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The shifting condition of anonymity does not make it less significant to literary analysis. The study of anonymous readings, especially those particular to one edition or set of readers, often illuminates early political, religious, and class divisions; conditions of print and manuscript transmission; reading and interpretive practices; and early ideas of authorship and accountability. Early modern readers were acutely aware that both human decisions and material accidents could render texts anonymous, and they applied this understanding to the literature they bought, traded, and read.
They recognized that anonymity served authors and book producers who sought to evade censorship and punishment, feign coyness, or claim universal truth. Its uses and meanings were often culturally defined, even standardized, because of the frequent employment of familiar conventions in both print and manuscript. Thus readers could anticipate new authors feigning modesty in their first editions or ballad authors publishing broadsides without attribution. Utilizing this inclusive yet context-based definition of anonymity, this article sketches out some of the expectations and traditions that framed early readings of anonymity.
Primarily, it aligns the study of anonymity with scholarship on the material text and on book use rather than with attribution studies, which focus on identifying and crediting the authors of particular works.
Women and Family Life in Early Modern German Literature - Boydell and Brewer
It next glances at the thriving postprint manuscript culture, from which print acquired many of its traditions and anonymous texts. The article then offers a more extensive analysis of one early modern print genre, the satirical pamphlet, that capitalized on reader expectations and on conventions of both authorship and anonymity. Compared to other types of authors, early modern satirists demonstrated a keener awareness of the play and usefulness of name disguises. By employing colorful and topical pseudonyms, they appropriated familiar folk figures or borrowed from past satirical traditions to make the author figure instrumental in the satirical message or attack.
In the s, however, satirists mimicking news publications took a different approach, adopting the position of the anonymous reporter, at least until the midcentury news wars brought the pseudonym back into play. In such research, the printing press is credited with inventing the modern author—that is, the writer who identifies himself or herself as an author by calling, devotion, or profession, and who uses a name to define, control, and profit from the texts he or she has composed. Print likewise encouraged authors and readers to associate anonymity with certain genres and publication formats.
To give one apt example, the reach and power of print caught the attention of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century ecclesiastical polemicists, who tested the regulatory and material limits of the print industry with a steady flow of anonymous treatises and pamphlets.
- Selbsttäuschung (German Edition)?
- How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Marriage.
- Early Modern Women's Letter Writing, 1450-1700 (Early Modern Literature in History).
- Australian and New Zealand Association for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (Incorporated);
Histories of the author that describe an abrupt transition from anonymity to attribution are now mostly discredited, but newer histories still fail to acknowledge the ubiquity of anonymity and the interrelatedness of naming and anonymity in early print culture. The slow development of the print industry in Britain meant that the possibilities for professional print authorship were still only emerging at the end of the sixteenth century. Even when the printing press began to market contemporary authors toward the end of the sixteenth century, publishers and printers largely continued to do what benefited the industry rather than the writers.
Whether an author claimed a text or not before giving or losing it to a printer, the printer was free to reveal an anonymous author or hide a known one. An author could blame the printer for stealing a then unknown work or disown a text published by a careless printer. Printers could likewise plead ignorance when they published controversial authors anonymously. Certain print conventions developed to attract buyers and help them locate a favorite genre easily.
The title page, for example, advertised the content, printer, location of the bookseller, and somewhat less consistently, the author and context of the work. Printers slowly standardized these features so that, across the industry, they were using similar practices for similar kinds of publications.
From ballads to sonnet sequences to political pamphlets, standardization allowed publishers to market particular genres to the audiences seeking them. Play texts flaunted the name of the playing company, for example, since this association was probably attractive to playgoers turned readers. Certain prominent names could also render secondary authors or coauthors anonymous when printers marketed miscellanies or bundled texts together for publication.
The conventional use of initials to identify authors could also complicate attribution, especially for uninformed readers. At the same time that print standards were making readers more familiar with both anonymity and attribution, manuscript culture was also nurturing authorial discretion. In reaction to growing print audiences, some authors used hand-to-hand transmission to distinguish their more intimate circles from the broader readership. Court and university poets, especially, circulated their poems through scribal networks years before they reached print, and their work was sought out, traded, and preserved in manuscript miscellanies by educated amateur collectors.
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Even poems by fashionable authors such as John Donne and Ben Jonson appear anonymously in period manuscripts. The fact that insiders did not need to record names initiated much of the anonymity in verse transmission, and once the manuscript poems reached outsiders, the names could not be recovered.