Submitted by PangeanPrawn t3_10xnbq2 in books

I'm reading Frankenstein, and when he lands in a town in Ireland somewhere the book shows "-----" instead of the name. I saw the same thing in Brothers Karamazov recently too.

At first i thought i had gotten a weird edition, or maybe there was a smudge on the original manuscript or something,, but these are different books, different authors, different publishers!

So now I think it must be intentional.. but many place names are not blanked out, and even in the BK they did later in the book reveal the name of the town the story takes place in.

So whats the deal?



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Prometheus357 t1_j7tg27f wrote

Ooo I know!

Ironically it was commonplace in literature to create a sense of realism in fiction. The authors would “redact” these names and places giving the reader the impression that the author wanted to protect certain privacies leaving the reader not knowing if the work was real or not. So Frankenstein was that much more terrifying

The more I learned about them the more I came to love them.


runningstitch t1_j7twt1d wrote

It's also more common in older novels, so I wonder if it is a vestige of the novel working itself out as a distinct art form. Early experiments with the novel played around with ways to suggest this all really happened - epistolary novels are an example of this as is the framing of both Frankenstein and The Scarlet Letter (found this old box of papers in the attic of the custom house, you'll never believe what they said!).

Today we see new forms of storytelling emerging, and you see folks experimenting to find what works. I'm thinking about how the Lizzie Bennet Diaries mimics a blogger talking directly to the camera, while later episodes and projects begin to have the camera "accidentally" catch & post moments.


creaturecomforts13 t1_j7v4tw0 wrote

Yes! It was explained to me when I studied "the novel" as part of my English Lit degree. When the novel first emerged, they were seen as frivolous because they were fictional (and also because they were popular with women). A lot of authors tried to get around that by framing them as epistolary, retellings of stories they heard from a friend of a friend of a... or cautionary tales.

It's one of my favourite little known facts!


runningstitch t1_j7v8lcc wrote

The newly literate female reader is also why so many early novels are moralistic in nature. Richardson couldn't help but jump at the chance to warn women against... well, having a thought of their own.


Complex_Dragonfly_59 t1_j7vjom2 wrote

Absolutely! Interestingly, there are many female novelists prior to Richardson (Eliza Haywood is perhaps the best known example ) who wrote much racier, less “moral” work, which was very popular with readers of all genders. Richardson is reacting to an already well-established genre of “romances.”


Caleb_Trask19 t1_j7vyxui wrote

This is true of Dangerous Liaisons which I’m reading now.


Electrical_Jaguar596 t1_j7y1x3h wrote

I just read The Color Purple, which is epistolary and also redacts a person’s name like this. I wonder if Alice Walker was deliberately mimicking early novels (maybe as a statement about the newness of the black voice in literature?).


ytman t1_j7v8x38 wrote

Hah. So House of Leaves is basically the logical conclusion of the Scarlet Letter?


runningstitch t1_j7vbrxo wrote

Ok, now I need to read House of Leaves.


ytman t1_j7vc73f wrote

Its wild. A manuscript of a indepth analysis of movie no one has seen or heard of is found by some guy who assembles it together and intersperse journal like entries of their life throughout footnotes. Oh and the manuscript was written by a blind man.


AnAquaticOwl t1_j7vly57 wrote

Technically the manuscript was dictated by a blind man. And the guy writing the footnotes gradually goes insane as the narrative goes on


sneakzilla t1_j7vks8u wrote

One of my favorite reading experiences. Worth experiencing for sure!


JeffCentaur t1_j7w71bc wrote

The current book series John Dies at the End does this. It purports itself to be set in our reality, in contemporary time, and so the main narrator consistently refers to the town they live in as "Undisclosed" to stop people from coming to the "most haunted town in the US" as tourists after reading the books.


avalon1805 t1_j7we2cq wrote

These types of novels are called epistolary novels, they are written as a series of letters between people.

The book "Dangerous liaisons" also does this. It even comes with a foreword from the author stating that the following letters are real conversations between french nobles, so that he had to redact some names and exclude some of the more explicit letters.


tke494 t1_j7uaywi wrote

I think for some books, it's because the author is acting like he is trying to keep things private because he doesn't want the science to become public knowledge.

It is supposed to be a journal.


LiveOnFive t1_j7wp0pw wrote

I always wondered this about names in older novels as well. Like you'll see a character referred to as "Mr. M----". Same thing?


mysteryofthefieryeye t1_j7x6t3a wrote

I always wondered how you were supposed to read this in your head. Do you say Mr. M? ("Mr. Em") or can you make up a name, like Mr. Montrose...

i'm learning quite a bit from these comments though!


SirZacharia t1_j7ug00n wrote

Kay now explain it for House of Leaves


Prometheus357 t1_j7urc5q wrote

I think House of Leaves is very much a modern example of this form of writing (and every other work in that genre) Right? HOL is a compilation of various notes and sketches of a persons experience in a house that appears to be haunted. It’s supposed to leave us the reader curious if what is being read real.


42Cobras t1_j7xllly wrote

One of my favorite novels is Wells' "The Time Machine." I love how he redacted the main character's name so that it would seem like a true story. I know it's been used everywhere, but this was my favorite usage in particular.


[deleted] t1_j7xd6uz wrote

Ohhh I wonder if that's common in other literature as well! I recently finished a book by a Korean author and another by a Japanese author and both of them would use XX when referring to streets and apartment numbers. I just assumed they didn't feel like creating a fake one, but it would make a lot more sense if those were redacted for the sake of privacy.


CurnanBarbarian t1_j7xdwkz wrote

Interesting!! the first time i came across this was in middle school when i was reading Les Miserables. I never could figure out why the name of the town was Le _____


overthought10 t1_j8009mn wrote

I just finished Crime and Punishment, and I wondered! Thanks!!


icarusrising9 t1_j7tgmbg wrote

It was literary fad at the time. It's done in plenty of other books of the period, like in much of Dostoevsky and some books by Victor Hugo. (Les Misérables is a notable example that comes to mind.)

The idea is to mimic how something would be presented if it were actually true, as specific identifying information like cities and stuff would be censored. You can think of it as being in the same vein as "found footage" films (like "The Blair Witch Project" and "Paranormal"). It would have served to help readers of the time suspend disbelief, as they would be familiar with actual true accounts where information was censored in this way. It doesn't really serve its purpose for a modern reader, which is why some translations substitute in the name of the city the author meant in lieu of the dashes.


Pinball-Gizzard t1_j7vxfix wrote


I was gonna say, this was the first time I ran into it and was completely bamboozled every time we went down ________ street


cliff_smiff t1_j7vh9p1 wrote

Why were true accounts at the time censored?

Edit- I still don't get why a city name would be withheld. Names, addresses, etc. sure those make sense. Are the place names in fiction imitating place names in true accounts being censored? Were other kinds of information censored in true accounts instead? What kind of things are the true accounts, like newspaper articles or something else like an autobiography?


jenh6 t1_j7vhys7 wrote

It’s to protect privacy at the time. The same way certain court cases don’t reveal names


icarusrising9 t1_j7vimh9 wrote

It's just like when faces are censored in today's media, or a reporter doesn't give sources' names. It's identifying information.


bluesam3 t1_j7wsp4b wrote

You're overestimating the size of the places being hidden: at this point, first name and town might well be enough to allow people to identify your address, and certainly town plus whatever other information was in the thing being censored would be.


Mister_Sosotris t1_j7udtne wrote

Jane Eyre does that, too. It was a stylistic choice to make it look like certain places and people are “redacted” from the record as if they were real letters and documents to protect people’s privacy


PangeanPrawn OP t1_j7ukibb wrote

So its versimilitude? Frankenstein is framed as a series of letters so I guess that kinda makes sense, it just seems like the choice is so arbitrary, because its not like any character names, or even other place names are redacted.


BadAtNamesWasTaken t1_j7waksl wrote

I think character names weren't redacted because it was (& is) pretty difficult to identify somebody with just their name. You need a location to go along with it, at the very least, unless we are speaking of the royalty I suppose

I haven't read Frankenstein in a long time, so I don't know if it's the same there, but in Austen's novels I feel place names are "redacted" when they're associated with negative things and left in place when they're associated with positive things. Kinda like how our newspapers would go "Florida Man threw an alligator at his girlfriend" vs "Steve Irwin, the famous Australian wildlife educator, and his wife Terri spent their honeymoon trapping crocodiles in the wild".

So in Pride and Prejudice, we know Mr. Darcy is from Pemberly, Derbyshire and Pemberly is near the town of Lambton. That's basically pin pointing his identity - but that's okay because he has nothing to be ashamed of/to hide so his identity need not be protected. On the other hand, Wickham's regiment is always _Shire - because he is is a scoundrel and thus his identity needs to be protected/censored.


Mister_Sosotris t1_j7uqnqb wrote

Yeah, it’s to make them seem realistic. It’s kind of a weird choice. I don’t think a book like Dracula, which is all letters and articles, uses this technique at all.


steampunkunicorn01 t1_j7ur8u5 wrote

No, by the time Dracula was written (about 70-80 years after Frankenstein) it had gone out of fashion in both novels and letter writing. I'm not 100% sure when it faded out of style, but it was a common trend that lasted at least until mid-way through the 1800's (for example, it was also done in the American book Uncle Tom's Cabin)


chaoticidealism t1_j7taaie wrote

I think it's just because they don't like the idea of either using a real place, or making up a name. So the characters' letters are "redacted for privacy", removing some place names and some people's names too, as though they were actually written by the characters and published.


TugboatThomas t1_j7taid3 wrote

Sometimes its to avoid getting sued or cause a scandal by associating a place with a certain book, and other times its because it stops the immersion from being broken by someone like, "On page 335 you state the monster travels to Dublin, and that he travelled 10 km on hollyhill road. In actuality Hollyhill Road didn't exist until 1922 and is less than a kilometer in length. Are we supposed to believe the monster can bend both time and space?"


MerrickFM t1_j7vbcl6 wrote

Let me ask you a question: why would a gentleman whose cigarillo case is inscribed "Genius at Work" spend all his time reading a frivolous work of prose fiction?


FlattopJr t1_j7vjovw wrote

...I withdraw my question. (sips laudanum in defeat)


haldad t1_j7y4ihg wrote

Hope someone got fired for that blunder!


PantherTypewriter t1_j7tkcpu wrote

I can't speak for Frankenstein, but in Russian lit, having something happen in a town specifically called 'N' (or some variant) is such a trope that it's not even weird


ed_212 t1_j7tb5nl wrote

This convention is also sometimes used for people's names. I can't think of exact examples, but it occurs well into the 20th century, like 50s, 60s.

As Chaoticidealism said, it's just a thing to indicate that the information isn't important - it could've been any town in ireland, the minor character is any Smith or Jones. I think books went away from this as there was an ambition toward realism with an increase in detail and specificity.


Disparition_2022 t1_j7v6x2j wrote

Sometimes when a person's name was blanked out it's to imply that they are some significant figure or aristocrat and the implication is that it would be "scandalous" if this story were known about them or associated with them. Adds to the mood.


serralinda73 t1_j7tf31f wrote

If you're writing a story set in your area and you want your readers to feel like they can really relate, then you want to be both vague and detailed. You want your readers to be thinking, "Ooh, I know where this is!" (even though they're wrong because you are making it up) and also, "God, I know someone exactly like that! I wonder if the author actually knows them and used them as inspiration for the character?"

It grounds a story in reality without making it so specific that readers lose that feeling of connection. A lot of English classics are written in this way, meant to feel familiar and relatable without involving any real-life people or places or causing the inhabitants of those places to feel maligned or made fun of. Especially when the setting is some small town or village where everyone really knows each other - you can't go around turning your neighbors into fictional idiots and cheaters and criminals. But you can imply that there are idiots, cheaters, and criminals in a small village...just a few miles away or in the next county or over there in Sussex/Yorkshire/Wales/etc. and all the readers will nod their heads and think, "Ha! Nice try but I know you are describing Lady B---ton and her ridiculous son, Lord J--r B---ton! They are a menace! W--shire is just chock full of reprobates and rogues!"

It's all so deliciously gossipy and scandalous! (without actually slandering real people)


KombuchaBot t1_j7wi9c8 wrote

I would add to the other explanations here that it was partly an imitation of a convention of pamphlets produced by satirical writers who would circulate gossip in a literary format.

Not exactly gossip as we would associate it now with magazines and tabloid journalism; highly regarded writers (then, as now) such as Dryden and Pope would write about a character whose name was Lady ------- or Mr -------- and the reader would be expected to fill it in from their knowledge of current events or the whispers of other readers.

I think the intention on the part of writers such as Austen or Mary Shelley, who weren't setting up as satirists, was to imply a sort of knowing reference and emphasise the contemporaneity of their story.

It also saved them from having to specifically mention a town (or as in one case in Austen, a specific military regiment) so that those belonging to it would have no cause to say "Excuse me! that sort of thing doesn't go on in my town/regiment etc" or, possbly more embarrassingly "you are obviously writing about me/Mr George Barker of that town/regiment but just changed the name"


evilfazakalaka t1_j7utl4m wrote

I remember being confused by this in Black Beauty, and I decided as a kid that it was because Beauty was bad at spelling...


Whatstheretosay44 t1_j7vdg2z wrote

It’s to make it seem real. It was standard in the era of classic novels. But when I see it done by new hip contemporary authors, I find it pretentious, and it takes me out of the story.


Dana07620 t1_j7w9qma wrote

It is strange when you first encounter it. But read enough from that time period and you come to accept it as a bizarre eccentricity of the period.


InconsiderateHog t1_j7vs4xx wrote

Fairly sure that Dostoyevsky used it to avoid avoid government censorship as well as the reasons outlined above.


PangeanPrawn OP t1_j7vu0be wrote

If true, that would be fascinating, especially considering how many of his contemporaries started doing it just stylistically - rather than for functional political reasons. Someone else here mentioned that it is sometimes called the "Dostoyevsky Dash" suggesting maybe he started it.


InconsiderateHog t1_j7wrzei wrote

Yeah I’ve heard it labelled the Dostoyevsky dash as well, only recently though funnily enough.

That is interesting now you mention it - that’s my lunch time reading for tomorrow then!


imapassenger1 t1_j7wykxv wrote

There are also character names redacted like Prince ______ in The Idiot.


Dentarthurdent73 t1_j7w81a1 wrote

Black Beauty also does this - had me so confused as a child (BB was one of my favourite books that I re-read numerous times), but I must say, I guess it had the desired effect, as I kind of thought it must be so that I wouldn't know which estate BB and Ginger were on and be able to go there!


SomeoneAV t1_j7upxmw wrote

In some books this is done in order to give the story more versatility, such story could take place anywhere and at any time


Ramsay220 t1_j7uqcqq wrote

Great question OP! I’ve always wondered that too and now I know. Thanks guys!


Liath-Luachra t1_j7uwnam wrote

I’ve noticed this with dates as well, sometimes a letter in a book will have something like ‘3rd May 18–‘ written at the top


FlatSpinMan t1_j7tl2kg wrote

An entirely different and lesser level, I know, but I used to make mission packs for a somewhat popular game and I’d often blank out (or usually write “redacted “) the place names.

One major reason was that the maps didn’t actually fit the area I was trying to represent. I just used existing maps and pretended they were somewhere else.

The other was that I kept basic historical facts accurate to the timeline (types of aircraft, the general flow of the battle, etc) but took creative liberty with the details, so it was helpful being able to fudge stuff. I rationalized it by saying that people undergoing the experience wouldn’t necessarily know the significance of the time and place. e.g. a soldier going to Stalingrad as the battle started wouldn’t have known it was going to be so incredibly horrendous (well, they probably could have guessed).


Bucklehairy t1_j7wj8db wrote

This is the 19th century equivalent of shooting your movie on a phone so that the footage seems "real". In movies it makes the depicted events seem more immediate and genuine, because "obviously no one was paid to film this." The effect that 19th century authors want to create is like, "it must be true, otherwise he wouldn't care about implying that this apparently totally real lady might be a whore who writes letters to men without parental supervision."


jefrye t1_j7tasg6 wrote

That's a good question that I don't know the answer to, except that I know it was pretty common in nineteenth century lit.


countessofole t1_j7wbvpq wrote

I remember first seeing this in Edgar Allan Poe's novels. Not just places, but people names and exact years, too.


Hrmbee t1_j7we7uo wrote

I noticed this in War and Peace as well, when I tried reading it as a kid. It made the comprehension that much more difficult since people were also introduced that way, like the Archduke of D_______ (if memory serves).


UncleWazoo t1_j7wvr5p wrote

"Should I marry S.? Not if she won't tell me the rest of the letters in her name" - Woody Allen


violetmemphisblue t1_j7x0dcf wrote

I was taught by my Literature professors that Russian novelists did it, at least in part, to make their books more timeless, as location names were known to change depending on who was ruling. Street names, buildings, etc would change also depending on if they were named after someone and how that person was perceived at the time...a well-known example would be St Petersburg, which was Petrograd and then Leningrad, then back to St Petersburg. Only on a pettier level of changing names...(I mean, I think there are probably multiple explanations. This is just one.)


VinnyinJP t1_j7x1gek wrote

I never did find out where in the world “Major ___ de Coverley” was supposed to be.


yesgirlnogamer t1_j7x52y8 wrote

Ha ha, this is hilarious. You thought it was a smudge.


Michaelbirks t1_j7ta8fk wrote

Anonymity? The actual town doesn't matter, just what happens there.


PangeanPrawn OP t1_j7tafsy wrote

Lol, I mean you could say that about almost every detail of a story. The whole thing could be dashes except for the bare bones events at the core. Why single out specific place names? It raises more questions than it answers


the3rdtea2 t1_j7vteoq wrote

Huh... I'm reading the comments it seems it was stylistic, I kind of just thought they couldn't be bothered to find out the city names


kaysn t1_j7th26k wrote

I read somewhere that it was supposed to denote works of fiction. It was just the en vouge style to write stories set in the present world about fictional events.