- Hardcover: 384 pages
- Publisher: Princeton University Press (August 24, 2008)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780691139418
- ISBN-13: 978-0691139418
- ASIN: 0691139415
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 1 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,572,480 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature Hardcover – August 24, 2008
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From School 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
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
From The New Yorker
In England, the use of the word "anonymous" to describe a literary work dates only from the sixteenth century, but by the end of the eighteenth seventy per cent of all novels were published "in secret." Mullan traces the flourishing of the practice in this detailed history, arguing that concealment was only rarely the aim. Anonymity and pseudonymity might be invoked out of fear or diffidence: in 1555, one punishment for treasonous writings was the loss of the right hand; "modest" women authors were long identified simply as "A Lady." But anonymity could also incite interest: Jonathan Swift constructed elaborate hoaxes, "more promotional than shy," to veil his authorship of "Gulliver's Travels," and the guessing game surrounding the true identity of Currer Bell, the professed author of "Jane Eyre," was such that, in its first year of publication, reviews outnumbered copies sold.
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Mullan's book suggests that we are asking the wrong questions if we assume anonymity was an all-or-none thing. Either/or thinking is one of the most common cognitive errors we all make. (One way to minimize this error is to assume that every alleged dichotomy is a false dichotomy until proven otherwise.) Mullan draws attention to "a paradox we will find over and over again: the anonymous writer who does not truly attempt to remain unknown" (p. 29). Until the past century, a convention of authorial reticence dictated anonymity as a common course, even if, paradoxically, the goal was to stir up curiosity about the author's identity and eventually draw more attention to oneself. A first edition might be anonymous to test the waters. If critical and popular reactions were favorable, the author's name might appear on subsequent editions. The anonymity of many books gave way to printed attribution after the author's death. Many writers admitted their authorship freely to their friends, while some pretense of anonymity was maintained publicly.
In our narcissistic era, we project our own wishes for as much attention as possible onto our forebears, blinding ourselves in the process to contrasting cultural practices. Ours is the age of plagiarism, the converse of anonymity. One of our more massive blind spots is for the vast influence of religious belief and practice on earlier generations. Recall that Henry VIII rejected the pope's offer to annul one of his marriages, because he disagreed with the pope's theological grounds. Henry was concerned with the fate of his ever-lasting soul. The reader may perform a thought experiment at this point. Think of your deepest, darkest secret, that you have never shared with anyone. Think of the conditions that might allow you to reveal it. Some of my psychoanalytic patients write in their journals about events they have never revealed to anyone. Could you imagine writing down your secret, if you thought no one would ever know you had written it? As Freud discovered, the unconscious mind is torn between conflicting wishes to keep its secrets and to tell them. One compromise for telling a secret might be to do so anonymously, like the many people who role play anonymously on-line. Mullan recounts several stories that suggest certain books never would have been written unless anonymous publication was the author's goal from the outset.
The psychology of anonymity and pseudonymity is one of my greatest interests in these topics. The reader has to construct his or her own story about this topic out of the rich but scattered material Mullan provides, since he does not address it in a sustained, comprehensive manner. Mullan calls anonymity "this act of creative self-dispossession" (p 28). I would suggest that one important psychological factor in many cases of anonymity is the author's wish to distance herself from unbearably painful inner feelings. It is far more than a matter of keeping one's authorship secret from others. My many years experience in treating patients with dissociative identity disorder (formerly known as multiple personality) has taught me how vital it is for the psychological survival of some deeply scarred people to deceive themselves into thinking that their worst traumas happened to "someone else," not to them.
Great writers create fictional characters who come to life. It should not surprise us if writers such as Edward de Vere (Earl of Oxford) also create a fictive authorial identity who, in turn, creates these literary characters. Such a pseudonym may facilitate the author's entry into the world of her imagination, the wellspring of her creativity.
For more on this topic, see www dot oxfreudian dot com.