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CALL. 20.08.2017: Hacks, Quacks and Impostors: Affected and Assumed Identities in Fiction - Freiburg




LUGAR/LOCATION/LUOGO: University of Freiburg (Freiburg, Germany)

ORGANIZADOR/ORGANIZER/ORGANIZZATORE: Nikolina Hatton; Sara Hobe; Virginia Mastellari

INFO: call - web -


The impostor is a familiar figure in fiction: from a layman masquerading as a doctor in Menander’s The Shield (4th cen. BCE) to Flaubert’s incompetent Dr. Bovary in 19th-century France. From Homer’s Odysseus, a king disguised as a lowly beggar, to Nabokov’s Charles Kinbote, a king disguised as a lowly scholar —or so it seems. At this conference we will explore the ways in which literary characters feign authority, expertise or social status. We will address in particular the role of the impostor figure and the significance of his or her deception in a literary context. Such a portrayal often tends to delegitimize the office or profession that “impostors” present themselves as occupying or practicing. At other times, it serves the opposite purpose ––to reinforce the status and value of an office or profession by dissociating it from incompetence and/or immorality. Moreover, a dissembler can also be represented in a positive light, as in the case of Odysseus, engaging in a deceit whose end justifies the means. What characterizes these various portrayals and why?

Furthermore, we are interested in understanding this theme within a text’s generic, as well as historical, context. Dissembling and/or incompetent characters are very commonly found in satire and comedy, but also in “serious” fiction such as epic and tragedy. This conference will examine the elements common to both serious and comic depictions of frauds, as well as the respects in which they differ. There is also much to be gleaned from contextualizing cases of quackery like Menander’s counterfeit doctor and Flaubert’s Dr. Bovary in these writers’ cultural milieux. What political or social implications does the impostor figure entail when we consider a text’s historical background? Do these representations, for example, respond to an anxiety or distrust of an office/status/profession because it is new or in a transitional phase? We aim to shed light on these and other aspects of such characterizations.

Possible topics include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Impostors of royalty, politicians, scientists, academics, doctors, artists, but also beggars, foreigners, people of lower social status, etc.

  • Incompetent figures of all varieties: snake-oil salesmen, quacks, poetasters, scholarly windbags, empty suits, etc.

  • Accusations of fraud and incompetence

  • The work of incompetent or masquerading characters

We welcome 20-minute papers in English or German from all disciplines concerned with the study of literature.

Please submit abstracts of no more than 350 words by August 20, 2017 to Further information can be found on our website:

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