Sunday, August 03, 2008

The Memoir of a Literary Forger

I have a background writing parody and humour and put that to good use ... But the dealers said they would pay more for better content - the more scandalous, the better. So of course I made them more scandalous.
While down on her luck biographer Lee Israel turned literary forger extraordinare, and while she was able to fake and sell letters purportedly written by a whole range of literary luminaries, it was British playwright Noel Coward she did best
I loved doing Noël. I sat down with his diaries and a British dictionary and had a collection of Noëlisms for inspiration. He was so outré. It was such fun.
she says in the Sunday Telegraph. In fact, she got his voice down so well that two letters she wrote as Coward ended up fooling expert Barry Day who included them in his Letters of Noël Coward, published last year and certainly does not sound amused.

Now Israel confesses all in a memoir about her career in forgery Can You Ever Forgive Me .

Thomas Mallon, author of Stolen Words: Forays Into the Origins and Ravages of Plagiarism (an excellent study on the subject which I've found very useful) reviews her book in the New York Times and reckons that :
There’s no honor in anything she did
but nevertheless appears to feel a certain grudging admiration for her, as does Lori Fradkin on the New York Magazine website :
We know we should take a moral stand against this author — after all, if liars are getting all the book deals, where does that leave honest folks? And yet our immediate reaction is not distaste, but fascination. The sixtysomething (or so she says!) author seems to feel little remorse — "They were fun, and nobody got hurt, and everybody made money," ... and though we wouldn't rush out to buy a James Frey or Margaret Seltzer tell-all, there's something about Israel that has us intrigued.
Maybe we are willing to forgive the fakers and plagiarisers who 1) actually do it creatively 2) have a sense of humour 3) actually do come clean in the end!

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