La mia vita segretaLa mia vita segreta (Autobiografia erotica di un gentiluomo vittoriano) è un libro di letteratura erotica scritto da un anonimo denominatosi fittiziamente "Walter" prima del 1888; in italiano è stato pubblicato da SE (editoria). Fatto stampare privatamente in poche decine di copie, non è mai stata messa in vendita ed è rimasto per buona parte del XX secolo monopolio delle biblioteche private dei collezionisti di rarità del genere.
La narrazione si svolge lungo il binario della vita del protagonista che racconta in prima persona della propria esistenza interamente dedicata al piacere sessuale, parlandone spesso come di un mero "dovere", in cui viene detto tutto - lungo il corso del tempo - dalle esperienze più importanti fino a quelle apparentemente poco influenti.
Una specie di diario monumentale dedicato esclusivamente alla sessualità, con una sorta di maniacale devozione: l'erotismo, con tutte le immaginabili variazioni, viene qui sviscerato per le oltre quattro mila pagine originale ed è considerato l'unico e solo obiettivo. Dalla lussuria del bordello, alla prostituzione di strada, dall'orgia al voyeurismo, dal feticismo all'omosessualità; il tutto "integrato" all'interno di una realtà borghese, quella dell'epoca vittoriana.
Il frontespizio di una parziale ristampa privata.
The work itself is enormous, amounting to over one million words, the eleven original volumes amounting to over 4,000 pages. The text is repetitive and highly disorganised, but its frank discussion of sexual matters and other hidden aspects of Victorian life make it a rare and valuable social document. It has been described as "one of the strangest and most obsessive books ever written".
Publishing, and bansThe first edition was probably printed by Auguste Brancart, in an impression of only 25 copies.
In the twentieth century My Secret Life was pirated and reprinted in a number of abridged versions that were frequently suppressed for obscenity. In 1932, for example, a New York publisher was arrested for issuing the first three volumes.
In the USA it was finally published without censorship in 1966 by Grove Press, but in 1969 a British printer, Arthur Dobson, was sentenced to two years' prison for producing a UK reprint. It was not until 1995 that the work in its entirety was published openly in the UK, by Arrow Books.
AuthorshipThe true identity of "Walter" is not known for certain.
The most commonly suggested author is Henry Spencer Ashbee (21 April 1834 – 29 July 1900). He was a book collector, writer, and bibliographer and notable as an early authority on erotic literature. Gershon Legman was the first to link "Walter" and Ashbee, in his introduction to the 1962 reprints of Ashbee's bibliographies, and the 1966 Grove Press edition of My Secret Life included an expanded version of that essay. Ashbee was also picked as the Walter by a May 2000, Channel 4 documentary on British TV, Walter: The Secret Life of a Victorian Pornographer - and in 2001 Ian Gibson's The Erotomaniac: the secret life of Henry Spencer Ashbee (2001, ISBN 0-571-19619-5) provided a detailed review of circumstantial evidence arguing that Ashbee wrote My Secret Life, presumably weaving fantasy and anecdotes from friends in with his own real-life experiences. If Ashbee was not the actual author, it is suggested that he may well have been the compiler of the work's lengthy, detailed index, and have provided other editorial assistance and help in getting the book into print.
On the other hand, Steven Marcus, in his influential The Other Victorians (1966), concluded that the balance of known facts was against Legman's "shrewd and ingenious guess." Also unconvinced were Phyllis and Eberhard Kronhausen in their detailed study of My Secret Life, Walter the English Casanova (1967).
A number of other men have been suggested as more likely to be the author, including:
- William Simpson Potter, a known associate of Ashbee, was put forward by Gordon Grimley in his introduction to the 1972 edition of "My Secret Life". Grimley is sceptical of Ashbee's candidacy as the main author. According to Ashbee, Potter was involved in authoring The Romance of Lust, an erotic work centred on incest and a range of sexual encounters.
- Charles Stanley, a barrister and stockbroker, was put forward in 2000 by Vern Bullough and Gordon Stein, who wrote that he was the best alternative candidate if not Ashbee was not Walter - and that the evidence slightly favored Stanley. The strongest evidence for this theory was that "Walter" claimed to be a close friend of the barrister in a famous case of the time, which appears to be the case R v Richard Clarke of 1854. That barrister, William Overend QC, was a childhood friend of Stanley.
- William Haywood (1821-1894), who was Surveyor and Engineer to the City of London Commissioners of Sewers was suggested by John Patrick Pattinson in 2002 after extensive research.