I, Libertine

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I, Libertine
Frewing.jpg
Cover of first edition (paperback)
Author Frederick R. Ewing
(Theodore Sturgeon)
Cover artist Frank Kelly Freas
Country United States
Language English
Genre Fake novel, Literary hoax
Publisher Ballantine Books
Publication date
1956
Media type Print (Hardcover & Paperback)
Pages 151 pp

I, Libertine was a literary hoax that began as a practical joke by late-night radio raconteur Jean Shepherd. Shepherd was highly annoyed at the way that the bestseller lists were being compiled in the mid-1950s. These lists were determined not only from sales figures but also from the number of requests for new and upcoming books at bookstores.

Creation of the hoax[edit]

Shepherd urged his listeners to enter bookstores and ask for a book that did not exist. He fabricated the author (Frederick R. Ewing) of this imaginary novel, concocted a title (I, Libertine), and outlined a basic plot for his listeners to use on skeptical or confused bookstore clerks. Fans of the show eventually took it further, planting references to the book and author so widely that demand for the book led to it being listed on The New York Times Best Seller list.

Publication[edit]

Bookstores became interested in carrying Ewing's novel, which reportedly[weasel words] had been banned in Boston. When publisher Ian Ballantine, novelist Theodore Sturgeon and Shepherd met for lunch, Ballantine hired Sturgeon to write a novel based on Shepherd's outline. On September 13, 1956, Ballantine Books published I, Libertine simultaneously in hardcover and paperback editions with Shepherd seen looking as dissolute as possible, as Ewing, in the back cover author's photograph. The proceeds were donated to charity.[1]

A few weeks before publication, The Wall Street Journal exposed the hoax, already an open secret.[2]

Cover painting[edit]

The front cover displays a quote: "'Gadzooks,' quoth I, 'but here's a saucy bawd!'". The cover painting by Frank Kelly Freas includes hidden images and inside jokes: The sign on the tavern, Fish & Staff, has a shepherd's staff and an image of a sturgeon, referencing both Sturgeon and Shepherd. A portion of the word often spoken on the air by Shepherd – "Excelsior!" – can be seen on the paperback cover in a triangular area at extreme left, where it is part of the decoration on the coach door. The hardcover dust jacket, with more of the illustration to the left, shows the entire word.

See also[edit]

  • J. R. Hartley – author of another fictitious book, written after it became famous.

References[edit]

  1. ^ An interview with Shepherd on the hoax from Long John Nebel's radio show Long John Nebel's radio show
  2. ^ Henderson, Carter (1 August 1956). "Ballantine Books Makes Hoax Come True". New York Times. Retrieved 27 February 2014. 

External links[edit]