An Anonymous Book, from Progress of Stories, by Laura Riding

An anonymous book for children only was published by an anonymous publisher and anonymously praised in an anonymous journal. Moreover, it imitated variously the style of each of the known writers of the time, and this made the responsibility for its authorship all the more impossible to place. For none of the known writers could in the circumstances look guilty. But everyone else did, so this made the responsibility for its authorship all the more difficult to place. The police had instructions to arrest all suspicious-looking persons. But as everyone except the known writers was under suspicion, the department of censorship gave orders that the known authors should be put in prison to separate them from the rest of the population and that everyone else should be regarded as legally committed to freedom. ‘Did you write it?’ everyone was questioned at every street corner. And as the answer was always ‘No’, the questioned person was always remanded as a suspect.

The reasons why this book aroused the department of censorship were these. One–it imitated (or seemed to imitate) the style of all the known authors of the time and was therefore understood by the authorities to be a political (or moral) satire. Two–it had no title and was therefore feared by the authorities to be dealing under the cover of obscurity with dangerous subjects. Three–its publisher could not be traced and it was therefore believed by the authorities to have been printed uncommercially. Four–it had no author and was therefore suspected by the authorities of having been written by a dangerous person. Five (and last)–it advertised itself as a book for children, and was therefore concluded by the authorities to have been written with the concealed design of corrupting adults. As the mystery grew, the vigilance of the police grew, and the circulation of the book grew: for the only way that its authorship could be discovered was by increasing the number of people suspected, and this could only be done by increasing the number of readers. The authorities secretly hoped to arrive at the author by separating those who had read the book from those who had not read it, and singling out from among the latter him or her who pretended to know least about it.


Therefore the time has come to close. I am discovered, or rather I have discovered myself, for the authorities lost interest in me when they saw that I would discover myself before I could be officially discovered, that I would in fact break through the pages and destroy the strongest evidence that might be held against me, that is, that “An anonymous book”, etc. I understand now that what they desired to prevent was just what has happened. You must forgive me and believe that I was not trying to deceive, but that I became confused. I over-distinguished and so fell into satire and so discovered myself and so could not go on, to maintain a satiric distinction between authorship and scholarship.

from Progress of Stories, by Laura Riding

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