Thursday, April 11, 2013

"In a letter written by Dostoevsky to an old friend sixteen years later, the writer of so many great confession scenes depicted Dickens baring his creative soul..."

“...All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”

Hell of a story, that--almost too good to be true.  In fact, appeared in several biographies of Dickens before anyone noticed that it was certain to be false.  But who invented it, and why?

In The Times Literary Supplement, Eric Naiman traces the history of this hoax.  The truth is, shockingly, even more fascinating than the lie.  What Naiman uncovers seems to be a single disaffected scholar who has created a labyrinthine network of false identities to give his publications--including not only literary criticism but science-fiction, satirical novels, and nipple-themed erotica--an aura of respectability.  Naiman's account seems at first like a story of runaway hubris, but somewhere toward the end, when he writes about how the culprit, using one of his sock puppet aliases, purchased a small brochure for the British Library about his own novel with "no ISBN and held together by staples," it becomes something deeply tragic and extremely fascinating.

No comments: