Literary forgeries and mystifications
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
Literary forgery, also Literary forgeries and mystifications, pertains to some writing, especially in literature, such as a manuscript, presented as an original, when in fact it is a fake. It is sometimes confused with plagiarism, which it may also be, but need not be. In an instance of plagiarism the actual physical embodiment of the writing is not at issue; the content, meaning, or text are at issue. In an instance of forgery, literary or otherwise, the physical object itself is not what it purports to be, irrespective of its content.
Furthermore, in the case of a plagiarism, it is the authorship which is in dispute. Whereas in the case of a literary forgery, the text itself is not what it purports to be according to its meaning — rather, it is a fabrication which merely appears authentic.
The common, or popularly known, instance of literary forgery involves the work of a famous author whose writings have an established intrinsic, as well as, monetary value. In the attempt to gain the rewards of such a reputation, the forger often engages in two distinct activities. The forger must produce a writing which resembles the style of the known reputable author to whom the fake is to be attributed. However, that is not necessarily sufficient. To be persuasive the forger needs also to fake the physical alleged original manuscript. This is often done by imitating the ink and paper, and other materials if possible. The effect is in the physical result; the forger can thereby say not just that the style of writing is the same, but also that ink and paper is of the kind or type used by the famous author.
History of literary forgery
Onomacritus (c. 530 - 480 BCE) is among the most ancient known literary forgers.
One of the longest lasting literary forgeries is by Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite a 5-6th century Syrian mystical writer who claimed to be a disciple of Paul the Apostle. Five hundred years later Abelard expressed doubts about the authorship, but it was not until after the Renaissance that there was general agreement that the attribution of the work was false. In the intervening thousand years the writings had much theological influence.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion is a well-known and widely discussed literary forgery. Some antisemitic organizations, such as Hamas, as well as many neo-Nazi groups, still claim that the text is genuine.
Letters of a Portuguese Nun (1669)were puportedly real love letters.
The genre of false and deceptive autobiography or fake memoirs has seen the rise of Misery lit books, where the author has apparently suffered illness, abuse, drugs and so on during their upbringing. A recent example is a story about Los Angeles where a young girl was raised in a gangland culture involving drugs, forced sex and criminality. The author, Margaret Seltzer has been exposed as a fraud by her elder sister. In fact she lives a middle-class life without trauma, and received a good education (which also included a course in creative writing). Penguin Riverside has withdrawn the book and cancelled a book tour.
- Anonymity in publishing
- Fake memoirs
- False document
- Misery lit
- Unreliable narrator