Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature

Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature

by John Mullan


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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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691139418
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 08/24/2008
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 1,236,129
Product dimensions: 5.80(w) x 8.60(h) x 1.10(d)

About 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.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements ix

Introduction 3

Chapter 1: Mischief 9

Chapter 2: Modesty 41

Chapter 3: Women being men 76

Chapter 4: Men being women 114

Chapter 5: Danger 138

Chapter 6: Reviewing 181

Chapter 7: Mockery and devilry 217

Chapter 8: Confession 254

Chapter 9: Epilogue 286

Notes 298

Bibliography 337

Index 353

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

From the Publisher

"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

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"

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