I just added another book to my summer reading list. It is Adam Sisman‘s The Professor & the Parson: A Story of Desire, Deceit, and Defrocking. It tells the story of historian Hugh Trevor-Roper‘s encounter with a plagiarist, bigamist, and fraudulent priest.
Here is a taste of William Whyte’s review at Literary Review:
…in a world in which everyone fears they might be an impostor, how do you tell who is faking it and who is not? This was a question that transfixed the historian Hugh Trevor-Roper throughout his career. It sustained his furious attacks on such colleagues as Lawrence Stone, whom he believed to have stolen and fabricated historical research. It also led him to write compellingly about real frauds, including the fantasist Edmund Backhouse, whose almost entirely fictional and luridly pornographic memoir formed the basis of one of Trevor-Roper’s books.
In 1958, another impostor entered Trevor-Roper’s life. At that point, he was claiming to be the Reverend Robert Peters, a highly qualified and recently married postgraduate student at Magdalen College, Oxford. Further investigation revealed, however, that his name was not Peters, that he had been stripped of holy orders, that his qualifications were false and that his marriage was bigamous. Only his status as a postgraduate student was true – and the discovery of these malfeasances soon ended that.
There the story might have ended too, but Trevor-Roper was intrigued, opening a file on Peters and gathering further information about him. Peters, for his part, was unabashed, continuing to embellish his nonexistent credentials, claim ever more exalted ecclesiastical titles and acquire a number of wives. Still more intriguingly, he continued, like a mobile Walter Mitty or an academic Zelig, to reappear in Trevor-Roper’s professional life for the next half-century.
Adam Sisman has used the collection of notes Trevor-Roper put together on Peters over this period and supplemented it with his own research to produce a wonderfully entertaining account of this academic and clerical fraud. He follows him from lie to lie, job to job, marriage to marriage, continent to continent. Again and again, Peters came close to success and even stability, securing posts at schools on both sides of the Atlantic, the parochial cure of people in Scotland and South Africa, and positions in universities from Cambridge to Canada and from New Zealand to Nigeria. Always, he was found out and then run out of town, only to start again elsewhere.
Read the entire review here.