A Pseudo-Historical Narrative and Multiple Identity Games
Elena Butoescu (University of Craiova, Romania) [BIO]
If Daniel Defoe, himself a fabricator of true fictions, was complaining about masquerades and the difficulty to find out not only the true nature of man, but also of fiction, then what should the eighteenth century reader have expected from a writer who had assumed linguistic, religious, and identity disguises? He called himself Psalmanazar, or Psalmanaazaar, from Shalmaneser, an Assyrian conqueror of the Israelits [2 Kings 17:3], thus making references to the Hebrew tradition. Considered a ‘minor model of fraud and repentance’ as well as the fabricator of a country and a language, the man who called himself George Psalmanazar made his appearance in London pretending to have come from Formosa, an island subject to the emperor of Japan. In 1704 he published An Historical and Geographical Description of Formosa, which was so successful that a second ‘improved’ edition was issued in 1705, containing considerable changes dictated not by the chronology of his voyage, but by that of the reading experience. The present paper will explore the false historical aspects of Formosa presented as accurate facts, and the portrait of a less-known pseudo-travel writer who posed as a pagan, a Catholic, and a Jewish, to end up playing with various identity masks, impersonating a Frenchman, an Irish, a Japanese, and a Formosan.