Anonymity – London Review of Books

‘Anonymous and pseudonymous publication has a long history. It may now be the exception in literary and specialist journalism, but at the start of the 19th century it was pretty much the rule – to the extent that France in 1850 legislated to forbid the publication of unsigned articles on philosophical, political and religious subjects. A new book by Eric Barendt, Anonymous Speech: Literature, Law and Politics (Hart, £25), traces the contemporaneous voluntary abandonment of anonymity in England and the often pompous arguments that accompanied it. The fact was that journals’ recruitment of well-known writers – Thackeray, Dickens – was starting to put a premium on names. So when the Fortnightly Review started up in 1865, it announced that all its articles would be signed and free of editorial pressure. By contrast, from its foundation in 1913 the New Statesman anonymised its contributors, though the editor, having explained that this was necessary in order to establish a common style and tone, couldn’t resist announcing that Sidney Webb and Bernard Shaw would be writing for it. In 1925 the Spectator, after not quite a hundred years of unsigned articles, abandoned anonymity, and the New Statesman followed. Articles in the TLS remained anonymous until 1974, and obituaries in the Times and Telegraph are unsigned to this day. So are the entirety of the Economist and the bulk of Private Eye.’

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London Review of Books, 19th January 2017