Humor: Wayward Authors Nabbed!
Inspired by startling new speculations in the recent movie Anonymous that the chap called William Shakespeare didn’t really write all those plays, that he was in fact a “front man” (and perhaps valet) for Edward de Vere, the 17th Earl of Oxford (if not Francis Bacon or possibly Miguel de Cervantes), Scotland Yard has revealed that Louise Carlton, not Lewis Carroll, is the real author of the classics attributed to him.
This may come as a shock to many readers, but not to skeptics who have long suspected that Carroll could not possibly have written stories about a young girl because he was, in fact, never a young girl. Indeed, he worked as a clergyman and could not have had any idea what a small child might be daydreaming by the fire with her cat Diana (aka Fluffy).
For one thing, as literary sleuths point out, Carroll never owned a cat, nor even a dog or bird, but there’s even more incontrovertible proof: Carroll had severe dyslexia (misdiagnosed as whooping cough) and could barely write his name. Louise Carlton, on the other hand, was ambidextrous and had fine penmanship that allowed her to write easily and to switch hit against left-handed pitching.
Some police informants have claimed that Carroll was a woman in drag, a theory that has never been proved conclusively despite Carroll’s luxuriant curly hair. What leads many to believe it was Carlton, not Carroll, who penned Alice in Wonderland and Alice through the Looking Glass is that Carroll was born Charles Lutwidge Dodgson and passed himself off as a mathematician as well as a clergyman – a prima facie lie, say prosecutors. It’s highly unlikely that a mere mathematician could conceive of a Mad Hatter, let alone a singing walrus or twins called Tweedledum and Tweedledee. That he posed as a mathematician as well as a minister reveals his duplicitous nature.
Why would Dodgson change his name to “Lewis Carroll” if he were not trying to hide something? (Concocting a surname like “dodge”-son was no mere accident, we may be sure). This lingering question has haunted literary investigators since 1898.
The Lewis Carroll revelation — one of several recently uncovered cases of criminal authors still at large — has also fueled suspicions that Charles Dickens could not possibly have written all those landmark novels, but that somebody else must have, perhaps several people, as given that most of the books are long and dense with detail, no one person could have written that fast using only a goose-quill pen.
Literary intelligence agents who question Dickens’s authorship contend that the publisher, Hogarth Press, hired apprentice writers to ape Dickens’ style and, like Rembrandt’s students copying the master painter, cranked out novels in the Dickens manner, mimicking his use of funny names and pathological reliance on semi-colons.
Like Lewis Carroll, for many years Dickens used a pen name, “Boz,” which police now say was a ruse that allowed him to cover for the real author of Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and some 26 other novels – discovered to be the work of a man named “Charles Dickens,” a pseudonym taken by a successful lecturer of the time, Arnold Smollen, who made his living traveling about disguised as the legendary author.
Smollen was almost tripped up when, in 1861, a year before Dickens’ “death,” he signed a hotel registry “Charley Dickerson” in an effort to check in under an assumed name with a mistress. An alert innkeeper recognized the handwriting (and the mistress) and quickly notified local authorities. The scalawag Smollen was booked on three counts of impersonating a renowned author, traveling incognito with a slattern, and overeating.
When authorities went to Smollen’s home, they found stacks of unsold copies of Dombey & Son, Little Dorritt and Bleak House, along with drawers full of cancelled checks made out to none other than “Chas. Dickens.” There was, in fact, a real Charles Dickens, a Manchester barber, who tried to sue Smollen for using his name without compensation, but the case was tossed out of a court as a nuisance suit.
Novels attributed to “Emily Brontë,” according to an obscure Oxbridge scholar working with local police, were in fact written decades earlier by Jane Austen writing under another name in order to appeal to a different “down market” readership. These so-called carriage-trade novels were aimed at travelers who wanted a little light reading to pass the time during tedious weeklong carriage rides to the countryside.
Austen felt the books might compete with her better-known works — Pride and Prejudice, Emma, Sense and Sensibility, etc. — so her publisher persuaded her to bring out a new line at the height of her popularity under the “Emily Brontë” imprint. Brontë’s alleged sisters, Charlotte and Anne, thought by authorities to be in on the scheme, declined comment.
The Oxbridge scholar Norris Wurmser contends in a monograph in a British journal, Lit-Scam Quarterly, that the plots in all the Brontë and Austen books are so similar that it was an obvious tip-off. “Something smelled awfully fishy to me,” writes Wurmser.
Using an optical scanning device that tracks and compares similar phrases and writing patterns in literary works, Wurmser was able to prove at the Old Bailey that the novels of Austen and Brontë were the work of the same person. (Early writing samples that indicated the Austen imposter might even be Emily Dickinson were inconclusive.)
Wurmser is now preparing a paper in which he contends that the novelist Honore Balzac was in fact George Sand (née George III), and that Sand was not a woman, as usually claimed, but in fact a French nobleman, a well-known prankster with a penchant for cross-dressing and literary hoaxes.
Gerald Nachman is a former theater critic and humor columnist for the New York Daily News, the New York Post and the San Francisco Chronicle. He has written for the American Spectator and other magazines and is also the author of six books, most recently Seriously Funny: The Rebel Comedian of the 1950s and 1960s and Right Here on Our Stage Tonight!: Ed Sullivan’s America. He’s currently at work on a book about Broadway musicals’ landmark showstoppers.