Across the Pond

Michelle Styles was kind enough to forward me a link to the continuing saga of the McEwan/Andrews literary scandal in the form of another article from the woman who broke the story to begin with. Julia Langdon takes note of the stable of writers with fine reputations who spring to the defense of McEwan, and points out that she herself never accused him of plagiarizing Andrews’ work.

She accused him of a lack of courtesy in acknowledging her work in the first place as an influence and (ahem) source of his own. Now she’s being blasted for having said anything with the kind of zeal that can come only from literary types and those who love to smack down the snitch.

I have to wonder, though, if her citations of Google searches for his acknowledgment to Andrews’ work are correct, all of which seem to arrive after he was called on the lack thereof, why didn’t he own up to his use of her work as a source? And why the words and the fury directed at Ms. Langdon?

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  1. 1

    My feminist radar goes off anytime a woman writer is accused of being “hysterical”, as Miss Langdon claims was the case with the writers who rose to defend McEwan against her article.

    I found her piece to be reasonable and thoughtful.  If the comments she claims were made by the writers blasting her are accurately quoted, then she comes off looking even better than she did before this mess hit the fan.

  2. 2
    azteclady says:

    Five years between “Atonement” being published and Ms Andrews death—I say there was more than enough time to arrange for an introduction.

  3. 3
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Sigh. I find all of this very depressing. I mean, McEwan is well-known and respected. His work really is exceptional. Why all this bother? Why couldn’t he just, I don’t know, own up to his own shit?? Until now, I have loved recommending Atonement and his other novels to friends who enjoy fantastic fiction, but now I feel like I’ll have to add a caveat to any suggestion.

  4. 4
    Nora Roberts says:

    A great deal of the time the one who’s been plagiarized—and the ones who support the victim—take the shots, get the heat. I’ve never understood it.

    I was called mean, heartless, unforgiving, insensitive and bitchy by some readers, some writers. I’m sure hysterical made it in there, too.

  5. 5
    Robin says:

    I assume people got the idea that Langdon was crying plagiarism from the title of the original news article:  “Ian McEwan accused of stealing ideas from romance novelist”—the word “stealing” pretty much says it all, I think. Now, if Langdon didn’t endorse or write that title, she has a beef with her newspaper, as well as those who believe she sent out the clarion call to brand McEwan a plagiarist.

    As for McEwan acknowledging Andrews, he did, as Langdon states in her second article, in the afterword to his book, and, as she states in her first article, in a BBC interview well before this all came to light.  Langdon’s question in her second piece—a legtimate one, IMO—is why McEwan didn’t think to contact Andrews.  Personally, I don’t think that indicates stealing or anything else nefarious on his part, but certainly Langdon shouldn’t be crucified herself for asking the question.

    As wrong as I think attacks on Langdon for breaking the story are, her defense that she was simply talking about “manners” is complicated both by the article’s title and by the first paragraph:  “When the bestselling author Lucilla Andrews was admitted to hospital in Edinburgh last August at the onset of what was to be her final illness, she was deprived not only of the chance of being honoured in person with a lifetime achievement award by the Romantic Novelists’ Association, but also of the opportunity of using the platform to deliver a very personal J’accuse.” 

    Whether arranged by Langdon or her editors, pairing of “accusation” with “stealing” doesn’t really suggest an etiquette lesson. Langdon may have felt the need to stand up for Andrews, who could no longer deliver her message, but whatever her motivation (and it’s clear Langdon didn’t approve of McEwan’s treatment of Andrews, which probably helped fuel the fire), the combination of Langdon’s clear POV and the title focused on an “accus[ation] of stealing” created the impression that Langdon was the accuser and stealing the “crime.”

    Should Langdon be vilified for what she did?  Absolutely not. Newspapers want to make money, and they do so through sensational headlines and stories.  This particular story has real implications, though, for Andrews and McEwan, and, it seems, for Langdon, who is now involved in all of this, as well.

    Actually, the most interesting part of Langdon’s second article, IMO, is the stuff in the second half, where various people talk about the whole question of what constitutes plagiarism in the writing of original fiction.  Maybe if that had been included in her first piece, it would have appeared more definitively that Langdon was really interested in the questions the McEwan/Andrews situation brought up (like Gladwell’s piece) rather than of seeming its own sort of “J’accuse” to McEwan for “stealing.”

    Personally, I believe that Langdon was focused on far more than “manners” from the beginning, so I think her defense is somewhat disigenuous on that point.  Her second piece, IMO, ironically feels more objectively written than her first, which, IMO, was deliberately provocative, in part because Langdon was clearly put out with McEwan for not doing more to acknowledge Andrews.  But certainly, if McEwan did engage in any wrongdoing, that’s not Langdon’s fault, nor is her desire to report on it.

  6. 6
    Helen M says:

    Something else from across the pond: From page 33 of the current (8 December – 21 Dec 2006) issue of Private Eye (which, by the way, has the funniest cover EVAH).

    The Guardian got itself in a pickle with its handling of the story of Ian McEwan’s borrowings in his Booker-nominated novel Atonement from Lucilla Andrews’ account of wartime nursing in her autobiography, No Time for Romance.
    Baffled readers encountered a front page story in which the headline revealed the novelist was responding to the charge of copying from another book – but they were never told the precise accusation or shown the parallel passages. The accusing article (in the Mail on Sunday) was haughtily identifed only as appearing in “a Sunday newspaper”, and Andrews and her book went unnamed until the closing paragraphs of a piece that was largely a leisurely essay on McEwan’s research methods.
    Why the kid-glove treatment? Shurely (sic: common Eye spelling of surely) not because McEwan is married to Anna McAfee, until recently editor of the Grauniad’s (sic: Eye nickname for the Guardian) “Review” section?

    Huh, I did think that the Guardian was a little, well, vague in it’s coverage.

  7. 7
    Danielle says:

    Tangential to Robin’s point, but:
    if Langdon didn’t endorse or write that title

    Journalists writing for large papers almost never have any say about headlines. And they tend to be sensationalistic compared to articles if for no other reason than the need to paraphrase, use short words, etc.

  8. 8
    Anonymosity says:

    They drill it in to our heads in elementary school that you don’t copy the other kid’s work. As we grow, we learn in high school that you are supposed to cite any information you derive from other sources.

    The idea of giving credit where it’s due isn’t an alien one. It’s not as if this should come as a big shock to people. Usually, it’s a given that plagiarism, in the world of published authors, is a pretty big deal. “Oh, crap. I copied quite a few vignettes, original stories, plot points, characters, and even some direct quotes from this bo- Hey! Laguna Beach is on!”

    I understand authors using other works to get the “feel” of an era. If you’re going to write about Vietnam, you read “The Things They Carried” and other books written about ‘Nam so that you understand the atmosphere. If you’re writing a book about Ancient Egypt, you’re going to check a couple of books out of the library for study, too.

    McEwan overstepped those boundaries by a mile. The article makes it clear that he doesn’t just use some factual details to make the story seem real, he lifts entire scenarios and even copies some of Andrews’ writing word for word!

    Although it’s a more extreme example, I’m going to make it anyway. If I tried to get “Larry Blotter and the Chamber of Egrets” published, I’d be sent off with my tail between my legs. It’s obvious that he borrowed far more than he should have, and the credit he did give was hidden in the very back of his book. Now that they’re making a movie starring an A list celebrity, the need to credit Andrews is even greater.

    He should have contacted her first, no question at all. At the very LEAST he could have written a sizeable chunk about Andrews in the Acknowledgements, but now he and his publishing house are chewing Langdon’s face off for pointing it out?

    Ridiculous.

  9. 9
    Kassiana says:

    “If I tried to get “Larry Blotter and the Chamber of Egrets” published, I’d be sent off with my tail between my legs.”
    —That sounds like a parody to me. Parodies are permitted and encouraged under copyright law. Parody artists don’t have to get the permission of the original copyright holder to make a parody (but some, like Weird Al, are nice enough to ask anyway).

    The McEwan stealing wasn’t for parodic purposes, from what I’ve heard, so he should get the civil law equivalent of the “chair.”

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