Hoaxes, Literary

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Hoaxes, Literary


literary works the authorship of which is deliberately ascribed by their real authors to another person (real or invented) or to folkloric tradition. Such a hoax presupposes the creation of the stylistic manner and literary personality of the alleged author.

Literary hoaxes have most often occurred in periods of literary and social transition. Between 1817 and 1823, under the guise of a folk epic, the “Dvur Kralove Manuscript” and “Libusa’s Judgment,” allegedly discovered by the philologist V. Hanka, were published to support the Czech national renaissance. A desire to extricate literature from the narrow channel of traditional motifs and forms inspired J. Macpherson’s literary hoaxes. Between 1760 and 1763, Macpherson published a series of romantic works that he attributed to the Scottish bard Ossian, who, according to legend, lived in the third century. Foreshadowing romanticism in spirit, the Ossianic poems influenced many European literatures before the hoax was exposed.

In 1825, P. Merimee published romantic plays under the name of a fictitious Spanish actress, Clara Gazul, and in 1827 he published the collection La Guzla, which he ascribed to a fictitious Serbian storyteller, I. Maglanović. In 1835, 11 of the songs in this collection were adapted by A. S. Pushkin in his “Songs of the Western Slavs.”

In Russia, a series of literary hoaxes was perpetrated in the 19th century. Important writers and scholars, such as A. S. Pushkin, I. I. Sreznevskii, and F. I. Buslaev, accepted the authenticity of forged “ancient” manuscripts, pseudomemoirs, and “hitherto unknown” variants. The invented literary personage “Koz’ma Prutkov” was a unique hoax.

One form of literary hoax, alleging an original work to be only a translation, often served as a means of political conspiracy and of eluding the vigilance of the censor (N. A. Nekrasov’s pseudo-translations, “From Larra” and “From Barbier”).

Literary hoaxes are exposed through textual criticism. The social origin and tendentiousness of a hoax are usually expressed more openly than in ordinary works. Anachronisms, linguistic incongruities, and the like often point to their inauthenticity.

Many literary hoaxes are not only of historical interest but of aesthetic value as well.


Lann, E. Literaturnye mistifikatsii. Moscow-Leningrad, 1930.
Masanov, lu. I. V mire psevdonimov, anonimov i literaturnykh poddelok. Moscow, 1963.
Berkov, P. N. O liudiakh i knigakh. Moscow, 1965. (With bibliography.)


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.