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Paging Umberto Eco
April 10, 2013 4:11 PM   Subscribe

When Dickens Met Dostoevsky. "So now the meeting between two literary giants had led me to two names with very little behind them: Stephanie Harvey, who had written only these two articles, and Leo Bellingham, whose chief claim to fame may be that he was once compared by Stephanie Harvey to Doris Lessing."

An unraveling (pun intended) of a tale of sockpuppetry stretching over two decades.
posted by PMdixon (22 comments total) 33 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article! I love a good literary intrigue, and the surprisingly sad, weird depths of this one did not disappoint:
I was her mandatory English fuck: she’s the girl from that period of my life I afterwards thought of most frequently, but only because I once or twice adopted (and adapted) her name as a literary pseudonym.
Harvey's book Warriors of the Rainbow also sounds interestingly ludicrous.

I wonder if this article will be the real coup in his long-sought recognition.
posted by dougmoon at 5:14 PM on April 10, 2013


This is one of the best things I've read in a while. Hilarious, epic, and tragic all at once.
posted by hank_14 at 5:16 PM on April 10, 2013


Unfortunately, the existence of that book on Amazon ruins my daydream that everyone mentioned in this article was invented by the author.
posted by moonmilk at 5:18 PM on April 10, 2013 [5 favorites]


Amazing article.

Decades from now, someone will write a doctoral dissertation about all of this; right now, there are a lot of scholars anxiously contemplating their fund of anecdotes. I've never stumbled over this sort of obfuscation in my own research, although I have seen examples of assertions that don't seem to stand up under scrutiny, yet are constantly recycled anyway.

In the meantime, I am directing stern glances at the one book of Harvey's I own, Sex in Georgian England.

(I'd be intrigued to know why he got booted from The Salisbury Review.)
posted by thomas j wise at 5:19 PM on April 10, 2013


I feel like creating ten mefi accounts and using them to constantly reference each other's brilliance.
posted by hank_14 at 5:22 PM on April 10, 2013


I feel like creating ten mefi accounts and using them to constantly reference each other's brilliance.

The New York Times Book Review?
posted by Rustic Etruscan at 5:30 PM on April 10, 2013 [6 favorites]


I haven't finished reading the article yet. Does it conclude that this crossover is, unfortunately, fanon and not canon?
posted by Apocryphon at 5:55 PM on April 10, 2013


Does it conclude that this crossover is, unfortunately, fanon and not canon?

Blink and you'll miss the St. Elsewhere connection.
posted by thomas j wise at 6:07 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


Chuck in a rumination about the Pope and a couple of paragraphs about trying to fix a radiator and it's a David Lodge novella.
posted by hawthorne at 6:22 PM on April 10, 2013


I feel like creating ten mefi accounts and using them to constantly reference each other's brilliance.

Well, it would beat creating four or five and using them to smite their enemies.
posted by y2karl at 6:38 PM on April 10, 2013


Look, at least we can all agree that hank_14's comment is a tour de force.
posted by flechsig at 7:39 PM on April 10, 2013 [7 favorites]


This was like watching Identity, but way better.
posted by Grandysaur at 7:52 PM on April 10, 2013


The New York Times Book Review?

The canonical New York review for that kind of shenanigan would be the New York Review of Books a/k/a The New York Review of Each Others' Books.
posted by kenko at 8:55 PM on April 10, 2013


In the meantime, I am directing stern glances at the one book of Harvey's I own, Sex in Georgian England.

Is it any good?
posted by kenko at 8:56 PM on April 10, 2013


We'll be wise to be on the lookout for hank_15 through _25.
posted by notyou at 10:59 PM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, a real life dhoyt?
posted by Elementary Penguin at 3:22 AM on April 11, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow that was a lot of detectivin'. I was disappointed he didn't scour the book on lactating. There might have been quite a few nipple cross references to follow there.

And, the Umberto Eco paging, that's a reference to "Faith in Fakes"?

Ya know... there sure was a lot about nipples in that story. A suspicious amount of nipples...
posted by surplus at 4:30 AM on April 11, 2013


Harvey's 1978 article, 'Prosecutions for Sodomy in England at the Beginning of the Nineteenth Century' (JSTOR) is still widely cited as showing that there was a moral panic about homosexuality in the early nineteenth century. It's a pioneering article in its way, as not many scholars in the mid-1970s were doing serious archival research on the history of sexuality. However, Harvey's book on Sex on Georgian England is deeply flawed, as this 1995 review points out:
He begins his first chapter with an invitation to examine the human nipple in the pages of Playboy or Mayfair. This suggests a male reader as well as an author, and as the work proceeds, it is clear that the attitudes and prejudices he wishes to discuss and to illustrate are those of 18th-century men only .. Some of the material he cites verges on the prurient.
It was widely rumoured at the time that Harvey was behind the 'Trevor McGovern' case. (To cut a long story short: Harvey submitted an article to an academic journal in which he plagiarised his own work.) Speculation was rife as to why he'd done it; one theory was that he wanted to unmask the whole system of academic peer review as fraudulent, by showing that a respected academic journal was incapable of detecting a blatant case of plagiarism.

In recent years Harvey has been publishing a stream of archival discoveries in the pages of the TLS, mostly from twentieth-century records in the National Archives. These will now have to be checked and double-checked by anyone who wants to make use of them; I wouldn't be surprised if Harvey has left other traps for unwary academics that haven't been identified yet. It's a sad case of a talented scholar who seems to have gone badly off the rails somewhere.
posted by verstegan at 4:48 AM on April 11, 2013 [5 favorites]


Absolutely fascinating; I'd heard about the alleged Dickens/Dostoevsky meeting and am glad to learn the story behind it (or as much of the story as the amazingly dogged Eric Naiman was able to ferret out). Thanks for the post!
posted by languagehat at 6:49 AM on April 11, 2013


Wow. My head is spinning.
posted by chinston at 8:15 AM on April 11, 2013


Unfortunately, the existence of that book on Amazon ruins my daydream that everyone mentioned in this article was invented by the author.
Yeah, I got that funny feeling halfway through too.
posted by dfan at 8:28 AM on April 11, 2013


fwiw Footnotes from the Underground - "Cynthia Haven [reads] a 1996 David Foster Wallace review of the first four volumes of Joseph Frank's behemoth biography of the Russian author."
[Dostoevsky's] concern was always what it is to be a human being – i.e., how a person, in the particular social and philosophical circumstances of 19th-century Russia, could be a real human being, a person whose life was informed by love and values and principles, instead of being just a very shrewd species of self-preserving animal...

So, for me anyway, what makes Dostoevsky invaluable is that he possessed a passion, conviction, and engagement with deep moral issues that we, here, today, cannot or do not allow ourselves. And on finishing Frank's books, I think any serious American reader/writer will find himself driven to think hard about what exactly it is that makes so many of the novelists of our own time look so thematically shallow and lightweight, so impoverished in comparison to Gogol, Dostoevsky, even lesser lights like Lermontov and Turgenev. To inquire of ourselves why we – under our own nihilistic spell – seem to require of our writers an ironic distance from deep convictions or desperate questions, so that contemporary writers have to either make jokes of profound issues or else try somehow to work them in under cover of some formal trick like intertextual quotation or juxtaposition, sticking them inside asterisks as part of some surreal, defamiliarization-of-the-reading-experience flourish.
posted by kliuless at 4:03 PM on April 11, 2013


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