This is a revised version of a paper that was written for a graduate level seminar in bibliography at FSU in Spring, 2012. The original, unedited version of the paper is attached to this page (link at bottom) for comparison.
The pornographic epic My Secret Life by Anonymous (also refered to as Walter as that is the name the author used for himself in the novel), consisting of eleven volumes and over one million words, was originally published in either 1880 or 1888, possibly in Belgium, very likely by Amsterdam printer August Brancart. Obviously, there is a great deal of conflict about the early printings. The privately printed copy of the series held by the British Library is dated by their catalogue at 1880, but might possibly be one of the first editions printed by Brancart in 1888; meanwhile the Harvard Library has a “first reprint” from 1888, with no known printer associated with the catalogue record for the item (“Amsterdam – Privately Printed for Subscribers” is all the information the book provides, suggesting it was printed by Brancart). A look at the printing history throws a question onto whether the Harvard copy is a first edition from 1888 or a later, rumored 1932 reprint (ref. Publishing History). The only evidence given that Brancart was, indeed, the publisher, comes from a secondary source which claims decorative elements of the book were used by a printer that Brancart worked with regularly, a plausible if uncertain attribution at best (Bullough, 2000, p.39).
Unsurprisingly for such a raunchy and controversial book, there are few digitized versions available outside of simple text transcriptions such as found in The Gutenberg Project (which only has the first three volumes). The Harvard Library’s 1888 copy appears to be the only historic copy that has been digitized, and that scan was done by Google. It is a perfunctory black and white scan, at best.
As well, there has not been the level of study devoted to this critical tome as might be expected. Given the nature of the subject matter, My Secret Life lifts the veil of propriety from the Victorian era in Britain as surely as the Marquis de Sade revealed the base licentiousness that hid under the skirts of the European Enlightenment. This places it in a unique position in regards to the understanding of sexuality and gender of the era, but of the three books listed in this bibliography, only two directly addresses the novel itself (Kronhausen & Kronhausen, 1967 and Marcus, 1966). The other book discuss the suspected authorship (Gibson, 2001), which is the only continually ongoing topic of research concerning the book across decades.
It is a sad statement that even a serious academic study of the history of My Secret Life begins and ends with Wikipedia. While a number of articles (listed in this bibliography) address the themes and literary style of the novel, and everyone agrees that the book is important, there has been no serious, scholarly attempt to record the history of it. Rumors and conflicting information abounds, and in some cases, such as a rumored 1932 printing in New York, no evidence has been found by this researcher.
There is one website devoted to the book (http://www.my-secret-life.com/), which includes the full text online, links to purchase the book, and brief historical snippets such as a short chronology. It is, at best, an amateur fan page and wholly unreliable. Likewise, a 2003 bibliography by Sheryl Straight, while far more detailed and scholarly in approach, is unsubstantiated.
Given the limitation of time and money, even a number of the confirmed reprints listed in this bibliography have to be taken with some suspicion. Specifically in regards to Grove Press and Arrow publishers, it cannot be stated with certainty if the multiple appearances in the chronology represent reprints, new editions, or a simple misattribution of date. Even trickier are situations where the book was printed but never sold due to being seized by the government as indecent material (e.g. the 1934 printing by Treat ‘Em Right Publishing and the 1966 printing by Arthur Dobson); there is no clear evidence that there are any surviving copies from these printings, and other than viewing the actual court documents from the cases there is no way to verify what was actually printed…if anything.
A significant portion of the study of My Secret Life is focused not on the book itself but on trying to identify the author. The leading theory is that Walter was Sir Henry Spencer Ashbee, a noted book collector and bibliographer who is considered an early authority on erotic literature. However scholar Gordon Grimley put forth in 1972 that the author was William Simpson Potter, who is also suspected of authoring other erotic works. Recent research published in 2001 convincingly argues that the identity was that of prominent but forgotten Victorian military man and gentleman, Colonel William Haywood. However, the authorship remains uncertain.
This bibliography focuses on English language editions of the book and research. There have been a number of printings in French and German (and without a doubt in other languages), but it is enough here to focus on the native language of the novel in order to trace its uncertain history.
“Printings” lists the verified printings of My Secret Life in chronological order. The decision to list these chronologically was based on the length of time covered combined with the utter randomness of publishers. There is a significant gap between the 1888 printings and the 1960s, and while some sources suggest there were a number of underground printings during the first half of the twentieth century, no record of them has been found outside of the seized-and-burned edition in 1934. It is very possible that there are simply no surviving copies of these earlier, illicit print runs.
This section is lightly annotated with notes or commentary that pertains to information about the printing, publisher or date in question. The editions listed here have been confirmed as actually existing, commonly in library holdings, although a couple could only be tracked down via book resellers. However, as mentioned in the Introduction, constraints of time and money prevented a first-person analysis of any of the books.
The next section, “Books”, lists the primary academic resources for students of My Secret Life, which comes to a grand total of three books. As mentioned in the Introduction, two of these specifically focuses on the novel, however they are all critical to the study of the history of My Secret Life and include significant sections devoted to the book. They are therefore included here as valuable research materials.
Finally, “Articles” attempts to record all the (English language) academic/scientific literature published that references, analyzes, or interprets My Secret Life. Currently that total stands at a less than impressive nine articles.
Annotated. Listed chronologically by year, then alphabetically by publisher/printer.
1888-1894: August Brancart, Amsterdam – eleven volumes, reportedly only 20 to 25 copies.
1888: [Unknown, likely August Brancart, Amsterdam] – “first reprint”, limited to 475 copies. Harvard Library has copy number 353.
Treat 'Em Right Publishing, New York (seized on April 10, 1934 and burned on November 27, 1934 by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice; no copies known to exist.)
Grove Press, New York – Vol. 1/6, 7/11. Abridged but unexpurgated. Included expanded version of essay on authorship by Gershon Legman.
Arthur Dobson, Britain – apocryphal printing of volumes 1 and 2 that were never sold due to Dobson’s arrest for “purveying filth.” Fate of these copies is currently unknown.
Pendulum Press, Atlanta GA – facsimile of all 11 volumes of 1888 edition.
Brandon House, North Hollywood CA – “complete and unexpurgated.”
Granada Publishing, London – Featuring introduction by scholar Gordon Grimley.
Grove Press, New York
Panther Books, London
Blue Moon Books, New York
Arrow, London, volumes I & II
Wordsworth Editions, Hertfordshire
Carroll & Graf, New York
Wordsworth Editions Ltd, Herts – multiple volumes (?).
Mackays of Chatham, Chatham, Kent
Penguin Group, New York – edited, abridged and with an introduction by James Kincaid with Richard Tithecott.
Chalford Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire – Vol. One & Vol. 2.
Nonsuch Publishing (Vol. 1)
Tempus Publishing, Limited (Vol. 2)
Signet Classics – Edited by James Kincaid, New Afterward by Paul Sawyer.
Bawdy Books, Great Britain
Harper Perenial, London
Gibson, I. (2001). The erotomaniac: The secret life of Henry Spencer Ashbee. London: Faber.
Kronhausen, E., & Kronhausen, P. (1967). Walter, the English Casanova: A presentation of his unique memoirs My secret life. London: Polybooks.
Marcus, S. (1966). The other Victorians: A study of sexuality and pornography in mid-nineteenth-century England. New York: Basic Books.
Best, G., Thomas, D., Banks, J. A., & Irwin, M. (1969). "My secret life": Theme and variations. Victorian Studies, 13(2), 204-215.
Bullough, V. L., "Who wrote my secret life? An evaluation of possibilities and a tentative suggestion", Sexuality & Culture 4 (2000) 37-60 doi:10.1007/s12119-000-1011-y
Hall, D. E. (1999). “Body fluid desire: My Secret Life.” Nineteenth-Century Prose, 26(1), 118-140.
Lutz, Deborah. "The secret rooms of My Secret Life." English Studies in Canada 31.1 (2005): 118+. Literature Resource Center. Web. 23 Jan. 2012.
Meckier, J. (1978). “Never in Lapland: A clue to the nature of ‘my secret life’.” English Language Notes, 16(2), 168.
Morrison, R. (2006). "Recherche eroticisms: 'my secret life' as parody.” CEA CRITIC, 68(3), 16-32.
Orford, J. (1978). “Hypersexuality: implications for a theory of dependence.” British Journal of Addiction to Alcohol & Other Drugs, 73: 299–310. doi: 10.1111/j.1360-0443.1978.tb00157.x
Pattinson, J. P. (2002). “The man who was Walter.” Victorian Literature and Culture, 30(1), 19-40.