Faking your own reviews started long before Amazon, but Walter Scott, at least, was pretty clear-eyed about his liabilities as a writer. (Scott fascinates me for, among other things, being a writer whom everybody once believed was one for the ages–I bet there is a Waverly Street in your town–who is now almost forgotten).
Anyway, fun piece by Stuart Kelly in the Guardian on being a “sock puppet” pre-Web. Here’s Scott on Scott:
“Probability and perspicuity of narrative are sacrificed with the utmost indifference to the desire of producing effect”, he writes, adding “the author errs chiefly from carelessness” and suffers from “flimsiness and incoherent texture”. Warming to his theme he continues “in addition to the loose and incoherent style of the narration another leading fault in these novels is the total want of interest which the reader attaches to the character of the hero”. They are all a “very amiable and very insipid sort of young men”. One wonders how many people got the joke, especially when Scott writes: “Few can wish his success more sincerely than we do, and yet without more attention on his part, we have great doubts of its continuance.”
Kelly is spot on about the difference between the current lot and their forebears like Scott, Alexander Pope, Anthony Burgess, or Joe Orton who famously wrote letters as one “Edna Welthorpe,” completely outraged by Orton’s (once) transgressive plays Today’s sock-puppet-gensia is often content to heap fulsome praise on their own work, with nary a blush.