Libel and Satire: The Problem with Naming

ENGLISH LITERARY HISTORY 81.3 (2014): 889-921

Abstract: Literary historians have accounted for gutted names (like J—- S—- for John Smith) in eighteenth-century satire in legal terms, arguing that such typographical ruses prevented actions and prosecutions for libel. But the legal record shows that gutted names served no legal function. This article argues, instead, that such naming practices served a host of commercial and aesthetic functions: they advertised the salacious nature of a satire and invited readers to take part in the construction of a scandal. Above all, gutted names served a dubious ethical end, one that purported to protect satiric victims, but did so in a largely superficial way.