One of the new books I mentioned last week was Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds by Melissa Katsoulis. After browsing this book, I can only hope that the next time I watch Jeopardy!, there is a category on this subject.
I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to hear that officially, Go Ask Alice is a hoax. I heard it might be, but never pursued it because I wanted to believe that a teenager who quickly goes from innocent girl to crack-addict had the time and wherewithal to keep a diary during her journey. (I did think it was odd that she was homeless and hitchhiking around California, but always had her trusty diary with her.) The work is not, in fact, the work of a devoted, drug-addled diarist hopped up speed, but instead the work of Beatrice Sparks, a Mormon housewife who wrote it as a cautionary tale.
Sparks’s undoing was claiming that she threw away the original manuscript after she transcribed it, as well as going to write other fake-o diaries, including one that was Satan-themed. Oh, Beatrice! You should’ve quit while you were ahead.
Another story I found intriguing is that of rivaling biographers of the poet John Betjeman. Upon completing his manuscript, Biographer A heard that Biographer B intended to write a biography of the poet. Biographer A knew that Biographer B would be relying heavily upon previous biographies and would be eager for new information. So naturally, Biographer A fabricated a letter to Betjeman from a secret lover, which Biographer B believed and published in his work.
This is my favorite part: Biographer A bought a copy of the book and then, discovering the letter reprinted in its entirety, he rejoiced: “Passers-by might have mistaken the jig-dancing, air-punching gentleman in the street for a lunatic, or a drunk waiting anxiously for the nearby Wykeham Arms to open. But for [Biographer A] this was the greatest trick he had ever played in his life” (323). Bonus points for making the first letters of each sentence in the fake letter spell out something unsavory about Biographer B.
Other well-known hoaxes are included, of course, like James Frey or J.T. LeRoy, but I particular liked the stories I’d never heard before. This book is a great little read if you like big fat liars. In other words, I highly recommend it!
Katsoulis, Melissa. Literary Hoaxes: An Eye-Opening History of Famous Frauds. Skyhorse Publishing, 2009.