Literary forgery (also literary mystification, literary fraud or literary hoax) refers to writing, such as a manuscript or a literary work either deliberately misattributed to a historical or invented author, or a purported memoir presented as genuine.
The common, or popularly known, instance of literary forgery may involve for example 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. The forger also may or may not fake the physical alleged original manuscript. This is rare, as it requires a great deal of technical effort: 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. Other common types of literary forgery may be based on potential historical cachet and novelty of a previously undiscovered author.
Literary forgery has long history: 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.
Literary forgery was promoted as a creative method by Charles Nodier, and in the 19th century many writers produced literary forgeries under his influence, notably Prosper Merimee and Pierre Louys.
The English Mercurie appeared to be the first English newspaper when it was discovered in 1794 - an account of the English battle with the Spanish Armada of 1588, but was in fact written by the second Earl of Hardwicke, Philip Yorke, in the 18th century as a literary game with some friends.
The genre of false and deceptive autobiography or fake memoirs has seen the rise of misery lit books, where the author has claims having 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 canceled a book tour.
Such instances include authors like Danny Santiago and James Frey who both “forged” personal experiences in their respective memoirs. Danny Santiago, author of “Famous All Over Town” published a novel in which he depicts life through the eyes of a young Hispanic boy growing up in East Los Angeles. The novel won the Rosenthal Award for Literary Achievement in 1984, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. When suspicion arose on the true identity of Danny Santiago, investigation revealed the writer was actually a middle to late aged Caucasian male simply writing from the standpoint of a young Latino American boy. He received much grief from the literary community, and eventually gave up writing for good.
James Frey, another author chastised for “forging” his memoir, published A Million Little Pieces, a memoir about his struggle with drug addiction, and his journey through the inner working of the legal system and rehabilitation. The truth about his “imagined escapades” eventually leaked when close family and friends of Frey’s revealed that he had actually never been a drug addict or incarcerated. Frey eventually faced more than 10 class action lawsuits including negligence, false advertising, and breach of contract, but at the heart of each suit was an allegation of fraud.
The Protocols of the Elders of Zion was a forged document that was ignored by scholars until recently. The abridged version was available to the public in 1903. The unabridged version was later edited by a retired officer of the Russian Imperial Guard, G. V. Butmi. This forgery exploits Jews by stating that Jews were inevitably trying to coup Christianity to essentially rule the world. This document was an anti-Semitic piece that was in effect written by members of the Russian secret police at the time. The document was exposed as plagiarism by English Journalist Philip Graves in 1921. Graves generally exposed the extreme similarities in the political satire by Maurice Joly, The Dialogue in Hell Between Machiavelli and Montesquieu. It was also supported by Henry Ford in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent.
During the Victorian Era, women were not afforded the same literary opportunities as men. The only way for Victorian women to publish their work was by utilizing a pseudonym or a penname to avoid being dismissed by male critics. George Eliot, one of the leading women writers in the Victorian Era and the author of renowned novels such as "Scenes from Clerical Life" (1857), "Adam Bede" (1859), used a penname. Her legal name was Mary Anne Evans or Mary Ann Evans. One scholar claims that she was forced to forge rather than chose to do so
For a list of forged documents and literary forgeries see under those headings on the Wikipedia page .