Clara Sitbon

The literary hoax, the art of aesthetically sophisticated trickery, is never taken too seriously, perhaps because of its inherently deceitful aspect. However, authors that were deemed serious and considered pioneers in their own fields were, in fact, hoaxers. For example, Jonathan Swift, with his Modest Proposal, forged authorship when he passed himself off as Drapier and argued that Irish peasants should sell their children as food for rich gentlemen and ladies in order to improve their condition. The literary hoax generally entails the mastery of literary discourses and genres. It encompasses three trends that vary from elaborate and clever imitation, to literary theft and the establishment of new literary styles and forms. As the literary hoax generally implies the use of a pseudonym, these three trends all have in common a will to forge the status, the function, and the credibility of the author. On a number of hoaxes, in order to reinforce the credibility of their enterprise, hoaxers take pseudonym beyond its general uses by inventing a life for their pseudonym, therefore giving them the status of a heteronym. This chapter intends to provide a brief genealogy of the phenomenon of the literary hoax, as it suffers a lack of theorization; it will then discuss how heteronymy can be the most primal form of authorial forgery and how it affects the perception we have of the figure of the author, through the French example of the Emile Ajar Hoax (France, 1970s).