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Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a…

Can You Ever Forgive Me?: Memoirs of a Literary Forger

by Lee Israel

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No. No, I cannot. Not cool, Lee Israel.
Lee was poor so she faked correspondence between famous people and other people. She got caught and now she's poor again so she writes a memoir. She tries to pretend to be reformed and Sorry, but she's not and you can tell by how gleefully she relishes her tale and how super clever and talented she still thinks she is. Ick. ( )
  EmScape | Sep 19, 2016 |
It has now been several weeks since I read Can You Ever Forgive Me? and I continue to be outraged by this text. As an academic and a book editor, I am appalled at Lee Israel's despicable choices. She writes in a quirkily charming voice, but her subject matter should strike readers, writers, librarians, and scholars as utterly repugnant.

Lee Israel committed literary forgeries. She chose high-profile Modernist writers and falsified letters from her subjects by imitating their styles. She also altered documents from academic libraries by appending fabricated material to them. One might applaud her literary ventriloquism as an eccentric writing exercise; when she chose to sell her fabrications to dealers, however, she violated both moral and intellectual integrity.

There is certainly a social critique to launch against private collectors who wish to "invest" in cultural ephemera such as letters, and I feel limited sympathy for those who were duped by Lee Israel's schemes. However, these forgeries also have consequences for scholars trying to understand their subjects. Israel reports with glee that one of her false letters has been included in a major edition of an author's collected letters. This is a terrible corruption, and Israel demonstrates no remorse for her actions.

What particularly irritates me about this text is that, in publishing a book about her forgeries, Lee Israel has been doubly rewarded for being a thief and a liar. Because of her actions, it is now even harder for legitimate scholars to do archival work. I am disgusted by Israel's shamelessness and disappointed that a major publisher would publicize her actions. I suppose the value in the text is that it serves as a warning. As for Lee Israel, well, she has to live with herself.
2 vote laVermeer | May 14, 2011 |
I knew of Lee Israel from her writing in the New York Times .. in particular, the Elaine Stritch profile Stritch herself references in her one woman show AT LIBERTY (NY Times June 23, 1968, "Stritch: She Got Raves in 'Private Lives' (And Was Out of Work a Week Later)" [look it up in the NYTimes archives on line .. I did :)] ... Stritch calls Israel "one hell of a writer", and those kudos took me to this article. Israel ends the published profile with this quote (which Stritch paraphrases slightly differently, same effect, in her one woman show): "I think, too, that a lot of directors are afraid of me because, in the words of Gershwin, 'There's a lot of things I don't know, but I do know this,' And I do know the theatre. All I'm' looking for is somebody who knows more than I do. If they're interested, they can call. But I couldn't swing it with someone who knows less, because all I'll do is argue. I won't be able to make any music that way."

Great writer, great subject. And in this current memoir, this great writer turns her lens on herself .. often gingerly outlining the edges of stories (suitors, cats, various apartments, friends who fade and friends who stay around) .. and a dicey, illicit, white collar crime spree Ms. Israel dreams up in the early 1970s. Her actions of forging and repenting, her sweet and self-effacing and intriguing descriptions of her own journey ... aggravate and challenge and entrance me.

I'd love to meet her. And I'm mad at her. Hell, I'm a researcher and I love these same characters whose work she forged. Not sure if i can "forgive" her actions exactly, but hey, who am I? I do love her mind. and my my my, she can write up a dream. Stritch is abso-fucking-lutely right about that.
  msteketee | Aug 17, 2009 |
Israel is incredibly entertaining in this slim memoir -- funny, insightful, and absolutely unapologetic. I recommended this to one of my favorite library patrons, a very discriminating reader, and he enjoyed it so much, he bought some as gifts. Those unfamiliar with the authors whose letters Israel forged will find the story interesting, but it is truly wonderful when you can appreciate her gift. ( )
  stephaniechase | Nov 29, 2008 |
Interesting and at points hilarious, but her voice really pains me--snobby, bitchy, privileged. However, she led a fascinating life and I'm glad I had a chance to see part of it through this book. ( )
  hemphill | Oct 23, 2008 |
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The author describes how, for nearly two years, she successfully executed a remarkable forgery caper in which she used her talent as a researcher and celebrity biographer to forge more than three hundred letters by literary notables.

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