Liars in Literature

Just as suspended NBC (Not Being Candid) anchor Brian Williams should resign or be fired for lying, I’m resigned to and fired up about seeing liars in literature. They’re annoying, but can make for interesting characters. And their fibbing can drive many a plot.

Why do they lie? What are the consequences for them and others? Can lying sometimes be a good thing? I’d be lying if I said this paragraph didn’t contain three questions. 🙂

Fibbers include not only people representing themselves, but also politicians (“Saddam has WMDs!”), corporations (“our dangerous products are safe!”), law enforcement (“that unarmed black man has a gun!”), the media (Brian Williams again), and so on.

One of the most iconic books featuring falsehood-telling people and institutions is George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. Indeed, many novels that focus on dystopian societies and dictatorships are all about depicting “The Big Lie” and the citizenry being “sold” a fabricated reality.

Mysteries and detective fiction also rely on lies and misdirection (aka “red herrings”) to create suspense. For instance, the killer “hiding in plain sight” in Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None is certainly not truthful as victims multiply. A.S. Byatt’s more literary mystery Possession contains 19th-century lies and secretiveness that reverberate into the 20th century.

In Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, white woman Mayella Ewell lies under oath because she’s scared of her brutal/racist father and can’t publicly admit in 1930s Alabama that she liked black man Tom Robinson. Her false testimony leads to tragedy — with the lie of white superiority creating the climate for what happened.

Lies also send the innocent Edmond Dantes to prison in Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo — and having been framed makes Edmond’s subsequent vengeance as visceral as any in literature.

Of course, lying is practically a prerequisite for married people when they have affairs. Among the countless protagonists in that situation are the title characters in Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago, Severine in Emile Zola’s The Beast in Man, Mattie’s husband and father in Anne Lamott’s Blue Shoe, and Dave Raymond in Tom Perrotta’s The Wishbones (Dave is actually engaged, not married, when he cheats in that novel).

Then there are lies told by married characters who want to marry someone else, as is the case with Edward Rochester in Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre and Godfrey Cass in George Eliot’s Silas Marner. Also in Eliot’s novel, Godfrey hides the existence of a daughter, and Silas’ treacherous “friend” William lies in a way that devastates Marner for years.

Some married characters lie by omission about their pasts. For instance, in Henry James’ The Portrait of a Lady, the husband of Isabel Archer doesn’t tell her about a relationship he had with someone Isabel knows well (or thought she knew well).

In Ian McEwan’s Atonement, Briony’s accidental and deliberate lies devastate the lives of her older sister Cecilia and the man (Robbie) who Cecilia loves.

Yet another kind of family-related falsehood occurs in M.L. Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans when island residents Isabel and Tom Sherbourne keep a baby who washes up in a boat rather than report the find to authorities. Their claim that “Lucy” is their biological child inevitably gets publicly outed as the lie that it is.

Among the examples of necessary lies is the surgeon in Erich Maria Remarque’s Arch of Triumph using the fake name of Ravic to shield his identity after escaping Nazi Germany for Paris.

In the area of plays, among the most famous liars are Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello and the title character in Moliere’s Tartuffe.

Which liars in literature have you found the most memorable?

Here’s a concluding thought by no means original to me: It’s interesting that Brian Williams seems to be the only prominent person punished for lying about the Iraq War. Not George W. Bush, not Dick Cheney, not Donald Rumsfeld, etc. — all fiction creators extraordinaire with lots of real-life blood on their hands.

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I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, Walter Cronkite, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

133 thoughts on “Liars in Literature

  1. ( Spoilers) In the Victorian sensation novel “Lady Audley’s Secret” The title character/antagonist faked her own death and used a different name and identity to escape from her marriage to a penniless man. She married a wealthy aristocrat who was enchanted by her beauty and charm until she was exposed by the lawyer protagonist. This novel seemed to be one of the predecessors of the modern mystery or detective novel.

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  2. And not just in literature given your last bit here. And of course lies get told in many forms. I think most of the heroines I write are lying about who exactly they are– at leas they keep that in house, they don’t tell lies about anyone else–except for the last book, it was the hero who was lying about that. BUT, where a lie has affected another character? I found McEwan’s Atonement tree top that way with an entire book based on Briony’s lie about the hero.

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  3. As liars in literature go, it’s hard to beat Baron Munchausen, who seems to have been a real person known to exaggerate his own centrality to events, but whose tendency in that direction was amplified to the point of obvious and amusing absurdity by another writer, anonymous, then another, Raspe, a German, whose English edition of 1785 seems the basis of what was later through the 19th century added to by still others.

    The Baron, in these tales, has done such things as flying to the moon by means of bottles of dew held under his arms, surviving a lion attack while being attacked from behind by an alligator by ducking when the lion sprang from the ground to kill him, luckily in such a way that the lion was swallowed up in the open jaws of the alligator, shooting a stag with a rifle with a cherry pit for shot, which when he comes upon the same stag in later years, has a small but healthy cherry tree growing between its antlers, and on and on and…

    I owned a collection of these tales when I was a boy, illustrated, superbly (of course) by Gustave Dore. The Gilliam movie, visually stunning, is less than entirely wonderful because the movie’s plot focuses on a young girl in ways that detract too much from the rollicking and ridiculous tale-telling that is the essence and source of enjoyment in the written adventures.

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  4. I’m late, but I’d like to add my 2 cents anyway:)

    David Balfour’s arduous journey in Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped was caused entirely by his deceitful uncle Ebenezer. He tricked David into boarding a ship under the pretenses of visiting a business associate on that ship. What David didn’t know was that his uncle had worked out an arrangement with this “business associate” (the captain) to take David to America and sell him into slavery/servitude.

    But even before the ship incident, Ebenezer Balfour’s deceptive nature was obvious. He lied to his nephew re: his father’s estate, the relationship between his parents, and made 2-3 attempts on David’s life just so he could claim the full inheritance.

    Lies, scandal, and secrecy are central themes in the book Passing by Nella Larsen. Passing, as the title implies, is about a young biracial woman named Clare Kendry who spent her life keeping her racial background a secret from her white husband and their social circle. She wanted to re-establish relationships with blacks after shunning them for so long, and reached out to a childhood friend of hers who was also biracial, but had successfully integrated into black society. Unfortunately, Clare Kendry’s husband learned the truth about her background, lashed out over being lied to all of those years, and the consequences of her actions were fatal.

    One of the books I’m currently reading is Cotton Comes to Harlem by Chester Himes. Picked this title up plus 3 others from the Harlem Detective series at a book sale. I haven’t finished it yet, but I’ve read enough to know there are some shady dealings going on with the character Reverend Deke O’Malley. He’s a pro-black activist. Armed robbers stole money collected from a rally that he helped organised. Rev. Deke has already been caught in several lies, and the two detectives have become suspicious of him. I can’t wait to see how this turns out.

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    • Thanks, Ana, for those three terrific examples and descriptions of novels in which lying is an important element.

      The fact that three very different books had fibbing as part of the plot indicates just how widespread untruths are in literature. Lies certainly add drama, intrigue, tension, and more to a plot. When a character is used or victimized by lying, it can make a reader’s blood boil — and make a reader keep reading to see if justice will or will not be served.

      (Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. I’m just pontificating a bit. 🙂 )


  5. Perhaps, as is my predilection, a bit tangential to topic, but Ezra Pound was very fond of this tale, which he wrote up, possibly even in a canto, but I haven’t time or inclination to hunt it down :

    In the early days of the colony, many rural communities were able to buy rare commodities through the industry of traveling salesmen– ‘sharp Yankee traders’, as they were then known. Among the exotic items sought after: the nutmeg. At least one such trader took it upon himself to have “nutmegs” carved out of wood, which he sold as nutmegs, and this deed was famous around the state for many years after.

    When Connecticut’s leading lights were casting about for items to sell at their pavilion at a world”s fair or some such exhibition, they remembered the wooden nutmeg and decided to sell them to commemorate and memorialize this sharp practice among sharp Connecticut Yankee traders of yore. The wooden nutmegs proved to be a hit with attendees, so popular that the pavilion’s supply was eventually exhausted. What to do? A trip to the grocery, a purchase of real nutmegs, substituted without comment for the wooden ones.

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  6. I just finished reading “Inherent Vice” by Thomas Pynchon. I bought it recently at a train station, when I found myself without a book to read prior to boarding. Being a recently released movie, I guess it was reissued . I certainly did not expect to see a Pynchon novel at the train station news stand. I approached it with trepidation. I read “Gravity’s Rainbow” several years ago, and it was a (worthwhile) struggle to get through – denser, I thought, than “Ulysses”. I was surprised at the readability of this novel, which features a stoner detective in early 1970’s California. This novel was very much in the noir genre with “The Big Sleep” and “Chinatown”, and therefore, of course, revolves around a detective trying to solve a mystery where everyone involved is lying and dissimulating. I recommend this book to anyone who has wanted to read Pynchon, but has been dissuaded by his dense reputation.

    Over the weekend, I saw a production of “A Doll’s House”. This is one of those plays that I had always heard of, but never experienced. What an outstanding drama that says so much (especially considering when it was written), and centers around a woman who is doing whatever she can to keep a secret from her past from being revealed.


    • Thanks for your interesting, descriptive, and engaging comment, drb19810!

      It IS surprising to hear about a Thomas Pynchon novel being sold at a train station; the movie must have indeed had something to do with that — and perhaps the proprietor there knew about “Inherent Vice” being more readable than Pynchon’s other work. I now have that novel on my list — thanks! I’ve never read Pynchon.

      I guess even the densest authors have more straightforward works in their canons; for instance, James Joyce’s “The Dead” is VERY readable.

      That production of “A Doll’s House” sounds wonderful!


  7. Dave, I don’t recall if he ever did it in a story but Sherlock Holmes references his disguising and lies as part of solving cases.

    Mark Twain mentions in “Huck Finn” that Tom Sawyer’s stories are mostly true. Meaning Tom lied a bit in telling them.

    In “The Pioneers” Oliver Edwards lies about his history as a way to learn what happened to his families property.

    I think the most interesting thing about the Brian Williams incident is that we expect him to remember correctly everything that happened to him years before. He isn’t combat trained and as a human would misremember, the evidence is very strong for all humans to do this. I am not even sure there is anything wrong with what he did. Here’s the second part of a video discussion on “Serial” the first part in on the objectivity of the law. It gets into the discussion about Williams shortly before he made headlines. I think journalists should present both sides of the story but that doesn’t mean they can’t favor one over the other and I think human failings should be forgiven.

    Now the rest of the Iraq war problems, that needs the law to be involved.

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    • Thanks for those three terrific mentions, GL!

      I guess the best detectives have to lie or almost lie (directly or by omission) to do their jobs well.

      Tom Sawyer is definitely a character who stretches the truth here and there, in his own novel and in Huck Finn’s.

      Glad you mentioned “The Pioneers”! An excellent James Fenimore Cooper novel, and the lies in it make a reader’s blood boil. (Thanks again for recommending Cooper’s five “Leatherstocking” novels last year!)

      As for Brian Williams, I hear you. You make some great points. I’ve questioned myself about why I feel so harshly about what Williams did. I realize memory can play tricks on all of us — something I wrestled with when I wrote my memoir. But when I couldn’t remember something exactly, I underplayed my role in it rather than exaggerating, and tried to be self-deprecating.

      And with something like a helicopter getting shot down in a war zone just a decade or so ago, it would seem to be such a major event in one’s life that it would be hard to get it wrong unless one wanted to boast.

      Also, there have been questions about Williams exaggerating or making up stuff during his Hurricane Katrina reportage.

      Anyway, those are my thoughts. 🙂

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      • The more information that comes out the worse it looks for Williams, and I agree there is probably something else there. I would guess taking over for Brokaw had something to do with it.

        I appreciate the way you wrote your memoir, downplaying your role when you don’t remember the details is a very professional move and one that many reporters take. They aren’t the ones who become the news and that is a good thing.

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        • Well said, GL, and excellent point about Tom Brokaw! Taking over for someone that iconic had to have put some pressure on Brian Williams. Plus Williams is in a very different media environment today than Brokaw was in his heyday — much more competition, “The Big Three” network anchors not as dominant, shorter attention spans, all the social media, etc. So perhaps Williams felt he had to “up the ante” to stay very prominent.

          And thanks for your kind words about the writing approach I took. 🙂


      • Williams’ is a character flaw that runs through a great many of us. A friend has something happen to them, and you, knowing your fellow conversationalist at hand doesn’t know your friend, become, for ease of storytelling, the person to whom the event occurred. Perfectly human, though not a habit to encourage.

        Trouble is: the marketing of Brian Williams. ‘He’s been there. He’ll be there.’ That was the prose content of one of NBC’s latest bits of selling of their frontman. But did he actually go there? Or did somebody else go? And even if he was there, can you trust what he says he saw there?

        As many others have pointed out, the MSM has been entirely too aggressive in its upset re the Williams revelations. Had it exercised its high-mindedness on itself regarding all the cheerleading and propaganda dutifully passed along under Bush I and Bush II, and even today, as ISIS becomes the spectre de jour, I’d be able to stomach it.

        Reminds me of Nixon and Watergate. Secret bombings? Bags full of Howard Hughes cash? Siccing the FBI and CIA on political enemies? No problem. But break into one little office at night…..

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        • Well said, jhNY!

          Yes, the marketing/mythologizing of anchors makes the lying of someone like Brian Williams even more painful. And while some anchors had some solid “on the ground”/”shoe leather” reporting before they became anchors, when they become anchors and go to a big news scene it’s more like a glorified photo-op.

          And, yes, the outrage against Williams has been very selective from an MSM that was mostly a cheerleader for all the bad stuff and lying involved in things such as the U.S. invasion/occupation of Iraq. Plus Fox News lies more each hour than Williams has lied in his life.

          Still, I have little sympathy for Williams. The “Big 3” anchor with the biggest audience, making $10 million a year, all over the media as a sought-after guest… How much more glory does a guy need?


          • He’s a spokesmodel, to borrow a useful word coined on Star Search years ago. He’d like to be more, and his bosses would like to sell him as if he were more, but he’s a spokesmodel. Like nearly everybody in the teevee news biz that sits at a desk and reads copy mostly, if not entirely, written by somebody else.

            I’m not trying to defend him– I just think the industry’s outrage visited on him is a kind of redirection of self-loathing on the part of many of his media-employed detractors, who somewhere in their teensy hearts realize they had been repeaters of propaganda during the run-up and second Iraq “war.” To say nothing of domestic spying, the financial crisis, global warming, and on and on.

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            • “Spokesmodel” — an excellent description of him, and people like him. While some anchors are “more” (examples include Walter Cronkite and Dan Rather doing some serious reporting in their younger days), most are not.

              A lot of wisdom in your second paragraph. There probably is indeed some self-loathing involved (the MSM does such a poor job “speaking truth to power” — deliberately so by media ownership, with reporters being partly censored (or self-censoring to keep their jobs). Also some envy at Brian Williams’ salary and fame, some right-wingers happy to pillory a centrist anchor, etc.


              • During my little spell at a newspaper many years ago, I noticed: that the newsroom was laid out to dovetail with the categories of governmental institutions– The White House had its White House beat reporter, the Congress its gaggle of Hill reporters, the Labor Dept its labor reporter, etc.

                Justice Dept. reporters hung about the Justice Dept. waiting for press releases, rather than looking for stories about justice or the law in general and in other places. Once the Justice Dept. had presented their topic of the day, it was regurgitated in conference with editors who decided whether or not there was enough substance or mischief in it to warrant coverage. In other words, the objects of coverage offered up subjects and interviewees, and the reporters and editors, more than they did any other thing, went along. It’s a sort of cross-institutional process, about which very few reporters I knew were prepared to say or do very much.

                When I was at the national news copy desk, and one of my jobs was to open all the mail sent in to the desk, I read a letter signed by 100 scientists, including several Nobel winners, warning about the dangers of nuclear reactors, in which a conference to be held in town was announced. It took a week and a half for the editors to decide to send a reporter to cover– and the first time I mentioned it, the editor to whom I was speaking said he wasn’t sure it was an important conference, as he’d seen nothing from AEC about it.

                Then there’s that old saw about the editorial board of the London Times, which I can’t find to quote exactly– more or less, the editorial board at the Times is a group of men who never meet and never speak yet are in perfect agreement with each other and the editorials of The London Times.

                Stories coming from unfamiliar places and unfamiliar sources, which if followed through might damage forever the working relationship between a reporter and his usual sources– there are always too few. The news business works most of the time to deliver the news of the day from the news releases it receives.

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                • Brilliantly stated, jhNY, and so true. While there are some exceptions, most MSM journalists either don’t want to rock the boat or are forced to not rock the boat. “Stenographers to power” is one term I’ve heard to describe that.

                  Unfortunately, that enables bigwigs to abuse power (including waging war under false pretenses), keeps citizens in the dark about things, etc. One positive aspect of social media — which of course is not without flaws — is that it can sometimes get important things out by circumventing the MSM “gatekeepers.”


    • In The Adventure of Charles Augustus Milverton, Holmes disguises himself and pretends courtship with Milverton’s maid, eventually asking her to be engaged– and all to gain entrance to Milverton’s papers. In the Granada TV dramatization (Jeremy Brett), Holmes is shown to regret his stirring up of emotions in the maid. Not sure if that regret is so apparent in the source material.

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      • That sly Sherlock! And you cite a case where the TV dramatization might have improved things. Pretty cold of Sherlock not to express much regret in Arthur Conan Doyle’s original version.


            • Agreed, generally, but I think I know of two, which I’m also pretty sure I recently mentioned in these parts: the movie made out of RL Stevenson’s The Bodysnatchers and the movie made out of Wells’ The Island of Dr, Moreau (The Island of Lost Souls). Neither movie improves on the stories on which they are based, precisely, but the additions the screenwriters made in each made for better movie material.

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              • Yes, there are definitely exceptions. I think we’ve also discussed that I thought the “Being There” movie improved on the novella. Other screen productions — such as the “Roots” miniseries and the “To Kill a Mockingbird” film — might not be QUITE as good as the books, but come pretty darn close.


      • jhNY, I would agree with you about the Granada version of that story, but I’d doubt that it would take many licenses with the original depiction of the Sherlock Holmes stories.

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        • There is more regret in Brett’s Sherlock for having raised up the hopes of the maid he pretended he’d marry than in the original, and more bittersweetness in his romancing of her, as registered by Brett’s expression. He seems to be partly transported by the romancing itself, and partly grounded by his lack of desire for physical intimacy, as he woos her and kisses her. In the original story, Holmes is very happy to have been able to gain entry to Milverton’s house by this subterfuge, but seems blithely unconcerned for the feelings of the maid he misled, assuring Watson that a rival employed in the household staff would step in to marry her, as if any man might do.

          The Granada dramatization also has Holmes defer to a higher morality than mere law, in that he sees that a sort of harsh justice has been done in the shooting death of Milverton. He has witnessed the shooting, but does not reveal to police he has done so, nor does he reveal the killer’s identity, and so, she remains free. In the Doyle original, she is arrested.

          I was once under the impression that the Granada series hewed very close to the Doyle stories, and generally speaking they do– certainly more than any other dramatizations with which I am familiar. But not always, or in every one.

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          • I’d agree that any serialized version of a beloved collection of stories and books would never live up to the original product, but some come closer than others. As you say, the Brett series comes across as more true to the series as anyone.

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            • And I adore it. Jeremy Brett, because he didn’t need the money, acted when and where he wished. I believe he literally dedicated his life, to the degree he might have actually shortened it, to the embodiment of Holmes. I also think Patrick Gowers made the most satisfyingly beautiful and appropriate musical accompaniments for each episode of the Granada series imaginable. A superlative achievement all around.

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  8. It is full of interest. It has noble poetry in it and some clever fables. And some blood drenched history, and some good morals ,and a wealth of obscenity , and upwards of a thousand lies…. Mark Twain – Letters From Earth
    I’ll leave to the reader to guess what Book he’s referring to.

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  9. Hi Dave, the first novel that came to mind, for obvious reasons, was “Big Little Lies,” by Liane Moriarty. The book starts with accounts of a parents’ Trivia Night at a school in a small community. It then goes back six months to follow the lives of three women, culminating in the events of the night in question. I’ll just quote from the front flap: “Sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal… A murder…a tragic accident…or just parents behaving badly? What’s indisputable is that someone is dead? But who did what?” I think Moriarty is a master at this kind of storytelling, where she weaves back and forth between intertwining lives, most often three main female characters, in a most intriguing and often humorous way. Many of her plots are driven by either little lies, big lies, or omissions/secrets. Her novel “The Husband’s Secret” is about a wife who finds a letter written to her from her husband to be opened only upon his death; the only catch is that he isn’t dead. Of course she begins to think he’s lying to her, so she reads the letter, resulting in a Pandora’s box of consequences for her and the other main characters. The author also weaves the fall of the Berlin Wall into the narrative, which was very interesting.

    Another great column, Dave, and there was much truth in your comments about BW and the Iraq War.

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    • Kat Lib, I MUST take out a Liane Moriarty novel next time I go to the library! You and two others have said very nice things about her work. When I was at the library a few days ago I did take out Robin Sloan’s “Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore,” which you had recommended. Can’t wait to start that quirky novel!

      Anyway, a book with the title of “Big Little Lies” couldn’t be more appropriate for this discussion! Thanks for the wonderful descriptions of that book and of the equally intriguing “The Husband’s Secret.”

      Thanks, also, for the kind words in your last paragraph! 🙂


      • I was just looking over some of the blurbs from reviews of “Big Little Lies” that I found to be very funny.
        From EW: “The secrets burrowed in this seemingly placid small town…are so suburban noir they would make David Lynch clap with glee…”
        From USA Today: “Reading one [of Liane Moriarty’s novels] is a bit like drinking a pink cosmo laced with arsenic…”

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          • I was saddened to learn of the death today of one of my favorite girl singers from my young teen days, Lesley Gore. She of the It’s My Party (and I’ll cry if I want to), Now It’s Judy’s Turn To Cry, but especially the better and much more feminist song, You Don’t Own Me.

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              • Dave, thanks for the link to that great song. I guess one of the hardest things to growing older is watching those of us who are the same age as we are die for whatever reason. So sad!

                And yet, I’m in awe that you still have 45’s. I think my last purchase of a 45 was Gene Pitney’s Town Without Pity. The only albums I still own are David Bowie that my brother bought for me years ago

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                • You’re welcome, Kat Lib! And I hear you about the deaths of people from our generation. It really does hit home. And then to see them looking so young on video clips from decades ago…

                  I don’t think any of my 45’s are newer than late 1970s. Most are from roughly 1964 to 1972, after which I bought mostly albums. Partly dumb luck that I still have those “singles” (about 100 or so); they could have easily been tossed by a parent — as some of my other stuff was.


                  • Dave, I don’t know if you saw this, but there was a PSA by Lesley Gore from the last presidential election that used the song You Don’t Own Me in a way that was anti-Romney, that had women lip-syncing to that song while showing the anti-feminist policies of Romney. Sorry that I can’t link to it as I’m now on my tablet, but I did see it on a earlier today if you care to check it out.

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                    • I heard about that PSA, Kat Lib, but haven’t seen it. Sounds great!

                      Lesley Gore really did seem to be a progressive and humanistic person. In addition to being feminist, she was also gay — yet another of many, many reasons to have opposed Mitt Romney (along with his homophobic GOP and his homophobic Mormon religion).


              • Great single!
                Quincy Jones was the musical director of Gore in her early days– Judy’s Turn, It’s My Party, You Don’t Own Me. They are, each of them, damn attractive pop tunes for their times.

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                • I didn’t realize Quincy Jones had worked with Lesley Gore until reading the obits of her. I agree — great work by her, him, and the writers of those songs (as you know, Gore didn’t start composing some of her own stuff until later).


    • Liane Moriarty fever is sweeping across New England. My parents and siblings in Vermont and Massachusetts created a family Instagram page where we all post pics of things we’re into (trips, books, food, whatever interests us). When I posted a pic of my copy of The Shobble Secret, my little niece fell in love with that beautiful cover. She now has all of the books in the Nicola Berry series, then my mom and sister bought The Husband’s Secret and other titles for themselves.

      And of course, I gave credit to the person/poster (and the blog) where I even heard the name Liane Moriarty in the first place:)

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      • Ana, Liane Moriarty is a “must borrow” during my next library visit, so hopefully that fever will sweep a bit south of New England, too. 🙂

        Great that you’re spreading the word through your family and a region — and nice mention of how your niece was attracted by a cover! Also, thank you for crediting Kat Lib and this blog.


        • I think you’ll like her books, and I can’t say enough good things about The Shobble Secret. Great characters, great story line, and that gorgeous cover…

          Tell you what: the next time I’m in Newark, I’ll take a selfie holding up my copy of The Shobble Secret. See, by taking that photo in your state, NJ will be included in the East Coast Liane Moriarty fan club. I’m trying to help you get some street cred here, Dave. LOL.

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          • “‘The Shobble Secret’ Goes to New Jersey” — could be a Jimmy Stewart movie! It does sound like a superb book, Ana.

            Street cred might be tough for me to obtain. But I’m holding out hope for some road cred or avenue cred…


      • Ana, so glad to hear that you and your family are enjoying Liane Moriarty’s books. I am currently rereading “Big Little Lies” and am still loving her books more than just about any other writer out there today

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  10. Dave, in Nikolai Gogol’s works such as Dead Souls and The Government Inspector, lying is habitual, fantastic, and frequently absurd. It’s the basis of Gogol’s humor and is related to braggadocio and may even be the basis of storytelling (fiction is nothing but a lie, after all).

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    • Jean, so glad you mentioned “Dead Souls.” It’s a sublime novel — and truth-telling is certainly not the norm in it!

      And great observation that fiction may be “nothing but a lie” — or perhaps, to describe that more euphemistically, “made up.” Which makes it interesting to think that a novel about honest people is a lie in a way. 🙂


  11. Howdy, Dave!

    — Which liars in literature have you found the most memorable? —

    All the dramatis personae in Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” appear to have pronounced predilections for deceit, deception, dishonesty, disinformation or distortion, but the most memorable may be Miss Wonderly, with even the author’s introductory description of the character as seemingly implausible as pretty much everything she subsequently says throughout the entire novel: “She was tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere.”

    Tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere. Tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere! Tall and pliantly slender, without angularity anywhere?

    I call BS on the narrator.

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: Your mention of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” prompts me to note I caught the film version of it via video on demand last week, just three decades or so after its release. Bearing in mind my bachelor’s degree is in political science, it reminded me O’Brien (brilliantly played by Richard Burton in his last theatrical-movie role) might be the greatest truth-teller in the history of literature, poly sci and the world, despite a few necessary prevarications here and there to move the plot along. I mean, who else has said, says or will say, “If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face — for ever”?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “The Maltese Falcon” does indeed have fifty shades of “d” words, J.J. Loved your alliteration — as well as your riff (complete with changing punctuation) on that description of Miss Wonderly!

      I’ve never seen the “Nineteen Eighty-Four” movie, though I’ve read the riveting novel twice. And, yes, that depressing and horrifying line about the future of humankind is truth-telling at its best/worst. Orwell was as uncompromisingly prescient as they come.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. Hi Dave, as you may remember, I’m currently reading George Martin’s epic Song of Ice and Fire series, and it’s chock full of liars. It really is a Game of Thrones, and there are so many lies and deceptions that I’m having trouble keeping up! I have my favourites though, and I know who I want to win, as long as they haven’t been lying to me, and they are the people that I think they are… if you know what I mean.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Susan, with so many lies and deceptions that it’s hard to keep up, George R.R. Martin’s series may be the star of this topic! As I think we’ve discussed, I hope to try those books one day.

      Loved your clever hilarity in the second half of the comment! 🙂 Fictional fibbers are REALLY doing their job if they lie to readers in addition to each other. Those “Song of Ice and Fire” characters have a future in U.S. politics if they can somehow get on a plane to real life (perhaps by using their Frequent Liar miles).


  13. And let us not leave out all the lies we learn about weekly from the people who channel the evil and corruption of their top boss, media mogul MurdCOOOOOK. I wish we could shut those people down, once and for all time. The world would be a better place without their ongoing bloviations.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great to hear from you, HopeWFaith!

      And I hear what you’re saying. The endless lies and exaggerations from Fox News and other Murdoch and Murdoch-like outlets makes what Brian Williams did seem trivial in comparison. 😦


  14. I suppose you could say that Raskolnikov lies his way through most of ‘Crime and Punishment’ until he finally confesses to Sonya that he committed the murders. The weight of his lie had finally become so unbearable that the truth finally had to burst out. That lie provides the entire narrative of that novel. Dostoevsky also includes much lying throughout ‘The Brothers Karamazov’ (one chapter is even titled ‘When the Lie Becomes the Truth’) although I can’t recall specifics at the moment. And the premise of Kurt Vonnegut’s ‘Mother Night’ is that Howard W. Campbell’s major lie/cover as American Nazi, while initially intended to be a way to convey coded information to/from the allies, if I’m recalling it correctly, actually becomes the fact of his existence. Kurt states the premise very succinctly: ‘We are what we pretend to be. Therefore, we must be careful what we pretend to be.’ The entire spy genre, in fact the entire occupation of the spy in general, is to lie, especially if one is a double agent. There are hundreds of examples I’m sure. Tom and Huck both lie their way through their respective novels for various self-serving purposes. Fiction writers make their living by lying on paper. Many writers blurred or erased the lines between truth and falsehood–in addition to the aforementioned Truman Capote, William Faulkner (who lied about serving in WW I as a pilot and claimed to have a plate in his skull), Mark Twain, dozens of other authors carried the lies into their personal lives.

    Liked by 1 person

    • A prime example of a lying character, bobess48! Certainly one of the most famous. I reread “Crime and Punishment” a few months ago, and the almost unbearable tension in that riveting novel is indeed in large part based on if or when Raskolnikov will stop lying and ‘fess up.

      You’re right that there’s also plenty of lying in “The Brothers Karamazov,” which I reread soon after “C&P.” It wasn’t the cheeriest of reading periods, but those two novels deserve all the respect they get.

      Oh, so THAT’S where that superb Vonnegut quote “we are what we pretend to be” comes from. As you know, that also became the title of the relatively recent published pairing of an early Vonnegut novella and a late unfinished Vonnegut novella.

      Yes, spy and lie rhyme for a reason. 🙂

      Also, very true about the fibbing Huck and Tom (the former more sympathetic when he bends the truth) — and the real-life lying that’s an essence of fiction-writing and that some authors have been guilty of.

      Thanks for the stellar comment!


  15. Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution. I saw the film with Tyrone Power,his last,and Marlene Dietrich who was excellent in this role playing the mysterious Christine. Double jeopardy,betrayal, the Dietrich character lies to try to protect her husband who is convicted of murder,although,at the time,she was not married to him. The book would be a page turner,full of suspense and deception as is the film is definitely worth a watch as its chilling,surprising end will be worth your time.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great addition to this discussion, Michele! That’s an iconic Agatha Christie work I’ve unfortunately never seen or read. You described it so well. Lying to protect a spouse or other romantic partner certainly happens often, and one can understand why.


  16. Lying by omission is also lying. How about the monumental “lie” told by the title character in “Lady” by Thomas Tryon, OR the failure of the mother in “Light in the Piazza” to illuminate her daughter’s shortcomings to her intended?

    Liked by 1 person

    • “Lying by omission is also lying” — so true, lulabelleharris. And you gave two terrific examples of works featuring that.

      I thought “Lady” (which you recommended to me in 2012) was a very compelling, nuanced novel. And the lie in it was indeed monumental.

      As for “The Light in the Piazza” play, I’m still amazed at how the suitor didn’t sense something about the daughter despite the mother’s withholding of such important information. I guess the encounters were so stage-managed and otherwise obscuring of the truth. Reminiscent of “Jane Eyre” and “Wide Sargasso Sea” (the “Jane Eyre” prequel by Jean Rhys) — which both showed how Edward Rochester was bamboozled into not seeing the mental issues of his intended.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve never seen the play, Dave. I would love to see how they treat the subject matter. What I remember is the novella by Mississippi writer Elizabeth Spencer. It’s been SO MANY years since I read it, but what I remember is that the language barrier served to cloud the issue of her mental defect.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Stellar/droll comment, Cathy! Thanks! Creative nonfiction is SUCH a euphemistic term, but some excellent books (including memoirs) are exactly that.

      Glad you liked the post, and I hope you enjoyed the S.F. conference!


  17. Interesting that you should mention To Kill a Mockingbird Dave as I’m not sure that I ever let slip that Harper Lee actually modeled Atticus Finch on me…Oh liars IN Literature I misread and thought it on literature . Seriously though as is often the case Shakespeare is hard to surpass, Iago was a brilliantly effective liar ,charismatic as hell and most tellingly did such major damage to all around him for the most minor of motives. I think my first addition to the list will be Thomas Mann – The Confessions of a Confidence Man Felix Krull. As is often the case with such types he is being most truthful when he’s flat out lying, which is to suggest defining lies and truth is a tricky business. Pontius Pilot’s what is truth throwaway line may be the hardest question to answer in the bible.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Donny, your first two lines — totally hilarious!!! 🙂

      As for your serious sentences, yes, some liars are VERY charismatic. I guess it often takes charisma to “sell” a fib.

      And thanks for those two thought-provoking observations that ended your comment. You touched on a lot of what philosophy is about.

      I recently read “Where Eagles Dare” (commenter Ana recommended Alistair MacLean’s work), and the hero of that book lied constantly. But it was to stay alive on a dangerous ant-Nazi mission that was (obviously) for a good purpose. And a heroine in that same novel was an undercover spy — which of course required lie after lie, but also for a greater good.


        • Well said, Donny, and very true.

          I’m reminded of ESPN anchor Stuart Scott, who died last month after a long battle with cancer, saying that he asked his doctors to never tell him what stage cancer he was in. If any of those doctors had told him the truth, that would have been cruel.


  18. This is really fascinating post Dave !
    Yes it is now all about Brian Williams now for making his news more colorful and once he started he could not stop. I doubt if he is ever coming back to read the news again saying that your last paragraph is absolutely priceless.

    Putting the Country and the lives of innocent people and soldiers in harms way and invasion of Iraq was based on a big lie..and the sad part of it is we are still paying for it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bebe, for your generous praise of the post!

      Brian Williams “making his news more colorful” — love the way you put that. 🙂 It does seem unlikely he’ll come back to NBC after his suspension ends, but I assume he’ll get a TV job somewhere.

      And you’re so right about so many people still paying for the Iraq War — injured Iraqis and American soldiers, survivors of killed Iraqis and American soldiers, etc. And the way the war busted the budget, decreased trust in government even more…

      But, heck, George W. Bush is having fun painting, so all is well. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

  19. Hi Dave — Hope you’re having a wonderful weekend! This is a fascinating column (love the intro — NBC …Not Being Candid! So funny! Personally, I think Mr. Williams should be fired, but I’m pretty sure NBC isn’t losing sleep over my opinion 🙂 You mention Mayella Ewing in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and what drove her to tell those lies. There was another liar in “To Kill a Mockingbird” and he told some whoppers! — that was Dill, the summertime friend of Scout and Jem. Scout said Dill might be the biggest liar she ever met. Many of his tales revolved around his father: early in the story, Dill describes him as being the president of L&N Railroad. We never know a lot about Dill’s family life, just that he spends the summers in Maycomb with his aunt. There is definitely a feeling that Dill’s family isn’t as stable as Jem’s and Scout’s. I’m sure you already know this, Dave, but Dill is based on Harper Lee’s real-life friendship with Truman Capote.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Pat, for the kind words and excellent comment — including its very funny moments!

      Dill is a TERRIFIC example of a lying character, though, as you know, he was sort of endearing as he fibbed and he told untruths at least partly out of a sense of insecurity. Harper Lee probably treated Dill more kindly in her novel than the real-life Dill model (Truman Capote) deserved.

      By the way, I took John Grisham’s “The Firm” out of the library after you mentioned it under last week’s blog post. Thanks! I look forward to reading it! Several other regular commenters here — including bebe and lulabelleharris — are also Grisham fans. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

      • The sad part is Harper Lee is almost blind and deaf , her sister was her protector who evidently said ( or someone else?) Lee would sign anything placed in front of her.
        Now her sister have passed her current lawyer tricked her into releasing the other novel so they say.

        To Kill a Mockingbird is so complete and satisfying with all its merits with Atticus, Scout and Boo together with the rest of the characters.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very good points, bebe. I HOPE Harper Lee is 100% behind the decision to release “Go Set a Watchman,” but one does wonder if there’s something not quite right going on.

          And, yes, “To Kill a Mockingbird” is totally complete and satisfying by itself. But I must admit that even if “Go Set a Watchman” is so-so, I’ll find it fascinating to see Scout as an adult and Atticus 20 years older.

          Liked by 2 people

      • Yes, Dill was extremely likeable — and who knows, Truman Capote might have even been likeable as a child, lol! (Surely he wasn’t always so hateful and acerbic). I’m so glad you’re going to read “The Firm”. I look forward to your thoughts once you’ve had a chance to read it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Very true, Pat! Truman Capote was probably more likable in his younger years. And he and Harper Lee didn’t have a falling out until several years after “To Kill a Mockingbird” was published (I’ve heard it was virtually all his fault for not giving her proper research credit for “In Cold Blood”).

          I’ll definitely let you know what I think of “The Firm”!


          • The stories that Truman Capote wrote that were fictionalized recollections of his upbringing with his relatives like “The Grass Harp” and “A Christmas Memory” will endear him to me always, no matter what he became. He must have been so damaged by his apparent abandonment by both of his parents, a forlorn little boy acting out!

            Liked by 1 person

            • Glad you (eloquently) mentioned all that, lulabelleharris, because I do like some of Truman Capote’s writing a LOT. Some not admirable people can write very admirable stuff. And, yes, there are often reasons that at least partly explain why people become what they become.

              Liked by 1 person

    • L&N is the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. As a boy I had to jump off a trestle from a good many feet up and into an ash pile to avoid one of its locomotives, plus many trailing cars.

      Liked by 1 person

  20. I’m sure there are plenty of liars that will come to mind over the next week. Just have to ruminate about it for a little while. When I do, I shall post to your blog. Lying is definitely the engine for many plots in literature. if all the characters were completely honest we’d lose about 90% of our novels, plays, movies and stories. On the other hand, if at least one character was COMPLETELY honest and unable to lie about anything, that in itself could set off some exciting literary conflict. The compulsive truth-teller in literature. Perhaps the subject for your next blog?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, bobess48! No lack of liars in fiction or real life. And lying certainly CAN drive a plot (I’m going to put a mention of that in the post.)

      “The compulsive truth-teller in literature” — that would indeed be an interesting topic if I could come up with enough examples. Any character THAT honest may not be well liked by all the fictional fibbers surrounding him or her. 🙂


      • bobess48, truth-tellers in literature would certainly include some kid characters: Anne of “Anne of Green Gables,” Giuseppe of Elsa Morante’s “History,” etc. Younger people tend to have fewer “filters.”


        • Dave – sometmes a lie saves someon’es life! As in Charles Dickens’ “A Tale of Two Cities” – when Sidney Carton goes to the gallows in order to save the man whom the woman he adores loves – and whom Sidney thinks she deserves much more than a reprobate like himself. Bonnie Squires

          Liked by 1 person

          • Nice to hear from you, Bonnie! And thanks for that fantastic addition to this discussion. Well said — and what you cited is about as noble a lie as ever appeared in literature.

            (Come to think of it, the final scene in the movie “Casablanca” — though it doesn’t involve death — owes something to that memorable decision in “A Tale of Two Cities.”)


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