The Hoax That Inspired Mary Shelley

Emily Zarevich in JSTOR Daily:

Why do people keep falling for hoaxes? Moreover, what is it about certain hoaxes that maintain an iron hold on public imagination, long after their con is exposed? The Roger Dodsworth hoax of 1826 managed to fool so many people and remain in so many memories that a short story about it, published nearly forty years later, still seemed relevant to readers, writes English literature scholar Charles E. Robinson.

Great Britain suffered through an usually hot summer in 1826, and the popular press took full advantage of it, banking on the unusual and “chilling” tale of the so-called Roger Dodsworth to sell copies. According to newspapers in Lyons, Rouen, and Paris, Dodsworth was the thirty-year-old son of the sixteenth-century English antiquarian Roger Dodsworth. As the story went, Dodsworth the younger had been frozen in ice for 166 years, having been trapped under a avalanche while on expedition at Mount St. Gothard in the Alps in 1660. The story was picked up in London; the most popular publications of the day sensationalized an already sensational tale. Even the conservative weekly John Bull published letters supposedly penned by the remarkable survivor. The public, fully under sway of the imagination and emotion that shaped the age of Romanticism, was enthralled and seduced by the story as it passed from page to page in the London papers.

More here.