Sentimental Frauds

33 Pages Posted: 17 May 2010 Last revised: 1 Nov 2017

See all articles by Simon Stern

Simon Stern

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law

Date Written: October 11, 2009


This paper examines the class action against James Frey, alleging fraud because of his falsehoods in A Million Little Pieces. Memoirs often include inaccuracies or elaborate fabrications - including demonstrably false claims about the author's background and experiences - and yet, until the suit against Frey, there had never been a lawsuit against a memoirist alleging fraud on this basis. To explore the nature of the fraud allegations in this case, I turn to 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 ploys to disavow responsibility for the text, while others populated their novels with fraudulent characters, intended as foils for the protagonist. Following a discussion of these novels, I conclude by considering the implications of the Frey case for future claims of literary fraud, and I compare this example with the suit against Laura Albert for fraud in transactions relating to her novel Sarah (1999), published under the name J.T. LeRoy.

Keywords: fraud, literary memoirs, sentimental novels, Frey, Mackenzie, Fielding

Suggested Citation

Stern, Simon, Sentimental Frauds (October 11, 2009). Law & Social Inquiry 36 (2011), 83-113, Available at SSRN:

Simon Stern (Contact Author)

University of Toronto - Faculty of Law ( email )

78 Queen's Park
Toronto, Ontario M5S 2C5


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