THE SECRET LIVES OF TREBITSCH LINCOLN by Bernard Wasserstein

THE SECRET LIVES OF TREBITSCH LINCOLN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The story of a maniacal, supreme egoist and false messiah who thought himself the cleverest man in the world and is now long-forgotten. As a self-justifying, self-glorifying scoundrel, Trebitsch Lincoln may--among his many roles--essentially be seen as a con man whose final dupe was himself; that is, he came to believe his own bill of goods. Lincoln was born Ignacz Trebitsch in 1879 at Paks, a small town south of Budapest. Failing as an actor, young Ignacz stole a valuable gold watch and fled to England. A creature of bottomless charm and little head for love, he converted from Judaism to Christianity so that he could work in an East End mission and strive for the conversion of Jews in London. Polylingual, he could not concentrate on any profession, and so began to live off his wits. He fell in with a millionaire cocoamaker who was also a temperance enthusiast and who hired Trebitsch to research a book about poverty. An expense account allowed Trebitsch to live high for three years and gave him a taste for rich living. Through a twist of circumstance, he then became a Member of Parliament at age 30, finally went broke and resigned, entered into fraud, and fled the country under the pretense of being a spy for Britain who had wormed his way into German military intelligence. He also fled to America, committed more fraud, and began his glorification by publishing sensational articles about himself in the American press, stories that spread to Europe and limned him as a master spy. His incredible history as a trickster came to a head when he joined the Theosophists and found a cosmic spirituality equal to his vision of himself. Later, he renounced Theosophy and spent his last decades as a severely devoted Tibetan Buddhist whose placid monastery life (he was, of course, the abbot) was split open by the Sino-Japanese War. When the Dalai Lama died, Trebitsch claimed to be his reincarnation and successor. Absorbing study of a vanished rogue-mayfly whose buzz was heard around the world.

Pub Date: May 18th, 1988
Publisher: Yale Univ. Press