This is the text of the registered letter sent to the US and UK CEOs of Simon and Schuster on January 3, 2014. It is followed by their reply three months later and our response to that reply.
Chief Executive and Publisher
Simon & Schuster UK and International)
Simon & Schuster UK Ltd.
1st Floor, 222 Grays Inn Road
London, WC1X 8HB
Carolyn K. Reidy
President and Chief Executive Officer,
Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
1230 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY
January 3, 2014
Dear Mr. Chapman & Ms. Reidy:
With all respect I would like you to consider whether you really should have published Sarah Hartley's book Mrs. P's Journey, dealing with my sister Phyllis Pearsall, back in 2001. I am providing you and the general public with a great deal of material discussing this issue on a special website. If after consulting this website you were to reach the conclusion that the publication of the Hartley book was in fact unwarranted, I would like you to announce your decision publicly, withdraw your support for this book, and remove it from your list.
As you can probably tell from my signature, I am Phyllis' half-brother, her closest surviving blood relative who knew her intimately over several decades, someone who certainly ought to have been consulted during the planning phases of this book, though if I had been consulted, I doubt if the book would ever have been written, much less published.
In my briefest account of this matter (which I first wrote responding to would-be producers of a musical about my sister, accessible by clicking here, I summed up the Hartley book's message as follows:
"Brave Feminist Hero Outwits Oppressive Male Father and Becomes Sole Creator of Glorious A-Z Atlas"
The problem of course is that not a single word of this summary is true. Phyllis may have associated with feminists in England, but she never acted as one in her relations with our father, on the contrary she gave in to him on virtually everything. Papa was certainly difficult for all of us (including one sister whose existence Hartley never discovered), but he was not truly oppressive, on the contrary he was extremely generous to all of us and probably most generous of all to Phyllis.
Nor was Phyllis in any sense the creator of the A-Z Atlas of London, much less its sole creator. Peter Barber, the British Library's curator of maps, has already voiced some skepticism about this, as you can discover by accessing this page on my site, as have the British journalist Peter Watts & the latest piece on wikipedia. Barber has characterized Phyllis' boast of walking all the streets of London as "complete rubbish." His opinion matters, since it provides independent, cartographical confirmation of what I know from direct experience to be the truth.
Please tell me, Ms. Reidy and Mr. Chapman: how could you have possibly published a book whose very first page (Preface, page ix) contained the following sentence?
"The trickiest aspect of writing about someone who, by her own admission, would elaborate on the truth and indeed, came from a family that would do so liberally, was to record the truth."
Did your editors not see that this sentence casts a blanket, all-inclusive slur on every member of our family, including our father, our brother, and even myself, as though we all suffered from a hereditary disease? How did this sentence (or the book it introduced) ever make it through your editorial process? Do you really intend to continue your support for a book that makes this statement?
But things become far worse on the very next page (Preface, page x). Here the author of your under-researched, under-edited, and grotesquely over-written book states the following:
"I did not set out to prove or disprove her legendary journey or her traumatic childhood. When I have come across conflicting research, I have included both. I have written the truth according to Phyllis. For I am convinced that every story, every memory and every encounter that she described, she believed to be true. Of course, when starting from such a shaky foundation, I have not felt uncomfortable interweaving elements of fiction into fact...If there is a scene, or a word, or a character, you believe to be too fantastical, it is likely they are real."
In other words your author freely admits to falsifying my sister's life story wherever she saw fit, and this in addition to the many lies, distortions, and convenient omissions already present in my sister's own account. Because of my close relationship to Phyllis, I am in an excellent position to point out the falsehoods in both Hartley's and my sister's narratives and even to spell outor at the very least suggestwhy both authors found it necessary to prevaricate.
All of this I have tried to do on my site, allowing the British public to look more closely into the realities of the lives led by Phyllis, my father, and other family members than either the Hartley book or my sister's own have permitted. My overall title for this website is:
My Sister Phyllis Pearsall Gross
And the Meaning of Truth
You can reach this site at:
The text of this letter can also be found on this site. As already noted, I am not alone in suggesting the books by Hartley and my sister contain many falsehoods. In its most recent edition wikipedia refers to Hartley's book as "semi-fictionalised," though I believe this is still a charitable understatement. I note that one year after you published this book, it was republished by Pocket Books, one of your romance and "Chick Lit" imprints. With all respect, did you and your author in fact conceive, commission, create, publish, publicize, and market this book as a Biography or as "Chick Lit?" Or as both? I believe you owe the British public an answer to this question, just as you owe all readers everywhere an explanation of why you permitted "Chick Lit" to merge so closely with alleged biography (including three possible cases of product placement in Chapter 21).
I will not offer an apology for having taken so long to bring this matter to your attention, since it may not be truly warranted. I live in New York and only discovered the existence of the Hartley book in 2006, the same year other members of our transatlantic family began to seek me out after a lapse of many years, partly because they were concerned by your book. It was a few more years before my niece and nephew sent me copies of Phyllis' own writings, and these took some time for me to read as I tried to identify her many lies, distortions, and omissions (leaving out nearly half of our family, for one) and determine how they influenced Hartley's version.
All of this took prolonged detective work over a considerable period, and in any case cleaning up after fictional books about our family has scarcely been my first concern. I shouldn't be held responsible for correcting your mistakes in the slightest, though you as the publishers certainly ought to have been responsible for not committing them. This has really been an enormous nuisance for me, taking up far too much of my time, since both the Hartley book and those by my sister contain so many errors. But I am also 82 years old, and it has occurred to me that if I do not leave a record of what Papa and Phyllis were really like, no one will ever know.
This has also been a literary task of some complexity, comparable in its way to separating what Greek tragedy was really like from the prejudices of Victorian scholars or perhaps trying to determine the original text of a play by Beaumont and Fletcher. I mention both examples for a reason, since careful readers of my main website will be able to confirm that I have indeed undertaken both of these tasks over the years and can with some justification describe myself as a writer, an editor, and a dramaturg.
That website has been online since 2000, a year before your book about my sister was published, though for a decade earlier many of my articles and papers were already on the Internet and could be discovered by searching for a name well known to your author: "Alexander Gross." With a bit of effort your author could also have found traces of the eight years, starting in 1963, when I resided in London and played an active role in its cultural and political life both as a literary advisor to the RSC and as a writer and for a few months even as an editor for IT (International Times). My main website, comprising a summary & sampling of my writings over the past five decades, can be found at:
A second website, devoted to my history of the Sixties in the UK, the US, & Germany, is accessible at:
If you visit these sites, I believe you will conclude that I am just as concerned with maintaining high standards of accuracy as Simon and Schuster normally isand should have been when you were first presented with the book about Phyllis. I believe it would also be appropriate for you to begin the process of reclassifying this book as "Prose Fiction" rather than "Biography" at the British Library and the Library of Congress. This letter is already too long, and in any case you can find ample documentation and discussion of the points I have made by accessing my websites. I hope you will take these points seriously when you come to consider this matter.
Here is the reply we received from Simon and Schuster two and a half months later:
From: Jones, Mike
Sent: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 6:50 AM
Subject: Mrs P's Journey
Dear Mr Gross
Many thanks for your letter which was forwarded to me by our UK and US CEOs. Unfortunately the editor of the book is no longer at the company, which is why it has taken a while to investigate the background.
I can assure you that having corresponded with the author that the book was written in good faith with the co-operation of both the Geographer's Map Company and members of Phyllis Pearsall's family and friends. Much research was based on Phyllis's own records.
From the outset the author realised that Phyllis had her own perception of the truth which was why we made it clear in the introduction that it was the 'story about' rather than 'a biography of' Phyllis Pearsall.
The author stands by all of the sources, contacts and materials that she used. Indeed, Richard Barber at the British Library received a mention in the acknowledgements for the time he gave the author.
The book has been in print for 13 years and has never previously received criticism. Your website is interesting and you are entitled to voice your opinion there.
Very best wishes
Publishing Director, Non-fiction
Simon & Schuster UK
222 Grays Inn Road
London WC1X 8HB
0207 316 1982
And here is our response to that message as of April 2, 1014:
Thanks for your reply, Mr Jones! With the best will in the world the members of our family believe you can do considerably better than you have so far. May we with all respect kindly request you to reread the pages on the website and prepare a more appropriate response to the issues they raise?
Almost nothing in your message indicates that you have done this so far, and we truly expect better of you. The clear give-away that you have not until now taken this matter seriously is your reference to "Richard Barber" at the British Library and your supposition that he supports the book about my sister. His name is in fact Peter Barber, and even the slightest perusal of the website ought to have revealed to you that he holds a very different opinion. And this is just one slight instance of your inattention to the contents of the web site thus far.
Nor does it help your cause in the slightest to maintain that the book was merely a "story about" my sister and not a true biography. In that case why did you permit the book to be received, reviewed, and classified by major national libraries as a biography? And why do you not now petition these libraries to have its classification changed to "Prose Fiction?" And since you have now admitted that it was not truly a biography, why don't you go the rest of the way and concede that the book was from the start conceived and published as "Chick Lit" to appeal to the "Chick Lit" audience, complete with "product placements," paid advertisements aimed at this audience? And if any of this is the case, as you have admitted it may be, why are you contacting us at all in your capacity as "Publishing Director, Non-fiction" for your company?
In any case, the paperback's front cover makes it abundantly clear that the book is not merely a "story about" my sister but rather "The remarkable story of the woman who created the A-Z map." And this of course is complete fiction.
With all respect may I suggest that you and your colleagues reread the web pages, rethink this entire matter, and come up with a more credible explanation? American scholars may soon be contacting you to determine the precise circumstances behind this book, which as of now at least to some eyes tend to point in the direction of a major literary hoax.
(Alexander Gross, Jr.)
(Copies of this message are also being directed to its original addressees, S&S-UK CEO Ian Chapman and S&S-US CEO Carolyn K. Reidy through the contact function of your main UK & US websites.)
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