lives and psychological workings of the writers profiled. Given the academic nature of Mullan's material, he still manages to ground his literary scholarship in a relatively accessible tone. . . . John Mullan's book, then, rescues the authors from anonymity by giving readers their life's story, their reasons for concealment. This, I think, is the true treasure in Mullan's book.
— Manning Ding
Toronto Star
Mullan's book convincingly demonstrates that anonymity (or pseudonymity) is a counterintuitively successful method of self-promotion.
Myrtle Beach Online
Not at all the dusty tome one might expect from an academic. The verdict: I couldn't put it down . . .
— John Mark Eberhart
Library Journal

This entertaining and informative book is not about the unknowable "anonymous," but the use of anonymity and pseudonymity by known authors. Noting that there is no simple or consistent set of rules-e.g., some authors would publish certain works anonymously and others under their name-Mullen (English, Univ. Coll. London) illustrates a variation on the use of anonymity. Thus, for instance, there is "mischief," as in the cases of Swift, Scott, and, more recently, Joe Klein, where the "anonymous" writer encourages speculation. There are others such as Lewis Carroll who were concerned about privacy rather than concealment. Mullen also includes those who preferred anonymity out of modesty or when there was an issue of danger, especially when authoring inflammatory works. He also treats the cases of women who wrote as men and men who wrote as women, as well as of the 19th-century practice of anonymous reviewing. Highly recommended.-T.L. Cooksey, Armstrong Atlantic State Univ., Savannah, GA

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780691139418
Publisher:
Princeton University Press
Publication date:
08/04/2008
Pages:
384
Sales rank:
1,253,278
Product dimensions:
5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

What People are saying about this

Nicholas Dames
A great book. Mullan's historical reach and subtle eye equip him to write a witty, and incisive, biography of Anonymous.
Nicholas Dames, Columbia University
Sophie Gee
Mullan shows how literary anonymity excites its opposite—curiosity, controversy, conflict, and notoriety. Anonymity is accessible, thorough, and interesting.
Sophie Gee, author of "The Scandal of the Season: A Novel"

Meet the Author

John Mullan is professor of English at University College London and the author of "How Novels Work". A broadcaster and journalist as well as an academic, he has been described as having "a scholar's knowledge worn with a journalist's lightness of touch." He writes a weekly column on contemporary fiction for the "Guardian" newspaper.

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