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Sentimental Frauds

Authors

  • Simon Stern

    Corresponding author
    1. University of Toronto
      Simon Stern is Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, where he teaches on the Faculty of Law and is cross-appointed to the Department of English. He can be reached at simon.stern@utoronto.ca.
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  • For comments on earlier drafts, thanks to Lisa Austin, Alyson Bardsley, Abraham Drassinower, Angela Fernandez, Louis Kaplan, Ariel Katz, Karen Knop, Ed Morgan, David J. Phillips, Andrea Slane, Irene Tucker, Mariana Valverde, the participants in the Identity Rights Colloquium (sponsored by the Centre for Innovation Law and Policy, University of Toronto Faculty of Law), and the anonymous reviewers for Law & Social Inquiry.

Simon Stern is Assistant Professor at the University of Toronto, where he teaches on the Faculty of Law and is cross-appointed to the Department of English. He can be reached at simon.stern@utoronto.ca.

Abstract

The 2006 class action against James Frey, concerning his fabrications in A Million Little Pieces, was the first suit of its kind in the United States. There is nothing new about false memoirs, so what can explain the lawsuit? When the book was promoted on “Oprah's Book Club,” viewers were invited to respond emotionally, and saw their responses as a form of testimony. Those responses produced a sense of betrayal and inauthenticity when Frey's falsehoods were revealed. This view finds support in the eighteenth-century sentimental novel, which similarly linked readers' reactions to the author's emotional authenticity. Fraud was an ongoing concern for sentimental novelists, some of whom used elaborate editorial to ploys to disavow responsibility for the text, while others populated their novels with fraudulent characters, intended as foils for the protagonist. An investigation of these novels helps to reveal the implications of the Frey case for future claims of literary fraud.

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