Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

The man behind the great Dickens-Dostoevsky hoax

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Stephen Moss writes in the Guardian:

Arnold Harvey is waiting for me outside his flat overlooking Clissold Park in north London. With beard, lank grey hair and a large stomach that may be the product of eating too many fry-ups at the greasy spoon next door, he looks like a bucolic version of William Golding. It is his first ever interview and he is nervous, expectant. After a lifetime of what he believes to be academic condescension – or worse, conspiracy – he sees me as a possible source of redemption. This could be tricky.

Harvey, who has written most of his books using the initials AD rather than his first name Arnold, which he dislikes, has been exposed in the Times Literary Supplement as the possessor of multiple identities in print, a mischief-maker who among other things had invented a fictitious meeting in 1862 between Dickens and Dostoevsky. This startling encounter was first written up by one Stephanie Harvey in the Dickensian, the magazine of the Dickens Fellowship, in 2002, and quickly hardened into fact, cited in Michael Slater’s biography of Dickens in 2009 and repeated by Claire Tomalin in her biography two years later.

It was only after a New York Times review of Tomalin’s book that American specialists in Russian literature started to wonder about this meeting, Dostoevsky’s account of which, according to Stephanie Harvey, had been documented in the journal Vedomosti Akademii Nauk Kazakskoi (News of the Academy of Sciences of the Kazakh Soviet Socialist Republic). “In what language did Dickens and Dostoevsky converse?” asked Russian scholars. Why had Dostoevsky’s revealing portrait of Dickens – “There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite” – not been included in his collected works? And why had they never previously come across the distinguished journal Vedomosti Akademii Nauk Kazakskoi?

Doubts about the authenticity of the Dickens-Dostoevsky meeting spread, retractions were made, the Dickensian had egg on its face. But only recently did the full story of the deception emerge when Eric Naiman, a professor in the department of Slavic Languages and Literatures at the University of California, Berkeley, wrote an immensely detailed six-page article in the TLS(“three days’ work”, says Harvey dismissively when I praise Naiman for his industry) establishing Harvey’s academic avatars – not just Stephanie Harvey, but Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham (author of Oxford: The Novel), Michael Lindsay and Ludovico Parra. Naiman traced the way in which, over the past 30 years, this group had been commenting on one another’s work in scholarly journals and little magazines, sometimes praising one ano ther but occasionally finding fault too. “How comforting,” Naiman commented drily, “to construct a community of scholars who can analyse, supplement and occasionally even ruthlessly criticise each other’s work.”

AD Harvey doesn’t deny he is the creator of that community. Indeed, he says there are several identities which even Naiman has failed to unearth: Stephen Harvey, author of an article titled The Italian War Effort and the Strategic Bombing of Italy, published in the journal History in 1985; the Latvian poet Janis Blodnieks (“I search but cannot find the key/ Which will unlock the glowing door/ To the life which runs parallel/ To the world in which I am trapped”); and a variety of internet personalities which he prefers not to disclose as he says they might not reflect well on his output and interests. So who is the real AD Harvey?

When we make it upstairs to his tatty, book-lined, file-infested rented flat, he begins to tell me his story. His style is insistent, combative, digressive, and the conversation occupies more than four hours. He says he doesn’t get much intelligent conversation these days, and in any case we have a lifetime – a lifetime of being turned down for academic jobs and forced to live the impoverished life of the independent historian – to cover.

We talk across a table, placed next to a window that affords a pleasant view over the park. The late-afternoon light is beautiful. On the table stands a pile of books: Britain in the Early 19th Century; English Poetry in a Changing Society (1780-1825); English Literature in the Great War with France; Literature into History; Collision of Empires; Sex in Georgian England; Muse of Fire: Literature, Art and War; Arnhem; The Body Politic. His life’s work, assembled, I assume, for my benefit.

Harvey, who is 65, was . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

16 July 2013 at 9:57 am

Posted in Books, Daily life

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