A Vast Masquerade

Deborah Cohen

In the category of premeditated deceit, imposture is for the real gamblers because it demands the broadest array of accomplices or dupes. If you’re pretending to be someone else, you can’t just fool your spouse or your child or your creditors. You have either to fool all of the people all of the time, or persuade them to collude with you. Bram Stoker, who made a literary career out of the intersection of the far-fetched and the eerily credible, thought that impostors exposed the true magnitude of the public’s gullibility. Stoker’s Famous Impostors (1910) included chapters on royal pretenders, pages of wild speculation that Queen Elizabeth I was in fact a boy from the town of Bisley, and a chapter on women who masqueraded as men, including a subset whom Stoker deemed the most implausible impostors of all: women who masqueraded as military men.

The full text of this book review is only available to subscribers of the London Review of Books.

You are not logged in