forgery and fraud
This page considers literary forgery and fraud.
It covers -
Incidents of literary imposture are discussed here
as part of exploration of identity crime.
As Anthony Grafton notes in his perceptive Forgers
& Critics: Creativity & Duplicity in Western Scholarship
(Princeton: Princeton Uni Press 1990), literary forgery
has had a long and often distinguished history in most
parts of the world,
whether to -
or undermine claims to political legitimacy or cultural
the esprit and skill of the forger in eras where originality
was less valued and a framework for assessing provenance
the pretensions of scholars and other authorities
renown to the 'discoverer' of the text
financial and other rewards for the forger, particularly
in environments where the forged text catered to market
expectations (eg revealed the supposedly scandalous
life of Marie Antoinette) or simply offered the shock
of the new (eg recurrent versions of the 'Hitler' and
introductions are Fakes & Frauds: Varieties of
Deception In Print & Manuscript (New Castle:
Oak Knoll Press 1996) by Robin Myers, John Whitehead's
This Solemn Mockery: The Art of Literary Forgery
(London: Arlington Books 1973) and Practice To Deceive
(New Castle: Oak Knoll Press 2000) by Joseph Rosenblum.
poetry and construction of national cultures
Unsuccessful Scots poet James Macpherson (1736-1796) first
gained public attention with his 1760 Fragments of
Ancient Poetry, Collected in the Highlands of Scotland,
and Translated from the Galic or Erse Language.
He announced that
the poems now published appear as detached pieces in
this collection, there is ground to believe that most
of them were originally episodes of a greater work ...
by a careful inquiry, many more remains of ancient genius,
no less valuable than those now given to the world,
might be found in the same country where these have
been collected. In particular there is reason to hope
that one work of considerable length, and which deserves
to be styled an heroic poem, might be recovered and
translated, if encouragement were given to such an undertaking.
duly discovered verse epics Fingal and Temora,
attributed to Gaelic bard Ossian.
His translations inspired an Ossian craze that included
Goethe and Napoleon Bonaparte among its devotees. He responded
to criticisms by Samuel Johnson and others by producing
forged Gaelic documents that purported to authenticate
Johnson was also dismissive of George Psalmanazar
(c 1680-1763), supposed visitor to or native of Formosa
and author of a 'chinese' grammar. He entertained his
audience by claiming that Formosans generally lived to
120, partly attributable to imbibing viper's blood in
the morning and a diet of raw meat, albeit not from the
hearts of 18,000 young boys supposedly burnt every year.
English teacher Charles Bertram (1723-1765) foisted a
forged mediaeval manuscript onto pioneering archaeologist
and palaeographer William Stukeley (1687-1765) in 1747.
Stukeley attributed Bertram's 'Richard of Westminster'
text to 14th century monastic chronicler Richard of Cirencester,
drawing on it for a landmark historical map in 1756.
Bertram followed up the fraud with publication in Copenhagen
– supposed home of the 'Cirencester Manuscript'
– of the full text of the concocted work in 1757.
The fraud was not conclusively debunked until 1866, after
increasing skepticism regarding internal inconsistencies,
conflict with other archival documents, questions about
scripts and the ‘disappearance’ of the parchment.
A few years later apprentice Thomas Chatterton (1752-1770)
discovered a cache of 'medieval' poems and historical
documents attributed to Sir Thomas Rowley. He attracted
further attention after deciding, in the style of James
Dean, that death at 18 was a good career move - being
immortalised by Keats and other exponents of the Romantic
Chatterton was aped by Welsh 'druid' Iolo Morganwg
(1747-1826) in the 1791 Cyfrinach Beirdd Ynys Prydain
('The Secret of the Bards of the Isle of Britain'), by
Vaclav Hanka (1791-1861), 'discoverer' in 1819 of the
Czech heroic poetry collection Rukopis Královédvorsky
and epic The Judgment of Libussa, and by Izmail
Sreznevsky, responsible for the 1830s Zaporozhian
The Hungarian Szabács viadala and slavic
Velesova knyha ('Veles Book') supposedly discovered
in 1917 have also been claimed as outright forgeries.
Théodore Hersart de la Villemarqué's 1839
Breton collection Barzaz Breiz appears to have
been merely heavily edited and 'improved' by its compiler.
In the closing years of last century Mark Hofmann, apparently
tired to discovering autograph works by Washington, Lincoln
and religious figures,
'found' an undiscovered poem by Emily Dickinson. The author
of 1976 best-seller The Education of Little Tree,
the supposed memoir of a Cherokee orphan, merely discovered
a new personality - one far removed from past authorship
of the 1963 George Wallace speech 'Segregation Now! Segregation
Tomorrow! Segregation Forever!'. Marlo Morgan's Mutant
Message Down Under and Carlos Castaneda's works -
marketed as autobiographies, fiction or otherwise - have
similarly been best-sellers.
For Bertram see Stuart Piggott's William Stukeley:
An Eighteenth-Century Antiquary (London: Thames &
Hudson 1985). 'Ossian' and Chatterton have attracted more
attention, including particular Ian Haywood's The
Making of History: A Study of the Literary Forgeries of
James Macpherson & Thomas Chatterton in Relation to
Eighteenth-Century Ideals of History and Fiction
(London: Associated Uni Press 1986), The Sublime Savage:
A Study of James Macpherson and the Poems of Ossian
(Edinburgh: Edinburgh Uni Press 1988) by Fiona Stafford,
Ossian Revisited (Edinburgh: Edinburgh Uni Press
1991) edited by Howard Gaskill and Robert Browning's
Essay on Chatterton (Westport: Greenwood 1970) edited
by Donald Smalley.
There is a more relaxed account in Peter Ackroyd's novel
Chatterton (London: Hamish Hamilton 1987). Paul
Baines' The House of Forgery in 18th-century Britain
(Aldershot: Ashgate 1999) considers contemporary notions
of authenticity, creativity and reward. Percy Adams' Travelers
And Travel Liars, 1660-1800 (Berkeley: Uni of California
Press 1962) considers Psalmanazar and other tellers of
The City of Light: The Hidden Journal of the Man Who Entered
China Four Years Before Marco Polo (New York: Citadel
2000) edited by David Selbourne, is the purported diary
of Jacob d'Ancona. Some of Marco Polo's claims have also
Hofmann's 'discovery' of a Dickinson poem is described
in The Poet and the Murderer: A True Story of Literary
Crime and the Art of Forgery (London: 4th Estate
2003) by Simon Worrall. Hofmann's religious forgeries
are discussed in a later page of this profile. Warmly
Inscribed: The New England Forger & Other Book Tales
(New York: St Martins 2001) by Lawrence & Nancy Goldstone
considers other US manuscript and book frauds.
Shakespeare & Co
In 1794 William Henry Ireland (1777-1835) manufactured
a deed bearing the signature of William Shakespeare and
went on to 'discover' Shakespeare's love letters to Anne
Hathaway (complete with a lock of the playwright's hair),
correspondence with Elizabeth I, annotated books from
Shakespeare's library, a partial Hamlet manuscript
and the manuscript for his Vortigern & Rowena.
That play was duly performed by Edmund Kean, the Kenneth
Branagh of the 1790s, before Ireland was brilliantly exposed
by scholar Edmond Malone (1741-1812).
In 1852 scholar John Payne Collier
(1789-1883) announced discovery of a copy of the Shakespeare
Second Folio with extensive manuscript annotations and
corrections by the author. He also manufactured other
documents, inserting forged ballads, lists and 'autographs'
in genuine 16th and 17th century books. Somewhat more
tongue in cheek, James Whitcomb Riley floated Leonainie
in 1877 as an 'undiscovered' Edgar Allan Poe poem.
Twenty years on bibliographer Thomas Wise
(1859-1937), Henry Buxton Forman (1842-1917) and associates
began to 'discover' hitherto unknown first editions of
works by Browning and other literary notables, just the
thing for the acquisitive fin de siecle counterparts
of the dotcom millionaires. The industrious Wise stole
leaves from the British Museum to 'improve' defective
copies of early printed plays, sold 'facsimiles' as originals
and blithely manufactured editions that had supposedly
been privately commissioned by authors and thus escaped
the attention of bibliographers.
In 1949 Nicolas Bataille & Marie-Antoinette Akakia-Viala
concocted La chasse spirituelle, supposedly a
lost work by Rimbaud. As Bruce Morrissette notes in The
Great Rimbaud Forgery: The Affair of La chasse spirituelle,
with Unpublished Documents and an Anthology of Rimbaldian
Pastiches (St Louis: Washington Uni Press 1956) the
hoax got out of control, with their more earnest or credulous
peers fervently defending the authenticity of an obvious
Dewey Ganzel's Fortune & Men's Eyes: The Career
of John Payne Collier (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1982)
and John Payne Collier: Scholarship & Forgery
in the 19th Century (New Haven: Yale Uni Press 2004)
by Arthur & Janet Freeman are definitive studies.
For Ireland see Bernard Grebanier's The Great Shakespeare
Forgery: A New Look at the Career of William Henry Ireland
(New York: Norton 1965) and Jeffrey Kahan's Reforging
Shakespeare: The Story of a Theatrical Scandal (Bethlehem:
LeHigh Uni Press 1998).
For Wise see 'Thomas James Wise and Harry Buxton Forman'
in John Carter & Graham Pollard's An Enquiry into
the Nature of Certain Nineteenth-Century Pamphlets
(London: Scolar Press 1983) and John Collins' The
Two Forgers (Aldershot: Scolar Press 1992), superseding
Thomas J. Wise Centenary Studies (Edinburgh:
Nelson 1959) edited by William Todd.
Arthur Cravan (in the guise of Dorian Hope) is alleged
to have posed as Pierre Loüys and André Gide
in selling forged letters and literary manuscripts by
Oscar Wilde, including what was claimed to be the original
version of Salomé and The Importance
of Being Earnest.
US poet and plagiarist
Scharmel Iris reinforced his authority by forging endorsements
by figures such as TS Eliot, Woodrow Wilson, Eleanor Roosevelt
and WB Yeats. His strategy is discussed in Forging
Fame: The Strange Career of Scharmel Iris (DeKalb:
Northern Illinois Uni Press 2007) by Craig Abbott.
In 2008 one US publisher posted an advertisement on Craigslist
asking for 14 'volunteer' to fake the signatures of two
authors of a forthcoming book, with each successful applicant
to be paid US$25 for every 200 books signed (for a total
of 50,000 copies). The ad indicated that "You will
need o be able to copy the look and style of both authors'
As we have suggested in discussing
literary identity theft, the temptation to embroider fact
or channel another personality, dead or otherwise, seems
to be one that many authors have not resisted.
Recent authorial shape-shifting is evident in controversies
over Norma Khouri's 'memoir' Forbidden Love: A Harrowing
True Story of Love & Revenge in Jordan (New York:
Random 2002), Rahila Khan's Down the Road, Worlds
Away (London: Virago Press 1987), Helen Darville/Demidenko's
unlovely The Hand That Signed the Paper (1994)
and supposed Holocaust memoirs by Bruno Doessekker and
Monique De Wael (aka Misha Defonseca).
Anna Broinowski, director of Forbidden Lie$,
said of Khouri
a brilliant, intensely charismatic woman, and the minute
I met her, I thought she was utterly genuine. She could
be a narcissistic sociopath or an intensely damaged
person who craves attention and doesn't know the difference
between truth and lies. Or she could just be a very
Jerzy Kosinski's oeuvre - such as The Painted Bird
and Being There - is now considered to be the
result of work by his 'translators' and unacknowledged
The authors of the 'Ern
Malley' opus - like that of Wittner Bynner & Arthur
Davison Ficke's 1916 Spectra: A Book of Poetic Experiments
- are now chiefly known as perpetrators of an unpleasant
hoax. That was echoed in revelations that Paul Radley
- winner of the 1980 Australian/Vogel Award
for Jack Rivers and Me - had gained credit for
a novel written by his uncle and that Australian Indigenous
prize winner Wanda Koolmatrie was in fact Leon Carmen.
'A Positive Unsettlement: The Story of Sakshi Anmatyerre'
by Ben Goldsmith in 9(2) Griffith Law Review
(2000) 321-33 discusses another instance of artistic shapeshifting
in Australia. Female author Yasmina Khadra, author of
The Swallows of Kabul, turned out to be an Algerian
army officer by the name of Mohammed Moulessehoul.
Darville's work is discussed in Andrew Reimer's The
Demidenko Affair (North Sydney: Allen & Unwin
1996), Robert Manne's The Culture of Forgetting: Helen
Demidenko & the Holocaust (Melbourne: Text 1996),
Natalie Prior's The Demidenko Diary (Port Melbourne:
Mandarin 1996), John Jost's The Demidenko File
(Ringwood: Penguin 1996) and Harry Heseltine's The
Most Glittering Prize: The Miles Franklin Literary Award
(Canberra: Permanent/University College 2001). She makes
a cameo appearance in Deborah Lipstadt's History on
Trial: My Day in Court with David Irving (New York:
Ecco 2005). An apparent reluctance to resile from recurrent
claims that she was the child of Ukrainian migrants is
highlighted in 'Curtain Up: The Demidenko/Darville Performance'
by Christine McPaul in Southerly (December 1999).
For Doessekker/Wilkomirski and Kosinski see Blake Eskin's
persuasive A Life in Pieces: the Making and Unmaking
of Binjamin Wilkomirski (New York: Norton 2002),
The Wilkomirski Affair: A Study in Biographical Truth
(New York: Schocken 2001) by Stefan Maechler and Jerzy
Kosinski: A Biography (New York: Dutton 1996) by
The Malley hoax is discussed in Michael Heyward's The
Ern Malley Affair (London: Faber 1983) and Cassandra
Pybus' The Devil & James McCauley (St Lucia:
Uni of Qld Press 1999). For Koolmatrie see John Bayley's
Daylight Corroboree; a first-hand account of the 'Wanda
Koolmatrie' hoax (Norwood: Eidolon Press 2004) and
Maggie Nolan's 'In His Own Sweet Time: Carmen's Coming
Out' in 21(4) Australian Literary Studies (2004)
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