Frauds, fakes, counterfeits, liars, truth-benders, aliases—the world of literature has had many secrets over the years, and here are five of the biggest.
Courtney Love, Savannah Knoop as JT LeRoy, and Laura Albert as Speedie. | Image Via Vanity Fair
JT LeRoy became a so-called Hollywood It-Boy—the bestselling author of a novel, Sarah, and a short story collection,The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things. Both books were allegedly based on his transient childhood of sexual and physical abuse at the hands of his mother, a drug addict and sex worker, and the various men in her life. LeRoy appeared in public wearing a wig and sunglasses, and befriended various celebrities including Bono, Courtney Love, and Winona Ryder. Asia Argento adapted The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things into a film starring Argento, and Dylan and Cole Sprouse.
But the HIV-positive ex-sex worker LeRoy did not exist. Rather, he was the alter-ego, or ‘phantom limb’ of writer Laura Albert, and was played by Albert’s sister-in-law Savannah Knoop in public. When Albert was a teenager, she called suicide hotlines to help her cope with the abuse she had suffered, but found that they were often more sympathetic when she identified as male because, she assumed, abuse of the nature she experienced was more common for women. It was from these experiences with suicide hotlines that the character of LeRoy was born. Albert said that she wrote things as LeRoy that she could not have written as herself. Albert often appeared in public with Knoop, as LeRoy’s best friend known as Speedie. In October 2005, an article in New York Magazine confirmed that LeRoy was a fabrication. Albert was sued for fraud when she signed the film contract as LeRoy. She lost the case.
2. A Million Little Pieces by James Frey
Frey speaking with Oprah Winfrey. | Image Via Oprah
James Frey’s book A Million Little Pieces was marketed as the brutally honest memoir of a recovered drug addict. It was picked for Oprah’s Book Club, sold more than 3.5 million copies, and became a New York Times bestseller. Second only to the most recent Harry Potter book at the time, A Million Little Pieces sold more copies than any other book in the United States that year.
But all was not as it seemed. The Smoking Gun conducted an investigation into Frey’s background, which revealed that much of his story was in fact fiction. In the article it is stated that:
Frey invented a role for himself in a deadly train accident that cost the lives of two female high school students. In what may be his book’s most crass flight from reality, Frey remarkably appropriates and manipulates details of the incident so he can falsely portray himself as the tragedy’s third victim.
Frey subsequently appeared on Oprah’s show again, this time with his publisher Nan Talese, and the pair were subsequently taken to task by Winfrey. Frey lost a two-book, six-figure deal with Penguin imprint Riverhead, and his publisher Random House offered full refunds to anyone who had bought the book on the understanding that it was a memoir.
Image Via Flickr
The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, published in 1836, was a memoir which purported to expose clerical abuse and infanticide in Montreal. In the memoir, Monk, who was allegedly an ex-nun, stated that an order of nuns, the Religious Hospitallers, were often sexually assaulted by the priests of a nearby seminary who entered the convent through a secret tunnel. Monk claimed that if a baby was born as a result, it was baptized and killed, and that nuns who did not cooperate with this arrangement vanished. The book became a bestseller.
However, various inconsistencies were found in her story. It was eventually revealed that Monk had resided in the Magdalan Asylum for Wayward Girls during the four years she claimed to have been in the convent, and one of the nuns from her story was actually a woman who was also at the asylum with her. The book was published at a time in which there was much anti-Catholic rhetoric in the United States, partly due to the large influx of German and Irish-Catholic immigrants. It is thought that Monk, who sustained a brain injury as a child, may have been manipulated into writing the story in order to stir controversy and create problems for the Catholic church.
4. Hitler’s Diaries
Image Via The Museum of Hoaxes
In 1983, in one of the most groundbreaking announcements ever made by a publication, The Sunday Times announced that it was in possession of Adolf Hitler’s diaries that he had kept over the entire course of World War II. German reporter Gerd Heinemann alleged that he had discovered the diaries, after they were thought to have been lost when a plane carrying Hitler’s possessions crashed in 1945.
Many leading historians expressed their doubt over Heinemann’s claims. However, media mogul and owner of The Sunday Times Rupert Murdoch insisted that the paper run the story, regardless. The diaries were analysed intensely several times and eventually proven to be fake. The Sunday Times insisted the diaries were authentic for two weeks. Then they stopped insisting that.
5. Shakespeare’s Love Letters
Image Via Famous Biographies
In the 18th century, at age nineteen, conman William Ireland claimed to have found an old chest, love letters, unpublished manuscripts, and annotated books belonging to William Shakespeare. He convinced leading scholars of the documents’ veracity. However, he lost the run of himself entirely when he staged a production of a play he’d allegedly found, entitled Vortigern and Rowena.
It received horrible reviews, after which literary expert Edmond Malone wrote an essay claiming that Ireland wrote the play himself. This cast suspicion on all of his ‘discovered’ works, which were subsequently proven to be fakes.
Featured Image Via The Daily Beast