by Anonymous (Jonathan Gash/Peter Grant)
1960. Supposedly true story of a London prostitute. Gash, real name Peter Grant, denied writing it.
The author known as Anonymous has been prolific over the centuries. A quick search on AbeBooks reveals 2.2 million listings where the author is listed as Anonymous. This selection of rare books showcases anonymously published titles that deserve to be remembered.
There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Sometimes the author’s name has simply been lost in the sands of time and this is particularly common where famous stories like Beowulf and Gawain and the Green Knight have emerged from the oral tradition of storytelling and eventually been written down.
When the writing is a collective effort, books are sometimes published without an attributed author. Many early children’s books were printed without authors and the same can be said for travel guides.
One of most interesting uses of anonymity comes when the subject matter is controversial. The Victorian erotica genre was filled with famous books of sexual adventures where the author was Anonymous. Many homosexual-themed novels were published anonymously. This desire to remain in the shadows can also been seen in books about politics, corruption and the military. Sometimes the color of the author’s skin or their sex was the reason.
The most interesting books are the ones where the author’s identity still remains a mystery decades and decades after the book was published. In many cases, the author’s name is discovered by one method or another. It’s a hard secret to keep considering the social and complicated nature of book publishing.
There was huge speculation around who wrote Primary Colors in 1996. Joe Klein denied being the author for six months before eventually holding up his hand.
I am Saxon Ashe
1940. First of two Saxon Ashe mysteries. The author still remains unknown.
1930. Mach Tey dust jacket. A romance novel featuring a love triangle.
1929. From the author of Ex-Wife. Cover blurb says the novel is “extravagant” and “naughty.”
The Man Who Killed Hitler
by Anonymous (Dean Southern Jennings)
1939. A concentration camp inmate attempts to assassinate the Fuhrer.
1930. Photoplay edition of World War I story. Movie starred Robert Montgomery & Anita Page.
The Street Called Straight
by Anonymous (Basil King)
1912. Novel of American aristocratic life and romance. Made into a silent movie.
The President Vanishes
by Anonymous (Rex Stout)
1934. Political mystery. Written after, but published before, the first Nero Wolfe novel.
by Anonymous (Anabel Lane)
1931. A racy novel about Hollywood love lives that was probably based on real events.
1966. The anonymous investor who failed on the stock market is unknown.
The Smiling Corpse
by Anonymous (Philip Wylie & Bernard Bergman)
1935. Pastiche of detective fiction. GK Chesterton, SS Van Dine, Sax Rohmer and Dashiell Hammett on front cover.
by Anonymous (Joe Klein)
1996. A novel clearly based on Bill Clinton’s rise to power written by a journalist.
Promise Not to Tell
by Anonymous (Nancy Hoyt & Lord Donegal)
1929. A romance told in epistolary format.
One Woman’s War
1930. Early feminist memoir detailing World War I from the female perspective.
1930. A novel about the rise and fall of a corrupt judge in New York City.
The Woman’s Doctor
1933. No wonder this author craved anonymity - a novel on the “secret side of womanhood.”