Blogs > Cliopatria > The use of sock puppets goes back a long way.

Sep 12, 2006 3:23 pm


The use of sock puppets goes back a long way.



... The pedigree of pseudonymous and anonymous sock puppetry extends well beyond the Internet. The Walter Scott Digital Library at Edinburgh University, for instance, notes that Scott, the Scottish novelist, was known to have written an anonymous review of his own first installment of the “Tales of My Landlord” series in 1816 — in part to respond to critics (see “A Tale of Old Mortality” at www.walterscott.lib.ed.ac.uk/works).

And it’s not unreasonable to wonder what sort of high jinks Walt Whitman might have undertaken on the Internet.

The poet, after all, was a prolific reviewer of his own work.

“An American bard at last!” Whitman wrote in an anonymous review of “Leaves of Grass,” published in The United States Review in 1855, declaring his own voice one that would bring “hope and prophecy to the generous races of young and old.” (An image of the review is available at www.loc.gov/exhibits/treasures/images/ww0018s.jpg.)

What to make, then, of Whitman’s sock puppetry?

Ed Folsom, the Roy J. Carver professor of English at the University of Iowa and a director of the Walt Whitman online archive (whitmanarchive.org), pointed to one critic who, in 1856, condemned Whitman for setting himself up as “this rough-and-ready scorner of dishonesty,” only to perpetrate “a lie and a sham” on his readers.

“Many people over the years have been outraged when they learn that Whitman anonymously reviewed his own work, arguing, as did that 1856 reviewer, that it undermines our trust in the poet’s candor and openness,” Professor Folsom said. “Others just don’t see anything wrong with the behavior, arguing that all that it shows is that Whitman was a clever and industrious marketer of his own book, who figured out ways to use the available media to get the word out about what he was trying to do.”...

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