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on 17 June 2014
Warning: will definitively shake your notions of history, and make you doubt the authenticity of any art you own. If you are religious, you will look at texts with increased suspicion. And it will perhaps surprise you with new insights into the motivations of humans that engage in deception and the lengths that they are willing and able to go to further their ends. Not at uplifting story for sure.
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on 19 September 2002
The Poet and the Murderer is a racy account of the life of the world's greatest forger, Mark Hofmann, now languishing in prison for murder. Hofmann specialised in forging ancient documents of historic or literary interest. He not only wanted to make a killing at their auction, he was pursuing his own agenda trying to do a demolition job on his parents' Church of the Latter Day Saints, the Mormons. Simon Worrall draws us into the story with a narrative that reads like an exciting novel.
It seems that Hofmann used his brilliant mind to create "original" documents, whether early Mormon texts with a twist which discredits the faith, or seemingly original poems such as the manuscript of Emily Dickenson's That God cannot be understood, sold by Sothebys as pristine, fully cheched out and accredited. He was an exceptionally good forger and the story explores how he achieved such fine skill and hoodwinked so many experts. The poem too had a Hofmann twist by implying a rather atheistic leaning to America's most loved poet. Fascinating, is the account Worrall gives of the highly dubious behaviour of the ancient auction house, Sothebys, as he takes us through the critical analysis, doubts and worries, of the joung librarian who bought it for the library of Emily Dickenson's home town. Worrall no doubt did a lot of research to unveil this story, but it is not scholarship that leaps off the page but rather a gripping tale that is difficult to put down.
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on 28 April 2013
Good account of the story of one Mark Hofmann forgery - the Emily Dickinson letter. Also good on the religious background to Hofmann. A little weak on his other non-Mormon forgeries and written in a slightly Tabloid style. Worth reading to help get a rounded view of Mark Hofmann
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on 7 September 2002
If you read the "dialogue" with Simon Worrall, you get an almost accurate depiction of how we Emily Dickinson scholars feel about the book. Many of us were involved in the forgery in some way, myself included, and for us it is an intensely personal experience. Worrall's portrayal of Dickinson is outdated and he doesn't seem to have done research on the work written about her in the 1980s and later--he relied on a biography that, while still very important, has been corrected and supplanted in part. This book is an interesting read, it's certainly an interesting case, but it should not be read as a representation of Dickinson as many scholars now see her. There are several errors also. I'm a little uncomfortable with the portrayal of Dan Lombardo because it makes him out to be a kind of Romantic hero and he's not. He was very dedicated to the Dickinson collection and did just what he should have done. His embarrassment is understandable, but everyone involved knew that it wasn't his fault. Worrall doesn't point out that Margaret Freeman, a Dickinson scholar, doubted the authenticity of the poem from the start. She said quite clearly that she didn't believe it was Dickinson. Sotheby's is entirely to blame for what happened. This is a good read for a rainy day but it's not going into the annuls of Dickinsonia.
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on 18 September 2013
An excellent book all round - gripping and intriguing in equal parts with plenty of interesting and esoteric history thrown in.
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