This essay explores representations of authenticity and artifice in Grant Allen’s An African Millionaire (1896-97), a series of short stories that focus on the antagonism between a dishonest millionaire and a master of disguise who repeatedly cheats him. Artifice is prominent in the multiple disguises that Colonel Clay and his female accomplice adopt in order to trick the millionaire, but it also pervades the stories in less conspicuous ways: indeed, all the characters are engaged in some kind of performance or ‘undercover’ activity, from the shady business-proceedings of the millionaire himself, to his secretary’s attempts at bribery, to the little ‘beauty secrets’ of their wives. Thus, duplicity does not only characterise the world of business and finance, but seems to permeate society as a whole. Furthermore, not only people, but also objects participate in this universal camouflage: on the one hand, the cons performed by Clay often exploit the ambiguity between real and false objects; on the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on the material items used by Clay to go undercover, which are repeatedly discussed and fantasised upon by other characters, so that even real body-parts are suspected of being fake. In a telling remark, the millionaire observes that he wishes Clay “were always the same, like Horniman’s tea or a good brand of whisky”, referring to the popular advertisements of a brand who claimed to be “pure” and “always good alike”. This highlights a widespread difficulty in assessing the authenticity of both people and things, a difficulty further complicated by the continuous oscillation between suspicion and desire, which underlies all the tales and challenges, in an ironic way, the expectations of characters and readers alike.

"Always the same, like Horniman's tea". Deceit and authenticity in Grant Allen's An African Millionaire

Granata Silvia
2020

Abstract

This essay explores representations of authenticity and artifice in Grant Allen’s An African Millionaire (1896-97), a series of short stories that focus on the antagonism between a dishonest millionaire and a master of disguise who repeatedly cheats him. Artifice is prominent in the multiple disguises that Colonel Clay and his female accomplice adopt in order to trick the millionaire, but it also pervades the stories in less conspicuous ways: indeed, all the characters are engaged in some kind of performance or ‘undercover’ activity, from the shady business-proceedings of the millionaire himself, to his secretary’s attempts at bribery, to the little ‘beauty secrets’ of their wives. Thus, duplicity does not only characterise the world of business and finance, but seems to permeate society as a whole. Furthermore, not only people, but also objects participate in this universal camouflage: on the one hand, the cons performed by Clay often exploit the ambiguity between real and false objects; on the other hand, there is a strong emphasis on the material items used by Clay to go undercover, which are repeatedly discussed and fantasised upon by other characters, so that even real body-parts are suspected of being fake. In a telling remark, the millionaire observes that he wishes Clay “were always the same, like Horniman’s tea or a good brand of whisky”, referring to the popular advertisements of a brand who claimed to be “pure” and “always good alike”. This highlights a widespread difficulty in assessing the authenticity of both people and things, a difficulty further complicated by the continuous oscillation between suspicion and desire, which underlies all the tales and challenges, in an ironic way, the expectations of characters and readers alike.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: http://hdl.handle.net/11571/1374534
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