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The Curious Case of Stephanie Harvey

Charles Dickens
Charles Dickens

Every historian and every editor should know Stephanie Harvey’s name. Regardless of your field of interest, historians have to be on the lookout for deceptively legitimate claims, especially when we want them to be true.

Stephanie Harvey was an independent scholar whose article saw publication in a 2002 edition of The Dickensian, a scholarly journal on all things related to Charles Dickens. Like most journals, it accepts both professional and independent scholarship. Harvey’s article, “Dickens’s Villains: Confession and a Suggestion,” told a simple story of how Dickens met Fyodor Dostoyevsky in 1862.

For these two literary giants to meet, let alone for us to have any details of the meeting is huge. The article saw citation in multiple essays and at least two biographies.

The problem is that the whole story is fake.

It took some extensive research on the part of a single scholar, but we eventually learned that Harvey’s source for the story, which was a letter by Dostoyevsky, did not exist in the 1987 edition of Vedomosti Akademii Nauk Kazakhskoi SSR (Bulletin of the Kazakh SSR Academy of Sciences).

Even more perplexing, attempts to figure out exactly who was Stephanie Harvey led to a lengthy discovery process. The results suggest she never existed, but she was instead the alter ego of another historian. The story is lengthy, but enthralling and reads like a mystery novel.

In a future article, we will explore how the fake story was able to see publication and fool so many historians and editors.

By Scott Manning
Online Learning Tips, Student Contributor