This week the hedgehog and the fox explore literary anonymity in the company of John Mullan – not the sort of anonymity where the author’s name has simply been lost in the mists of time or never recorded – an anonymous ballad, a medieval epic – but deliberate anonymity, whereby writers seek to shape how their texts are perceived by withholding their real names. Sometimes a pseudonym is used instead of ‘anon’, enabling authors to claim different status, gender, or origins. The practice has been surprisingly common through the history of English literature, especially once the novel came on the scene.
This sort of anonymity can become a clever game, part of the practice and pleasure of reading, but we’d be wrong, says John Mullan, to think that we, with our knowledge of postmodern tricks, are more sophisticated readers than those of past centuries. I spoke to John, who is Lord Northcliffe professor of modern English literature at University College London, back in 2009, not long after he published his book Anonymity: A Secret History of English Literature, so this programme is a reissue from the archive. The books is available from Faber in the UK and Princeton University Press in the US.