Friday, May 30, 2008

Fake diary debacles

A couple of ambitious fake diaries have been in the news lately. A diary attributed to France’s Sun King, Louis VIX, was mistakenly used by New Zealand author Veronica Buckley as a prime source for her biography of the King’s secret wife, Françoise d’Aubigné, marquise de Maintenon. And, it is the 25th anniversary of the ‘finding’ of Hitler’s diaries, which, according to Der Spiegel, caused one of ‘the greatest media debacles of all time’. Buckley may care to take heed of the Hitler diary story, since the faker himself ended up doing quite well, whereas the writer who tried to exploit the faked manuscripts is still shunned by former colleagues.

Madame de Maintenon - The secret wife of Louis XIV is ‘a rags-to-riches tale’, publisher Bloomsbury says, revealing ‘every layer of the vibrant and shocking world that was France in the age of Louis XIV’. The author, Buckley, uses quotes from journals, purportedly by Louis XIV himself as prime source material to describe these layers. According to The Guardian, Buckley herself explained in the advance copy edition that the diaries were only found in 1997 (nearly 300 years after they were written) in ‘a packet of yellowed papers, wrapped in string and sealed with faded red wax’ hidden ‘inside a heavy old chest in a Loire valley manor house’.

Madame de Maintenon was due for publication in early May when, in mid-April, Bloomsbury received a letter from Buckley. She wrote, The Guardian again reveals, that the journal she had used as a prime source was not in fact written by the Sun King himself, but by a French historian François Bluche as recently as the late 1990s. Bloomsbury immediately postponed publication ‘to give them time to tip in pages - pulping the offending pages, in effect, and glueing in new ones’. Bloomsbury’s catalogue now promises publication on ‘16 June (subject to change)’. Although the price is advertised as £17.99, Bloomsbury’s own bookshop has £25 as the RRP, but discounted to £18.75. Bloomsbury seems in a bit of tizz.

Not half as big a tizz as caused by Konrad Kujau and Gerd Heidemann 25 years ago with the fake Hitler diaries. In April 1983, Heidemann announced to a stunned world that he had purchased, on behalf German Magazine Stern, 60 volumes of diaries actually written by Hitler. They were good enough to convince some experts leading Stern and others (The Sunday Times in the UK) to begin publishing them. Within two weeks, though, they were revealed as being ‘grotesquely superficial fakes’, written by Kujau, a notorous forger, according to a Wikipedia article.

To acknowledge the anniversary, rival German magazines have been tracing the histories of the two men. Der Spiegel, which has an English language online edition, notes that Kujau spent three years in jail for his fraud but then went on to thrive after his release as a media celebrity appearing on chat shows displaying his signature-forging skills. He died in 2000. Heidemann, though, has not thrived. He too served a prison sentence (for embezzlement having billed his magazine for more than the diaries actually cost). Now he lives alone in ‘a cramped Hamburg apartment’ with massive debts, and is shunned by former colleagues who have not forgiven him, Der Spiegel says, for ‘one of the greatest media debacles of all time’.

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