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Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir…
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Hermit of Peking: The Hidden Life of Sir Edmund Backhouse (1976)

by Hugh Trevor-Roper

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298657,247 (3.94)9
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    In the Freud Archives (New York Review Books Classics) by Janet Malcolm (ossicones)
    ossicones: These two books share the style of an erudite page-turner and characters whose portrayal will likely stick with you for some time after you put them down.
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Such a fascinating research! Trevor-Roper teems with erudition and wit and wraps the matter conclusively, punctuating that ultimately Sir Edmund Backhouse despite his mendacity and frauds was but Our Man in Havana: simply drawing vacuum cleaners, pathetic and harmless. ( )
1 vote jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Trevor-Roper demolishes any remnant reputation that "master forger" Sir Edmund Backhouse might have retained. The author worked tirelessly to investigate the fantastic historical creations and the fraudulent business transactions that Backhouse perpetrated in China during his hermetic life in Peking.
What ensues is an eviscerating exposure of an aesthetic exile from late Victorian England who brilliantly defrauded and confused others in a manic-depressive quest for respectability.
1 vote ivanfranko | Mar 27, 2018 |
Very pointed examination of the serial frauds of a master fabulist. Some parts of the book are hard to believe, in that you see pointless squabbling by adults. But in an age of much scientific and academic fraud, worth reading. ( )
  EricCostello | Dec 17, 2017 |
In 1973, a distinguished Swiss physician handed to the British historian Hugh Trevor-Roper an enameled Chinese case containing two previously unknown memoirs by Edmund Backhouse, to be delivered to the Bodleian Library at Oxford, which already housed thousands of Chinese books and manuscripts donated by Backhouse. Trevor-Roper knew of Backhouse as a former member of the British Secret Service and the co-author of books on the Empress Dowager and the imperial court of old Peking. Upon reading the newly discovered works, Trevor-Roper realized, to his surprise and dismay, that the memoirs ‘were of no ordinary obscenity.’ (They were published in 2011 as Decadence Mandchoue). Like A.J.A. Symons, whose discovery of the pornographic Venetian letters of Frederick Rolfe drove him on his Quest for Corvo, Trevor-Roper set out ‘to pursue the elusive and preposterous personality’ of Backhouse.

The story he tells in Hermit of Peking is stranger than fiction. Sinologist, secret agent, arms broker, envoy of the American Bank Note Company and the shipbuilder John Brown & Company, and by his own account confidant of court eunuchs and erotic playmate of the Empress Dowager—Backhouse lived a life scarcely to be believed. But the truth is not really the object here, by my lights. Trevor-Roper paints Backhouse as a master fabulist, and himself as the authoritative debunker, but any man who like Backhouse makes of his very flesh a great poem (and of his life a randy memoir) is to be commended. ( )
1 vote HectorSwell | Sep 9, 2017 |
Eviscerating ( )
  Faradaydon | Aug 21, 2010 |
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Book description
The arrival of an unpublished memoir offering up a scandalous version of the hitherto blameless public life of the revered oriental scholar, Sir Edmund Backhouse, sets the author on a trail of an outrageous confidence trickster. One of the great detective stories of our age, told with a pace and an infectious delight in the process of historical research, the book would have made an outrageously imaginative work of fiction but for the fact that it is all true. The author unearths scholars with bizarre sexual fantasies, eunuchs, rare manuscripts and a malicious dowager Queen, and sets them all against the backdrop of a decadent and intrigue ridden Imperial Court.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 014004776X, Paperback)

Sir Edmund Backhouse lived like a hermit, but swindled millions in fake deals. A witty piece of historical sleuthing.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:45 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

The trail of discovery began when Hugh Trevor-Roper received in somewhat unusual circumstances the voluminous memoirs of Sir Edmund Backhouse, the celebrated Chinese scholar and co-author of two standard works on Chinese history. The memoirs describe a very different person from the one who had apparently lived such a respectable life until his death in 1944. Backhouse claimed that he had been intimate with many notable characters including Verlaine and Lord Rosebery, and that his many lovers (of both sexes) had included the Dowager Empress of China. It gradually became clear that the detailed, plausible and very obscene memoirs were a work of fantasy - yet a fantasy interwoven with detailed fact. Intrigued, Hugh Trevor-Roper set out to discover as much as he could about Sir Edmund Backhouse, and unearthed the story of one of the most outrageous confidence tricksters of this century.… (more)

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