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Sentimental Frauds

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 December 2018


The 2006 class action against James Frey, concerning his fabrications in A Million Little Pieces, was the first suit of its kind in the United States. There is nothing new about false memoirs, so what can explain the lawsuit? When the book was promoted on “Oprah's Book Club,” viewers were invited to respond emotionally, and saw their responses as a form of testimony. Those responses produced a sense of betrayal and inauthenticity when Frey's falsehoods were revealed. This view finds support in the eighteenth‐century sentimental novel, which similarly linked readers' reactions to the author's emotional authenticity. Fraud was an ongoing concern for sentimental novelists, some of whom used elaborate editorial to ploys to disavow responsibility for the text, while others populated their novels with fraudulent characters, intended as foils for the protagonist. An investigation of these novels helps to reveal the implications of the Frey case for future claims of literary fraud.

Copyright © American Bar Foundation, 2011 

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