The Real Story of 'O': Anonymity Has Its Perils

By Mccrum, Robert | Newsweek, January 31, 2011 | Go to article overview

The Real Story of 'O': Anonymity Has Its Perils


Mccrum, Robert, Newsweek


Byline: Robert Mccrum

In February 1663, the London printer John Twyn was sentenced to a most terrible fate: he was to be hanged, drawn, and quartered. Twyn's offense? He had dared to print an anonymous pamphlet that justified the right of rebellion against the king. In his jail cell, Twyn told those who begged him to confess the source of the treason that "it was not his principle to betray the author." The next day, Twyn's head was duly placed on a Ludgate spike.

As Washington watches agog at the publication of the anonymous roman a clef O: A Presidential Novel, Twyn's horrible fate is an apt reminder of the historic perils of authorship, the price of anonymity, and the frenzy it used to arouse in the early days of the printed word.

Writers once went to extraordinary lengths to remain anonymous. And with good reason. Books were a matter of life and death. Immediately after the introduction of the printing press, writers who challenged religious or political orthodoxy were in mortal danger. Translations of the Bible, especially, offered a short route to oblivion: William Tyndale, the first person to publish an English-language version of the New Testament, was burned at the stake. In 1679 England's greatest living poet, John Dryden, was so badly beaten by thugs for his supposed authorship of an anonymous satire about one of the king's mistresses that he almost died. Daniel Defoe, the British journalist and author of Robinson Crusoe, was put in the pillory.

The author of O, whoever he (or she) turns out to be--Robert Gibbs? Curtis Sittenfeld? David Plouffe?--has placed himself in a noble, if fraught, tradition. Tracking back through Anglo-American literary history we find that Shakespeare published anonymously, and Anonymous put his name to Gulliver's Travels, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and The Federalist Papers. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

The Real Story of 'O': Anonymity Has Its Perils
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.