(Picador, £20The)

The Forger's Shadow, by Nick Groom

Rehabilitation of literature's conmen

Early in The Forger's Shadow Nick Groom lists the handful of facts readers may know about Thomas Chatterton: he was a Romantic poet; he died young, like Keats; he committed suicide; he forged medieval poetry; he came from Bristol; a Pre-Raphaelite painting of his death hangs in Tate Britain; and Peter Ackroyd wrote a novel about him.

Groom is our leading Chatterton enthusiast. One aim of his book is to untangle the real life from the posthumous image of the poet Wordsworth called "the marvellous Boy" and who served Coleridge and Keats as the archetype of youthful English genius. An intriguing forensic investigation suggests that Chatterton did not commit suicide but accidentally poisoned himself with arsenic (taken as a cure for the clap) and opium (painkiller).

Groom's second aim is to place Chatterton in the company of some colourful near-contemporaries: James Macpherson, the Scotsman who claimed to have discovered the works of "Ossian", the lost father of Gaelic poetry; William Henry Ireland, the teenager who in 1796 conned literary London into believing that he had unearthed a chestful of original Shakespeareana; and TG Wainewright, the Romantic essayist, forger and purported poisoner, about whom Andrew Motion wrote a biography-cum-novel.

Groom offers an apologia for this motley crew. With Chatterton he is on strong ground: poems he wrote in the voice of a medieval bard called Rowley brim over with accomplishment. Macpherson, too, has been rehabilitated. Far from being outright forgeries, the Ossianic fragments included material gathered from authentic songs and tales.

With Ireland, Groom is on rockier ground. Ireland was a naïve faker who got into the lucrative business of penning Shakespeare manuscripts to please his dad, a publisher. Blake's visionary universe would not have been possible without Ossian; the sensuousness of Keats owed a debt to Rowley; but Ireland's manufacture of Shakespeare's Kynge Vorrtygerne was more a farce in the manner of the Hitler diaries.

His ambition of is to suggest that Chatterton, Macpherson and co were the true progenitors of Romanticism. You thought that Romanticism was all inspiration, originality and authenticity? Wrong. It took its bearings from imitation, forgery and impersonation. Like all such revisionary readings, this one builds kernels of truth into castles in the air.

Groom takes risks in combining jeux d'esprit with scholarship, notably in the case of Binjamin Wilkomirski's Fragments (1996), a faked concentration camp memoir. Should it be regarded as a powerful novel or immoral imposture? The conclusion rolls a little too glibly off the tongue: "I thought we already knew that writers can often spin a bewitching yarn."

This is a book of prodigious and quirky learning. At the same time, rudimentary errors are scattered through the text, as when AC Swinburne mysteriously becomes "CA". It is not clear whether the lapses are the result of carelessness or a plot – hatched in accordance with the theme – to subvert the values of "authentic" scholarship.

Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

classical
Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine