The Century of Deception
The Birth of the Hoax in Eighteenth-Century Britain
‛Fake news’, ‛going viral’ and ‛social media’ may be phrases from the twenty-first century but the concepts were all born in a series of absurdist events some 250 years ago.
In 1749 a newspaper advertisement appeared stating that a man would climb inside a bottle on the stage of a London theatre. Unfortunately, although the audience turned up, the conjurer didn’t. Earlier in the same century a woman said she was giving birth to rabbits; later a new Shakespearian play was supposedly discovered and performed – like the Bottle Conjurer for one night only.
In The Century of Deception the magician and historian of conjuring Ian Keable tells the stories of these and several other eighteenth-century hoaxes including a sociopathic liar, a hilarious astrological prediction, a rapping ghost and a Frenchman attempting to go airborne in a Chinese temple.
Hoaxes, of course, have always been around. But this was the era when they were first extensively reported, vividly depicted and reliably described – as well as forensically investigated. They were also widely influential, drawing in many celebrities of the day such as Samuel Johnson, Benjamin Franklin and Jonathan Swift and inflaming concerns about ‛English credulity’.
Embracing history and society, literature and the theatre, medicine and religion, satirical prints and paintings, imprisonment and capital punishment, and questions of ‘whodunit’ and ‘whydunit’, this entertaining and eye-popping book reveals how these hoaxes provide the perfect mirror for reflecting universal truths about our susceptibility to being duped.