• You can’t keep Anonymous down. The most recent heralded appearance of this ubiquitous author was as the title of a film that’s already faded, but not without kicking up debate about the claims of a band of Shakespeare Birthers that the real author of the most famous plays in the world was Edward de Vere, 17th earl of Oxford. Given that Shakespeare’s name appeared on numerous printed versions of his plays during his lifetime, the film should have been called “Pseudonymous.”
    • Anonymity and pseudonymity have a long history. We think of medieval authors laboring anonymously, but even the first age of literary celebrities, the 18th century, was also paradoxically an age of anonymity. Book historian James Raven estimates that “over 80% of all novels published in Britain between 1750 and 1790 were published anonymously.”
    • Satirists such as Jonathan Swift and Alexander Pope published anonymously, often for legal and political reasons. Anonymity protected Swift from arrest when a reward was offered for the author of his “Drapier’s Letters,” pamphlets advising the Irish not to take copper half-pence from England.
    • Journalism too was generally anonymous. Joseph Addison and Richard Steele were “Mr. Spectator” with an initial at the end of each daily Spectator essay providing a clue to the author’s identity.
    • Samuel Johnson, the subject of the world’s most famous literary biography, is far from unknown to literary history, yet until he was nearly 40, his name only appeared on a handful of his writings.
    • Johnson once responded in his “Rambler” to a letter seeking his identity by relaying “the answer of a philosopher to a man, who, meeting him in the street, desired to see what he carried under his cloak; ‘I carry it there,’ says he, ‘that you may not see it.’
    • Some popular and highly regarded novelists today try to see if their fans’ love extends beyond their personal brands by employing pseudonyms, and some compartmentalizing professors use them for mysteries.
    • Online, “nym wars” have erupted over the right to false identities on social media sites. A Syrian lesbian blogging on the “Arab Spring” turned out to be a middle-aged white man at Edinburgh University. And a shifting international flash mob of hacktivists, who briefly unite electronically for acts of civil disobedience, employ the most famous name of all unknown writers, Anonymous.

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