Monday, December 11, 2006

There's Plagiarism, and there's PLAGIARISM

I found this photo on the Net, and borrowed it. Does that count as PLAGIARISM?

Relax, Ian, They've Seen Worse

Right now Ian McEwan, with the help of literary luminaries like Zadie Smith, John Updike, even the ultra-reclusive Thomas Pynchon, is fending off accusations of plagiarism. In McEwan's case, the controversy surrounds a handful of sentences and some vivid terms which McEwan "borrowed" from a wartime diarist, for his own wartime novel Atonement. A strong element in McEwan's defence is that he openly acknowledged the borrowings from the start.

But even if McEwan hadn't behaved so correctly, he shouldn't be worried. Because the literary world can, it seems, forgive much more outrageous literary thefts.

Take the case of Alan Kent.

Kent is a Cornish writer, born in St Austell, who has long published poetry and criticism from a Cornish perspective, along with novels tinged with a distinctly Celtic melancholy. As such he has become a key figure in he Cornish literary scene.

Or so he was until 1995, when it was discovered that Kent had lifted, bodily, poems by two Scottish Gaelic writers and published them as his own in a collection of Cornish verse. The only changes Kent had made to the poems were to 'modify them and place them in a Cornish context'. Oh, yes, and to add his own name to them.

When the copying was uncovered there was a minor scandal, and Kent was reprimanded.

You'd think that would be enough, but then he came back for more. In 1997 it was discovered that Kent had stolen entire passages from the Booker short listed novel of Orkney writer George MacKay Brown, merely changing a few place-names to make them sound Cornish: then he'd cut and pasted them into his own novel published two years later.

Kent's wife said at the time that her husband was suffering from type 1 diabetes, hence the confusion. Kent duly fled the scene.

And now? The other day Professor Alan Kent was on local BBC radio, chirping away about Cornish literature and his own latest volumes. Yes, the literary world can forgive a lot worse than Ian McEwan's "crimes".

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