Thursday, December 15, 2011

Plagiarism Carnival #1

“We repeat that ‘somebody is a thief,’ and the only doubt in our mind is about the sincerity of any one who shall say that somebody is not.”
-Edgar Allan Poe, “Plagiarism,” the Evening Mirror, February 17, 1845

I thought it was time to hold a (nearly) end-of-week wrap-up of the latest developments in the ever odd and contentious "Raven's Bride" saga. There have been times lately when I find myself picturing this:

Or perhaps this:Hieronymus Bosch HellIn any case, here's a sampling of the most recent online commentary on the controversy:

The Christian Science Monitor gives us Plagiarism's Greatest Hits, with a special guest appearance by "The Raven's Bride."

Archie Valparaiso and Jeremy Duns both examine one of the main arguments Lenore Hart has made in her defense, and find a real train wreck.

Ellis Shuman sees a resemblance between "The Raven's Bride" and an earlier plagiarism case.

A poster at an online discussion forum for writers explains it all: Spectral writing!

The Left Room looks at the attitude St. Martin's Press has taken and wonders, "Surely St Martin’s can’t really expect people to be satisfied with that, or for the whole thing to just… go away?"

Lloyd Shepherd offers some colorful musings on the Impenetrable Skin of the Plagiarist.

Dennis Johnson of Melville House, who has been following this story for some time now, weighs in with vivid style. He also contributes the more-painful-than-plagiarism detail that "Raven's Bride" has sold a whopping 548 copies to date, at least half of which, I'll wager, were bought by people who have heard of this dispute and wished to do their own forensic examination of the book. Ms. Hart should be thanking us for all this free publicity. (And while you're visiting MH, do check out their Adopt-a-Penguin program. Greatest book-promotion idea ever.)

Lit Reactor presents us with the Five Lame Excuses For Plagiarism. Our Lenore is #3 with a bullet.

And finally, the other day on Amazon Mr. Duns found himself in an increasingly strange showdown with a remarkably, ah, excitable friend and colleague of Hart's. At least one of "Red Radiator's" comments--the most vulgar of the lot--has already been deleted by Amazon (she should be grateful to them for that,) but you can still read this discussion thread.

Her responses to Duns' attempts to have a reasoned debate over the book are remarkably similar to the ones I encountered from Hart's myrmidons some months ago, when I first drew attention to "The Raven's Bride." For me, the strangest part of this story is not only that she has a pack of online Baghdad Bobs willing to fight her dismal personal battles for her, but that they all seem to read their lines from the same peculiar script. Ironically, their arguments on her behalf--largely characterized as they are by illogicality and personal attacks--do absolutely nothing to add to Hart's credibility. Indeed, they only serve to highlight the weakness of her case, and alienate spectators who might otherwise be neutral or even sympathetic. As the old saying goes, with "friends" like these, she has no need whatsoever for enemies.

Speaking of odd scripts, I shall end with a link to St. Martin's statement, such as it is, on the entire rumpus. What I find most interesting about their very brief remarks is that they carefully avoid saying that anyone at SMP has compared "The Raven's Bride," and "The Very Young Mrs. Poe," for themselves. They make it clear that they are basing their public belief in Hart's innocence entirely on this 18,000 word defense she wrote some months ago--a defense that Jeremy Duns succinctly described as "astonishing and utterly bonkers." In other words, they appear to be aiming for "plausible deniability," where, if need be, they can excuse themselves from any responsibility in the matter by saying they were guilty of nothing more than trusting their author. SMP appears to be tacitly admitting that they realize they cannot get away with saying they themselves read the two novels, and still found no alarming similarities between them.

Update 12/17: Over on Jeremy Duns' blog, Lawrence Block, whom Duns describes as "one of the great crime novelists of our age," offers his opinion on "The Raven's Bride," and St. Martin's stubborn efforts to acknowledge the obvious. "What this woman has done, clearly, is sit down with a book and rewrite it."

We shall see where things go from here. In the meantime, believe it or not, one of these days I will tear myself away from contemporary literary scandals and come up with a post that is actually about Edgar Allan Poe. Although, as I have said before, I think Edgar himself would have had the time of his life with this. Longfellow wasn't a patch on Lenore Hart.