Sockpuppetry on a grand scale: The Dickens-Dostoevsky hoax

The phenomenon of ‘sockpuppetry’, the creation of alternate characters by an individual to create the impression of greater support for that person or that person’s point of view than is actually the case, is something that I have written about before. (See here, here, and here.)

But one of the most elaborate exercises in sockpuppetry came to light recently. It turns out that in investigating reports of meeting between Charles Dickens and Fyodor Dostoevsky in London in 1862, Eric Naiman discovered that it was a hoax, accomplished by a sockpuppetry on a much grander scale. How he unraveled the mystery is a fascinating tale that, though long, reads like a detective story.

Stephen Moss of The Guardian had an interview with the independent historian A.D. Harvey who perpetrated the hoax, about how it came to be that he published so many things under so many names. He ends his piece:

For a disappointed would-be university historian who feels he is the victim of an academic conspiracy, he is the happiest man alive. He hopes the large pile of books on his living-room table will guarantee his posthumous reputation. But even if they don’t, it now seems likely that the combined efforts of Stephanie Harvey, Graham Headley, Trevor McGovern, John Schellenberger, Leo Bellingham, Michael Lindsay, Ludovico Parra and of course Janis Blodnieks will.

All these people commented upon and reviewed on each other’s work. They all originated, of course, from the fertile mind of Harvey.


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