In 1825, at the start of his career, the French writer Prosper Mérimée (1803–1870) published a selection of plays about Spanish life in the manner of Lope de Vega. Wary of possible criticism by supporters of the classical school, he ascribe the plays to a non-existent Spanish actress, one Clara Gazul, He did more than this. A foreword to the plays, written by someone named Joseph Létrange [significantly, Joseph the Strange] gave an account of Clara’s life to date – how she had been brought up, how she had escaped from a nunnery to join a roving band of actors, and the like – and backed up this verbal background to the supposed authoress by an actual portrait of Clara, as frontispiece to the plays. This portrait was executed by the painter Delescluze – and was in fact of the 22-year-old Mérimée wearing a mantilla and a necklace. Thus as Clara Gazul and Joseph Létrange, Mérimée not only donned a literary mask (or a double one, in fact) but extended his hoax to a visual impersonation.
Room, A. (1981), ‘Names for a Living’, Naming Names, p.21
previous A–Z next