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Helen Darville, The Hand that Signed the Paper: Who is ‘Helen Demidenko’?

  • Sue Vice

Abstract

The Hand that Signed the Paper was published in Australia in 1994, a first novel by the twenty-four-year old Helen Darville.2 It was received with a mixture of great acclaim, to the extent of being awarded three Australian literary prizes, and also, from the very first, much critical opprobrium. Darville published The Hand under the pseudonym ‘Helen Demidenko’, a name whose Ukrainian origin appeared to match the focus on that country’s history in her book. ‘Helen Demidenko’ was no straightforward nom de plume, however, but part of an elaborate masquerade which extended far beyond the text itself. Helen Demidenko claimed that she was the first-generation offspring of a Ukrainian father and an Irish mother. Darville supported her masquerade by publishing articles about her alleged background and through her media pronouncements. Interestingly, it was the Ukrainian side of her invented genealogy, rather than the Irish, which attracted her. She developed an elaborate faux-Ukrainian persona by sporting long blonde hair, wearing peasant blouses, and relating stories about illiterate, working-class family members who doused her with vodka at her university graduation.3 The fictive Helen Demidenko had a Ukrainian father who became a taxi driver in Queensland, and an Irish mother who had entered domestic service at the age of twelve. It was not until 1995 that the journalist David Bentley publicly outed Helen Demidenko as Helen Darville.

Keywords

Taxi Driver Holocaust Denial Narrative Voice Free Indirect Discourse Holocaust Denier 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

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Notes

  1. 2.
    Helen Demidenko, The Hand that Signed the Paper (Sydney: Allen and Unwin 1994)Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    See ‘Writing after Winning’, Southerly, 55 (Spring 1995), 155–60. An embryonic version of Darville’s Demidenko persona preceded her novel, as she had enrolled in a course on Multiculturalism and literature at the University of Queensland under the name ‘Helen Demidenko-Darville’ (John Jost, Gianna Totaro and Christine Tyshing, eds, The Demidenko File (Ringwood, Victoria: Penguin Books Australia 1996), 153).Google Scholar
  3. 5.
    Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments: Memories of a Childhood 1939–1945, trans. Carol Brown Janeway (London: Picador, 1995)Google Scholar
  4. Stefan Maechler, The Wilkomirski Affair: a Study in Biographical Truth (New York: Schocken 2001)Google Scholar
  5. 6.
    Martin Gray, with Max Gallo, For Those I Loved, trans. Anthony White (Boston: Little, Brown, 1972)Google Scholar
  6. Bernard Holstein, Stolen Soul: a True Story of Courage and Survival (Crawley, WA: University of Western Australia Press 2004).Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    In fact, as F.H. (Tim) Mares points out, there was only one such trial, which took place in Adelaide in 1993. The defendant, Ivan Polyukhovich, was acquitted; ‘The Demidenko Affair: Who Writes, and Who Reads?’, in D.G.B. von Lutz, ed., Seeing and Saying: Self-Referentiality in British and American Literature (Frankfurt: Peter Lang 1998), 179.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Serge Liberman, ‘On Helen Demidenko’s The Hand that Signed the Paper’, Southerly, 55 (Spring 1995), 175–84Google Scholar
  9. Robert Manne, The Culture of Forgetting: Helen Demidenko and the Holocaust (Melbourne: Text Publishing 1996), 118.Google Scholar
  10. 10.
    Martin Amis, Time’s Arrow (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1991)Google Scholar
  11. 11.
    Caryl Emerson defines’ skaz’ as a mode of narration ‘that imitates the oral speech of an individualized narrator’; Mikhail Bakhtin, Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, trans. and ed. Caryl Emerson (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1984)Google Scholar
  12. 15.
    Maria Takolander and David McCooey, ‘Fakes, Literary Identity and Public Culture’, Journal of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, 3 (2004), 57–66Google Scholar
  13. 20.
    Adrian Mitchell, ‘After Demidenko: the Curling Papers’, Southerly, 56, 4 (1996-97), 110–26Google Scholar
  14. 25.
    See Bryan Cheyette, ‘The Uncertain Certainty of Schindler’s List’, on the inappropriate ‘Manichaean certainty of contemporary filmmakers and writers in relation to the Shoah’, in Yosefa Loshitzky, ed., Spielberg’s Holocaust: Critical Perspectives on’ schindler’s List’ (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press 1997)Google Scholar
  15. 27.
    Philippe Lejeune, On Autobiography, trans. Kathleen Leary (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1989), 58.Google Scholar
  16. 35.
    Maggie Nolan and Carrie Dawson, Introduction, ‘Who’s Who? Mapping Hoaxes and Imposture in Australian Literature’, special issue of Australian Literary Studies, 21, 3 (2004), v–xxGoogle Scholar
  17. 40.
    Sonia Mycak, ‘Demidenko/Darville: a Ukrainian-Australian Point of View’, Australian Literary Studies, 21, 3 (2004), 111–33Google Scholar
  18. 43.
    Müller’s most convincing example is from another piece of writing by Demidenko, the published speech ‘Writing after Winning’ (see n. 3), which concludes with the cod-Russian ‘Da Svidaniye’ — a ‘nonsense’ phrase whose wide currency Müller traces back to the 1964 James Bond film From Russia With Love (C. Amanda Müller, ‘So Called Fracts are Fraud: Language, Authenticity and Helen Demidenko’, in Heather Merle Benbow and Guido Ernst, eds, (Sub)Texts: New Perspectives on Literature and Culture (Melbourne: University of Melbourne Press 2000), 50.Google Scholar
  19. 46.
    Susanna Egan, ‘The Company She Keeps: Demidenko and the Problems of Imposture in Autobiography’, Australian Literary Studies, 21, 3 (2004), 14–27Google Scholar
  20. 49.
    Anatoli Kuznetsov, Babi Yar, trans. Jacob Guralsky (London: Sphere Books, 1969), 253.Google Scholar
  21. 51.
    Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (New York: Little, Brown, 1996).Google Scholar

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© Sue Vice 2007

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  • Sue Vice

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