Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Plagiarism: Setting the Record Straight

There are clear cut ethics when it comes to quoting other people verbatim and not attributing it to them. With regard to the current firestorm as to whether part of my preliminary review of Hilary Mantel's blockbuster novel WOLF HALL was plagiarized by someone the following day in their own blog, here is the paragraph from my preliminary review that I posted here on Saturday, October 10.

Winner of Britain's prestigious Man Booker prize, the novel is certainly my cuppa. For one thing, I love "voice-y" writing. And Mantel tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell, the self-made son of a violent Putney brewer and blacksmith, in the third person present tense, most often referring to the protagonist, one of history's more famous anti-heroes, as "he." It gives the novel a simultaneous sense of immediacy and distance, a seemingly oxymoronic balance that is hard to strike; yet Mantel finds that razor's edge and remains there for 532 pages. There are a few drawbacks to this tone, however. Since there are several scenes where more than one man is in the room, referring to Cromwell as "he" occasionally makes for confusion, and I have found myself needing to re-read passages to make sure I know who's talking. Knowing who's talking is exceptionally important in a world where one's political and religious opinions can be calculated by scant degrees.

And this is the original wording (it has since been revised) from Elizabeth Mahon's review, posted on the following day, Sunday, October 11, on her blog, http://www.scandalouswoman.blogspot.com/

Mantel tells the story of the rise of Thomas Cromwell (1485?-1540)the son of a violent Putney blacksmith, in the third person present tense, most often referring to the protagonist as "he." It gives the novel a simultaneous sense of immediacy and distance. The reader feels like they are right there in the room as the wheeling and dealing is going on. There are a few drawbacks to this, however. Since there are several scenes where there is more than one man in the room, referring to Cromwell as "he" makes it incredibly confusing at times, and I had to re-read sections to make sure I knew who was talking. It doesn't help that so many of the characters are named Thomas.

The similarities are far too close for coincidence. Not only have my words been used, but the opinions contained within them. Sure, people may share similar opinions of any given thing, but we would hope they would express those opinions in their own words.

I do have copies of both blog pages printed out so that I know what the original date-stamped text was in each case. She has since revised her text, which is in itself an admission of wrongdoing. I would accept her apology and a promise not to plagiarize in the future. In fact, if she did not troll my blogs, or my Facebook page, she would not be aware of what I wrote in either venue and could therefore never place herself in a position of copying my text into her own.

But here's a curious conundrum: if the party in question denies that she plagiarized my blog, how would she realize I had been referring to her? Because one of the odder things about this is that I do not mention her, or her blog, by name on my Facebook wall, nor did anyone else; and yet she knew I was referring to her, and had to post something about it on her blog, as though she were the wronged party.

And since she is liable to read this post, a chastened "oh, shit, yes I admit I copied from your blog; I have learned my lesson, and I would never dream of doing so again; now let's shake hands like ladies" apology would be accepted.


Elizabeth Kerri Mahon said...

Leslie, I only know that you accused me of plagiarism because someone who knows how history said that you mentioned a former friend plagiarized from you. Who else could it be but me, since we both recently wrote about WOLF HALL. I removed the passages that you felt were too similar to yours and I apologized for inadvertantly hurting you. I deliberately didn't use your name because I didn't think it was fair. I would never deliberately use another author's words without attributing them. If you had emailed privately to say that you thought I had used your words I would have willingly removed the passages and that would hae been the end of it.

Leslie Carroll said...

Thank you very much, Elizabeth. I hope you see now, with the passages listed one right above the other how very similar your wording was to mine; and how anyone could see that I might find it impossible to believe that you had not incorporated my words directly into your own review. If there was not such an astonishing similarity that did indeed seem deliberate from where I sit, I would not have called attention to it.

I am glad that you have revised your review. Now let's put the matter to bed and each get on with writing our own books. Life is too short and our paths cross too often. And if your comment is the equivalent of apologizng and holding out your hand, then mine is the equivalent of accepting that apology and shaking it.