Sunday, November 20, 2011
Apologies to anyone getting bored by the fact that this blog seems to have morphed into “Plagiarism ‘R’ Us,” but I wanted to summarize the progress of “The Raven’s Bride”/”The Very Young Mrs. Poe” affair. (AKA The Case of the Purloined Novel.)
As the old-timers around this blog may remember, the whole mess started back in February 2011, when I read Lenore Hart’s newly-published novel, “The Raven’s Bride.” At first, I liked it well enough—particularly compared to the excruciatingly insulting drivel that is the average Poe novel—but as I read further, I realized parts of the book seemed oddly reminiscent of another novel about Virginia Poe that I had read some years earlier, Cothburn O’Neal’s “The Very Young Mrs. Poe.” I exhumed my copy of O’Neal’s book, and the more I read, the more stunned I became. I realized I was looking at something very strange indeed. I shared my discovery at Goodreads and other book sites that were discussing Hart’s novel.
At this point, one of the weirdest developments in this very weird tale emerged. From out of nowhere, a group of newly-registered posters emerged at all these places, touting “Raven’s Bride” as the greatest thing to hit publishing since Gutenberg and attacking me as some sort of delusional crackpot for daring to say one word against this obvious masterpiece. These were obviously all personal friends of Hart’s, but seeing such hyperbolic enthusiasm being used in such an obviously unworthy cause was a bizarre experience. I had never before seen a third-rate scribbler with a claque.
These sycophantic trolls made the mistake of annoying me. Ironically, if they had only left me alone—or at least been a bit more civil—I probably would have let the matter drop. Instead, out of a sense of self-defense, I was compelled to write a blog post, “My Little Longfellow War,” where I detailed some of the more egregious “similarities” between the two books, just as proof that I was not making the whole thing up. (I later compiled more “similarities” here and here.)
My post was noticed by a couple of the book blogs, but this was not enough to bring the controversy to any sort of widespread attention. I wrote to St. Martin’s Press, Hart’s publisher, but they never replied. I admit that I was a bit puzzled by this apparent indifference to my discovery, as previous cases of plagiarism, such as the one involving the romance novelist Cassie Edwards, inspired immediate public outcry. However, not knowing what else to do, I just shrugged it off as part of the “ways of the world,” although I retained in the back of my mind a slight feeling of irritation that Hart had “gotten away with it”…and I also wondered how many other writers had pulled off the same stunt.
Then, the case of the plagiarized spy novel “Assassin of Secrets” hit the news, becoming a major scandal in the publishing industry. Just on a whim, I left comments at several online stories about “Assassin,” mentioning “Raven’s Bride” as an overlooked example of what was beginning to look like a plague of plagiarism.
Enter novelist Jeremy Duns. He had played a role in the “Assassin of Secrets” unmasking, and when he read my comments, he was sufficiently curious to look into the matter. He came across “My Little Longfellow War,” and thankfully for us all, he was inspired to put on his Superman cape and see that justice was finally done. As an established author, he had the credibility and influence that an unknown, eccentric, pseudonymous Poe blogger lacked.
He wrote about the matter on his own blog, as well as Twitter, giving his opinion that what Hart did was unquestionably literary thievery. He also contacted St. Martin’s, and spoke to others about Hart’s book, in the hope of finally making her actions publicly known. (There was also an utterly surreal confrontation with Hart on her Facebook page, where the lady demonstrated debating tactics that Orwell’s Ministry of Truth would have envied.) He’s become the hero of this sorry little story.
So…where do things stand, to date? Who knows? So far, St. Martin’s is ignoring Duns as completely as they ignored me. (I learned from Duns that at least one other person had also alerted the publishers about "Raven's Bride," to no avail.) Hart is still evidently hoping to continue to ride out the storm by attempting to befuddle us into ignoring the obvious. “Raven’s Bride” is still on the bookshelves, and I assume people are still buying it, unaware they are purchasing questionable goods. O’Neal’s novel is still under copyright, but unfortunately he died a few years ago. If he left any heirs to his literary estate, as far as I know they have yet to weigh in on the matter. “Vox populi” is our only hope of coming to any sort of resolution in this dispute. If you have read my posts on the issue, or if you have read these two novels for yourself, and agree that there is mischief afoot, all I can say is: Speak out. Spread the word. Let’s make ourselves so noisy and obnoxious (something that comes easily enough for yours truly) that St. Martin’s can no longer sweep the business under the rug. Without public exposure, I fear that cases like "The Raven's Bride" will become commonplace. (As an aside, for anyone who has the time and/or curiosity, Hart's previous novels might be worth investigating...)
If in the future I have any updates, I’ll add them to this post. In the meantime, we should all feel grateful to Jeremy Duns for taking the time from his own busy career to right what he sees as an obvious wrong. I’m sure that Edgar himself, wherever he is now, certainly does. The General of the original "Little Longfellow War” must be enjoying all this immensely.
Update 11/21: We've made the Guardian!
Update II: Archie Valparaiso compiled Hart's most egregious "similarities" to O'Neal's book into one document, including a few examples not included in my blog posts. (Thank you!)