An ideological mapA dissertation on state formationA comedic load of bull*A scholarly account
'History' would be stretching it
There is little you can trust of this history, including the author’s name. While Dietrich Knickerbocker lived as a Dutch historian whose manuscript was found abandoned in a hotel room—at least according to the History's preface—this credible gentleman also happens to be a figment of Washington Irving’s imagination. Washington Irving, along with a fair number of his contemporaries in the early 19th century, chose to hide his name behind those of his fictional characters. It became a popular trope for writers to frame their narratives as truthful accounts that they called histories. Many would ‘happen across’ mysterious manuscripts which they would edit and humbly publish with a preface attributing the work to whatever non-existent lady or gentleman they saw fit. They weren’t fooling anybody, nor were they trying to. These types of claims were about as believable as pro-wrestling and reality TV.
Definitely a real personAn allegorical figure designed to poit out the internal corruption of a powerful institutionCousin to Friar JohnUmm…Nobody?
Yep, this one was fiction
Not to be too meta, but what is fiction? Even if the accounts of this novel were entirely invented (which they were), a kernel of fact can be traced between the lines. Isla first published this ‘history’ in 1758 under the name Lobon de Salazar Minister of the Parish in order to expose and rally the public against corrupt preaching practices in multiple Spanish dominions. With fake names and fake plotlines occurring in fake places, how effective could it have been? The answer is very. Figures in high places certainly took notice of the Friar Gerund, and the novel even caught the attention of the king of Spain as a dangerous piece of work that may undermine the authority of formal religious orders. Lennard Davis in "Factual Fictions" describes how any mere work of fiction could have such an impact by looking to the very beginning of fiction. “Histories, stories, and news accounts, then, were important to the sixteenth century only insofar as they clearly taught lessons and offered interpretations. If they were not new, if they were not accurate, or even if they were completely fabricated, they could still serve this purpose.” This is one of the many fictitious accounts that were real enough to affect the world around them.
Judging from the past two, a fictional character of some sortAn unfortunate woman from 1788Obviously Eliza WhartonA type of hummingbird
You had a 75% chance a getting this one at least partially correct.
Yes, a coquette is a genus of hummingbird. Yes, Eliza Wharton was the coquette of the novel. Most importantly, however, the coquette was one Elizabeth Whitman, cousin of Hannah Webster Foster. On July 25,1788 an extremely pregnant woman walked into a tavern in Massachusetts, and due to birth complications she never walked out. As sad as the tale sounds, the public that summer absolutely adored it. The scandal of a solitary woman with child; the intrigue of what exactly she was doing there without escort; the moral lesson to scold any other potential promiscuous young ladies! Over the next few months sensationalized accounts of Elizabeth’s death and the events leading up to it went 18th c. viral across multiple news papers, few of which paid any attention to historical accuracy. “It was the stuff of good rumor, of gossip, of sentimental novels,” says Davidson in Revolution and the Word. While some of the characters around Eliza Wharton were likely fictionalized, the woman herself and the plot of the story were true.
Yes, yes she did100% FakeSt. Domingo was a real person, but the rest is made upThe US never had a VP Burr
When in doubt, sell whatever you got!
Anyone lucky enough to have seen Hamilton would be vastly familiar with Aaron Burr, third Vice-President of the United States, who really did exist and was responsible for the death of Alexander Hamilton. This, however, isn’t about him; it’s about his mistress Leonora Sansay, otherwise known as a Lady at Cape Francois. Due to faulty records and cautious writing, this lady is shrouded in mystery. In fact, Leonora might not even be her real name seeing as at one point in time she was also called Mary Hassal. According to the preface, Sansay was in a bit of a financial tight spot when one of her friends came up with the brilliant idea to take some of her correspondences, change around a name or two, then ship them out to be published as a novel. Epistolary fiction was a major genre in the late 17th and early 18th centuries when everyone was writing letters anyway. Some were true, some were less so, but that didn’t matter so long as they sold. As to the veracity of this “Secret History,” Sansay did indeed live in Cape Francois for the dates corresponding to the Haitian Revolution in 1802 with her husband, and was indeed exchanging improper letters with Burr. Multiple references to an L.S. can be found in documented correspondences between Burr and his associates, and there is even a letter from Sansay bringing up the idea of publishing a novel based on her experiences. I wouldn’t cite this novel in any history paper, but it certainly straddles the divide between fiction and non.
This guyThat guyYesAll of the above
Major Jack Downing, Major Jack Downing, and Seba Smith Creator of Major Downing
The popularity of letters knows no bound, but the really curious thing about “Major Downing” is the fact that these letters, in their original form, were published in “The Daily National Intelligencer,” a news paper. The Major became a beloved American character that commented satirically on political discourses through his letters to both family and directly to the papers. Novels and news have had a strangely entwined relationship since the very beginnings of fiction. The word “novel” itself comes from “news” during a time where ballads were still sung news books were sold more for entertainment value than information. “The word ‘news’ was applied freely to writings which described either true or fictional events, quotidian or supernatural occurrences, and affairs that may have been recent of several decades old”. Things haven’t really changed all that much when you compare politically humorous characters to our own entertaining news sources like Steven Colbert or The Onion.
If it ever says Written by Himself, the chances are he didn’t write it.
“Sheppard Lee” thankfully is a straightforward case. A man is unhappy with his life, accidentally dies in a spectacularly stupid fashion, then puts his soul in a nearby body to continue with another’s life. Repeat the process multiple times. This example is pure fiction by the delightful pen of Robert Montgomery Bird, but what I’m trying to show is that a lot of the novel genre was still unambiguously fake. False author claims like “written by himself” were often not to be taken seriously. Sometimes, however, one might come across a real “written by himself” or “herself” auto-biography, indistinguishable from its fictional counterparts because of their (compared to now) relaxed standards for fact checking.
The governmentThe middle class populaceOnly the author herselfNot even the most gullible
Enough to get arrested for.
Manley wrote her “New Atlantis” specifically to tick certain people off. In her eyes, the 1709 Whig government under Queen Anne reeked of corruption, both political and sexual. Manley could have taken the path of most other writers by subtly poking at the issue so as to not step on any toes, but she chose not to. Instead she kept her metaphors and character references transparent enough that everyone who read “New Atlantis” could tell exactly who she was trash talking. “New Atlantis” was soon found to be criminally offensive. In the Fall of 1709, Manley—as well as the printers and publishers of “New Atlantis”—were detained for libel. Though Manley was later discharged, the fact remains that a narrative of scandalous relations taking place in a made-up, exotic location was still handled as non-fiction. Did Manley knowingly risk her freedom for the sake of literary gossip, you might ask. Well to put it simply, yes, because scandal sells. Any writer that hoped to make a penny off her craft had to get down and dirty with political controversies for any chance at success. Even as laws were drafted to keep writers in check, new metaphors, allegories, and pseudonyms popped into existence to circumvent them, so that the writers could continue making their buck.
Lemuel Gulliver as in "Gulliver’s Travels"
Jonathan Swift, the real author, was similar to Delarivier Manley in a way. Much like her, he formed a full, and much beloved, story out of a satirical allegory, but unlike her he didn’t get arrested. What makes his work different from hers is the depth of his fictionalization which allows “Gulliver” to remain a general satire rather than prodding too boldly in any specific direction. Fiction exist on a gradient scale with some novels reaching far into the realm of fact for both ideological and commercial purposes. Factual isn’t the opposite of fictional; it’s more of a sub-genre than anything else.
Mrs. Rowson claims in her preface to “Charlotte” that she wrote the novel from what was told to her by a little old lady personally acquainted with Charlotte the person. Only names and locations had been altered in the novel, and that was merely for the sake of privacy. Literary critics in 1791 still weren’t sure about the existence of Charlotte, though one review, re-printed in later editions of the novel, insists, “It may be a tale of truth, for it is not unnatural[…] we should feel for Charlotte, if such a person ever existed, who, for one error, scarcely, perhaps, deserved so severe a punishment. If it is a fiction, poetic justice is not, we think, properly distributed.” The question of whether or not Charlotte existed is only complicated by the fact that she was buried in New York. In Manhattan, the Trinity Churchyard is supposedly the resting place of Charlotte Temple, the heroine of Rowson’s tale. Multiple efforts have been made to either validate or discredit the claim to truth; some insist it is a fan-made grave slab that sits in the churchyard, others say the slab marked the burial location of one Charlotte Stanely, a historically verified citizen of New York in the 18th century. One New York Times reporter in 2008 even went through the effort of researching the once bestselling book, but even after having the grave dug up and looking into the churchyard’s records (which were unfortunately destroyed in a fire in 1776) it was impossible to give a perfectly conclusive answer. Again in “Charlotte” we see the use of ‘truth’ to provide a moral lesson and enhance the audience’s empathy for the novel.
A Tale Too True?An Honest History?A Reliable Retelling?A comedic load of bull*
Fake upon Fake!
Does anything look familiar? It should, seeing as this last is the same as the first. Geoffrey Crayon, Gent., Dietrich Knickerbocker, A Nervous Gentleman, Fray Antonio Agapida, and once again Irving Washington! Unlike now, one could never assume the author’s name would be on the title page. In fact, the only way to unmistakably know who wrote what was to follow his or her career, or know someone who had. Title pages are just as much a part of the story as the text itself, and telling the literary fact from the fiction is never as strait forward as it seems.
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