The anonymous autobiographer who wrote the pornographic epic My Secret Life. Walter was probably born around 1820–22. Walter is the name he used to refer to himself in the book, but it’s almost certainly not his real name. Nobody knows who Walter was. The most frequent suggestion is Henry Spencer Ashbee, but Ashbee’s life events bear almost no relation to Walter’s.

I believe I’m the first person to have considered Cuthbert Brodrick as a candidate. In his favour is his date of birth (1 December 1821); the fact that he spent a lot of time in Europe, especially in France; and was ‘in exile’ there and on Jersey for most of his later years, where he could have worked in obscurity on publishing his erotic diaries. Against him are the usual assortment of mismatched life events. For instance, neither Brodrick’s mother nor his father died when he was 16 or anything near it. Brodrick is probably not the author MSL, but his candidacy is certainly no less likely than any other which has been suggested.

Life events

Except if noted, references are from Bullough.


Born, probably to a well-off family in the north of England, or at least to a family with relatives there (2:15:363 and 2:19:411–412).

1836–38 (age 16)

His father dies at an age approaching sixty (55, Pattinson) after going abroad to manage a plantation (1:2:32); Walter loses his virginity (1:5:67). As his father’s death has left his mother with little money to support her family, Walter moves from a public school to a local school (57, Pattinson). Some time later he joins the army hoping to become an officer (63, Pattinson).

1841–43 (age 21)

Receives an inheritance (194, Pattinson) from his godfather (ODNB), gives up his army commission (194, Pattinson), but quickly wastes his new riches (ODNB).


Aged 26 (2:15:362). Married to a rich woman, temporarily solving his money problems.


Cousin ‘Fred’ dies in battle, probably in the Crimean War, also perhaps in India.

1849 (three years after age 26)

The cholera epidemic in London. (2:17:388)


His wife dies, childless, while he is on the continent. His relationship with her had been sour for years.