Jeremy Lewis

Noms de Plume

Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature

By

Faber & Faber 351pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

‘I have seldom felt more satisfaction than when, returning from a pleasure voyage, I found Waverley in the zenith of popularity, and public curiosity in full cry after the name of the author’, Sir Walter Scott recalled, looking back to the happy days of his anonymity as a novelist, when his wife was the only member of his family to be let in on the secret, and even his publisher, Archibald Constable, was kept in the dark. Worried that the printers might recognise his handwriting, he had his novels copied out in someone else’s copperplate before submitting them; he denied authorship to the Prince of Wales, repudiated ‘that paternal interest in them which my friends do me the credit to assign to me’, and went so far as to write an unfavourable review of Old Mortality. The sleuths on his trail played by the rules of the day: John Adolphus, a young Oxford don, used stylistic analysis and recurrent motifs – in particular an authorial obsession with dogs – to finger his man, but having done so simply referred to him as ‘the author of Marmion’.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • Whom did Picasso label a 'bristly pig'? Read Rosalind P Blakesley's review of The Collector by Natalya Semenova to… ,
    • Alexandra Gajda on Anna Beer's new biography, Patriot or Traitor: The Life and Death of Sir Walter Ralegh ,
    • Mark Lawson reviews @jonathancoe's Middle England - The Rotters' Club for our Brexit age. ,
    • 'Behind every book that is published lies ... a haunted landscape, populated by the ghosts of things written and ex… ,
    • 'We once more live in a great age of dragon invention' Here's Tom Shippey on Martin Arnold's The Dragon ,
    • RT : Man at the q&a part of the book panel: Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't say it Don't s… ,
    • Here's @epkaufm's Whiteshift, reviewed in this month's magazine by ,