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21 August 2009updated 27 Sep 2015 4:07am

“The greatest liar”

Daniel Defoe’s literary hoaxes

By Seher Hussain

Nicholson Baker (who we blogged about last week) expands on the mendacious literary legacy of Daniel Defoe in the Columbia Journalism Review. The founder of English journalism and author of Robinson Crusoe and Moll Flanders, Defoe lied constantly, even masquerading as a jail-breaking thief and writing a true-crime bestseller.

Baker notes: “Robinson Crusoe is Defoe’s most famous hoax. We describe it as a novel, of course, but it wasn’t born that way. On its 1719 title page, the book was billed as the strange, surprising adventures of a mariner who lived all alone for eight-and-twenty years on an uninhabited island, ‘Written by H I M S E L F’ – and people at first took this claim for truth and bought thousands of copies.”

Blurring the lines between fiction and fact, Defoe’s prevaricating prose has its stalwarts even today, James Frey, with his “Million Little Lies” controversy, being the most prominent. For more on memoirists with a fiction addiction take a look at Kira Cochrane’s comments here and here in the New Statesman.

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