ATG Book of the Week: Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800

by | Apr 25, 2019 | 0 comments

Title: Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800
Editors: Walter Stephens & Earle A. Havens
Hardcover: 978-1421426877, $54.95
Imprint: Baltimore; Johns Hopkins, 2019


“Forgery is an eternal problem. In literature and the writing of history, suspiciously attributed texts can be uniquely revealing when subjected to a nuanced critique. False and spurious writings impinge on social and political realities to a degree rarely confronted by the biographical criticism of yesteryear. They deserve a more critical reading of the sort far more often bestowed on canonical works of poetry and prose fiction.

The first comprehensive treatment of literary and historiographical forgery to appear in a quarter of a century, Literary Forgery in Early Modern Europe, 1450–1800 goes well beyond questions of authorship, spotlighting the imaginative vitality of forgery and its sinister impact on genuine scholarship. This volume demonstrates that early modern forgery was a literary tradition in its own right, with distinctive connections to politics, Greek and Roman classics, religion, philosophy, and modern literature. The thirteen essays draw immediate inspiration from Johns Hopkins University’s acquisition of the Bibliotheca Fictiva, the world’s premier research collection dedicated exclusively to the subject of literary forgery, which consists of several thousand rare books and unique manuscript materials from the early modern period and beyond.

The early modern explosion in forgery of all kinds―particularly in the kindred documentary fields of literary and archaeological falsification―was the most visible symptom of a dramatic shift in attitudes toward historical evidence and in the relation of texts to contemporary society. The authors capture the impact of this evolution within many fundamental cultural transformations, including the rise of print, changing tastes and fortunes of the literary marketplace, and the Protestant and Catholic Reformations.”



“A mature and wide-ranging reflection on the subject of literary forgery that demonstrates how the field might be developed in future years, this book offers privileged insights into the perennial feature of human inventiveness and perversity that is literary forgery. All the contributions are hugely entertaining and illuminate different sectors of the topic in a way which is very satisfying.” (Ian Maclean, University of Oxford, author of Scholarship, Commerce, Religion: The Learned Book in the Age of Confessions, 1560–1630)


“When does invention become fraud? Is it the author or the reader who perpetrates the falsehood? Tackling ghosts and impostures, texts manufactured to mislead, and historical writers made to speak falsely, this wonderful collection tastes the ripest fruits engineered for a new field of early modern study: the Bibliotheca Fictiva.” (Scott Mandelbrote, University of Cambridge, coeditor of Jewish Books and Their Readers: Aspects of the Intellectual Life of Christians and Jews in Early Modern Europe)


“The essays gathered in this volume demonstrate that studying early modern European literary forgeries is a fascinating cultural adventure. Forged documents from the weighty tomes of Annius of Viterbo to the letter of the Virgin Mary for the citizens of Messina showed that forgeries were capable of representing a surprising variety of polemics.” (Lina Bolzoni, Scuola Normale Superiore, author of The Gallery of Memory: Literary and Iconographic Models in the Age of the Printing Press)


“Just as we can’t help but admire the con artist’s stings and scams, so readers of this wide-ranging collection of papers will take pleasure in discovering―thanks to the investigations of these learned academic Sherlocks―not only the ingenuity and chutzpah of some notable Renaissance forgers but also the possible reasons behind their impostures.” (Michael Dirda, Pulitzer Prize-winning literary journalist and author of the Edgar Award-winning “On Conan Doyle”) …

(Thanks to John Riley for suggesting this “Book of the Week”)

And for more about literary forgeries check out ATG Quirkies: A Real Book of Fakes.

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