In a wide-ranging review of the evidence in the TLS, Eric Naiman concludes that Dickens never met Dostoevsky, and Dickens never confessed to Dostoevsky what Claire Tomalin says he confessed. Tomalin cited a letter from Dostoevsky describing Dickens’s confession: “All the good simple people in his novels, Little Nell, even the holy simpletons like Barnaby Rudge, are what he wanted to have been, and his villains were what he was (or rather, what he found in himself), his cruelty, his attacks of causeless enmity toward those who were helpless and looked to him for comfort, his shrinking from those whom he ought to love, being used up in what he wrote. There were two people in him, he told me: one who feels as he ought to feel and one who feels the opposite. From the one who feels the opposite I make my evil characters, from the one who feels as a man ought to feel I try to live my life. ‘Only two people?’ I asked.”
Naiman traces the hoax back to a 2002 article by “Stephanie Harvey” in the Dickensian . Harvey downplayed the discovery, but it began to seep into Dickens scholarship, until Russian literature specialists began raising questions.
The plot thickened when Michael Hollington of the University of New South Wales tried to find out who Harvey is and where she got her information.
In response to an email, Harvey told Hollington that she had lost her notes and couldn’t recall much anyway. Harvey’s sister answered another email, informing Hollington that Stephanie had lost her memory as a result of brain damage after an auto accident.
Naiman has been able to track down only one other article by Harvey. Naiman concluded, “Both of her articles were comparative, both owed a debt to defunct or seemingly non-existent foreign journals, and both introduced material that might well have been invented specifically for inclusion in her chosen scholarly publication.”
It all looks like scholarly skulduggery. Which, as one scholar has pointed out, is disappointing since “the idea of the two men meeting is so wonderful.”