F. Anstey was born Thomas Anstey Guthrie in 1856 to a prosperous military tailor. Although he benefitted from a good private education, Anstey managed to scrape only a third-class degree from Cambridge. He embarked upon a career in law and was called to the bar in 1881, but soon abandoned the legal profession in favour of writing, his pseudonym inspired by a printing error.
Anstey scored an overnight success with Vice Versâ (1882), its comic genius reportedly responsible for the fatal stroke suffered by Anthony Trollope. He revised the novel in the following year and republished it with additions in 1894. Meanwhile, Anstey was a regular contributor to Punch, producing parodic gems such as ‘Mr Punch’s Pocket Ibsen’. The fortunes of his second novel, The Giant’s Robe (1883), were marred by accusations of plagiarism; ironically, given it actually tells the story of a plagiarist. He continued to write fantastical fiction into the twentieth century, but his popularity was by then on the wane.
Anstey died of pneumonia in 1934, and his self-deprecating autobiography, A Long Retrospect, was published two years later. His legacy endures, however, with film adaptations of Vice Versâ in 1916, 1937, 1948 and 1988. The novel was also the inspiration for Mary Rodgers’ Freaky Friday (1972).
Victorian Secrets publishes Vice Versâ .