Tales of Plagiarism and Atonement ; EDITORIAL & OPINION

By Taylor, D J | The Independent (London, England), December 7, 2006 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Tales of Plagiarism and Atonement ; EDITORIAL & OPINION

Taylor, D J, The Independent (London, England)

The row over literary plagiarism comes round as regularly as the Saturday night lottery draw or Jordan's breast enhancements. This month's innocent victim, or - depending on your point of view - devious expropriator is the Booker-winning novelist Ian McEwan, whose best-selling work Atonement (2002) is alleged to have borrowed considerably from the war-time diaries of the late Lucilla Andrews.

In his defence, McEwan has pointed out that Ms Andrews' book, No Time For Romance, is acknowledged in his foreword and that he never loses an opportunity, on speaking engagements, of drawing attention to its mer-inable its. If this is plagiarism, then it seems a rather self-conscious way of going about an art generally practised with subterfuge.

Clearly, though McEwan was piqued by this allegation of bad faith. Now, all of a sudden, the focus of l'affaire Andrews has spread a little wider with the announcement that several world- famous writers, primed by Dan Franklin, McEwan's editor at Random House, have joined together to support not only McEwan but the literary techniques of which Atonement makes use. By their own admission, such luminaries of the trade as Thomas Pynchon and Margaret Atwood routinely pillage documentary sources for the background material to their fiction - the get-out clause being that, like McEwan, they are careful to name names and supply acknowledgments.

All of which, as sensational literary disclosures go, is rather on the thin side. So Thomas Pyn-chon, whose current novel is set in late-19th and early-20th century America, actually does his research in library books and transfers the fruits of that research onto the printed page? Well, I never! One might as well accuse Dickens of plagiarising the mid-Victorian educational texts that he satirises at the beginning of Hard Times.

If this is plagiarism, then there are worse culprits. One might start by mentioning Judith Kelly, the hardback edition of whose scarifying memoir of a convent upbringing, Rock Me Gently, had to be withdrawn when it was discovered to have reproduced several passages from Hilary Mantel's novel Fludd more or less verbatim.

Ms Kelly's defence, stoutly set out in the appendices to her paperback, was that her borrowings were altogether unconscious. Blessed with a retentive memory, she merely sleepwalked her way into constructing what she imagined to be an original work. Almost immediately, though, there are distinctions to be drawn. McEwan was helping himself to an existing source in full view of his readers, Kelly, if you believe her explanation, was simply unaware of how her mental processes worked. One was a novelist making use of nonfiction; the other was a memoirist making use of novels.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Cite this article

Cited article

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Tales of Plagiarism and Atonement ; EDITORIAL & OPINION


Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?