Faking the Canon

Diarmaid MacCulloch

  • BuyForgery and Counter-Forgery: The Use of Literary Deceit in Early Christian Polemics by Bart Ehrman
    Oxford, 628 pp, £27.50, January 2013, ISBN 978 0 19 992803 3

On my bookshelves is a handsome set of late Victorian printed books in a plum-coloured binding. I take down a volume, and read on the spine the name ‘David Copperfield’; underneath, in slightly smaller letters, is another name, ‘Charles Dickens’. I open the book, and find the same combination repeated on the title page. I have heard of Dickens, and conclude that what I am holding is a novel written by Dickens about a character he has invented and named David Copperfield. I go on to read the book and note the way that every third chapter ends with something of a cliffhanger, inviting me to look forward to reading the next instalment. I know a little about the Victorian literary scene, so I am aware that this stylistic device derived from the original publication of the novel in a journal, and was designed to entice its readers into buying the next issue to see what happened. And so I read on, secure in what I think I am doing in experiencing this text.

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[*] Harper, 320 pp., £14.99, March 2013, 978 0 06 210452 6.

[†] Oxford, 256 pp., £16.99, August 2013, 978 0 19 978172 0.