HOW WRITERS WILL STEAL YOUR LIFE AND USE IT FOR FICTION A BRIEF HISTORY OF PLAGIARIZING IDENTITY, FROM LEO TOLSTOY TO SALMAN RUSHDIE

plagiarismPlagiarism in many instances should be shunned and punished; at the same time, it has been at the heart of cultural life for centuries, bringing much good and much pleasure. The great plagiarists have committed no crime. And there is the “added value” argument, which many find persuasive. But there is a further question to raise, and in many ways it is the most interesting.

The word plagiarism comes from the Latin for kidnapping, literally “going out with a net.” It was used first in something like its modern sense in AD 1 by the Roman poet Martial. A plagiarius was, in his view, someone who stole someone else’s slave or enslaved a free person. In epigram No. 32, he applies the term metaphorically to another poet, whom he accuses of having claimed authorship of verses Martial had written. Later, in epigram No. 53, he uses not plagiarius but the word for thief (fur) to apply to someone whom we would call a plagiarist. As Martial was to put it, a plagiarist doesn’t just steal a person’s body; he kidnaps his person, her inner life.

This develops into an altogether different literary theft. For both the memoirist and the novelist are inevitably inspired by the people they have met, and will make use of them to suit their purposes. This may not strictly be plagiarism, but it is similar territory. “Writing is an act of thievery,” admits Khalid Hosseini, author of the autobiographical novel The Kite Runner. “You adapt experiences and anecdotes for your own purposes.” John Cheever put it more gently: “Fiction is a force of memory improperly understood.”

 

Both the memoirist and the novelist are inevitably inspired by the people they have met, and will make use of them to suit their purposes.

 

It can also cut close to nonfiction, and the lines of demarcation become blurred. In a recent essay, Alexander Stille, himself a memoirist, has written: “Within this kind of work there is inherent conflict. The characters in a memoir are not real people, but inevitably feed on the blood of the living like vampires. And so it is entirely natural for those real people to defend their identities as if they were fighting for their lives.”

Such “kidnappings” can cause as much pain as, if not more than, someone whose work is plagiarized may feel. During the mid-1960s, Michael Holroyd was researching his two-volume biography of Lytton Strachey when he took time out to complete a short novel, his first and, as it turned out, his only. “It would be some fifty thousand words long and cover the happenings of a family over twenty-four hours,” wrote Holroyd many years later. The book was accepted for publication by Heinemann in Britain and by Holt, Rinehart in the United States. “During the long wait for publication I had given the typescript to my father to read—and he was horrified. For him the book was not a novel at all but a hostile caricature of the family. ‘You go out of your way to avoid any redeeming features in anyone’s characters,’ he wrote. . . . ‘The formula is evident. Take the weakest side of each character—the skeleton in every cupboard—& magnify these out of proportion so as they appear to become the whole and not only part of the picture. Please understand the whole family are together in their dislike of this distorted picture you have drawn of them.’”

The family had not in fact read the book, but Holroyd’s father’s reaction was enough. In a special introduction to the novel, finally reissued in 2014 after years out of print, Holroyd explains how he in turn felt. “I was nonplussed by this awful reaction. I had borrowed certain traits, gestures, tricks of speech and various mannerisms from members of the family, but had fixed them on to characters with very different careers and past lives.”

Whatever his son’s motives, Holroyd the father was determined to stop publication. There may have been breaches of trust, but none of copyright, and certainly no plagiarism of an actionable kind, so instead he threatened to sue for libel. In Britain, where libel laws are strict, Heinemann was concerned, but Holroyd was aghast. “The intensity of his grief and anger . . . shocked me. So I withdrew the novel and returned my advance.” Holt, however, having taken legal advice, went ahead, and the book was published in the United States in 1969. “No copies reached my family and I was able to help my father, who was sliding towards bankruptcy, with my advance.”

Something very different happened over the publication of Salman Rushdie’s novel Midnight’s Children. When his father first read the book, in 1980, he was convinced that Ahmed Sinai, the novel’s drunken patriarch, was a satirical portrait based on him. He was furious. Salman Rushdie did not deny that the character was a fictionalized version of his parent—“In my young, pissed-off way,” he later explained, “I responded that I’d left all the nasty stuff out”—but he objected to his father’s wounded reaction, which he thought betrayed a crude understanding of how novels worked. “My father had studied literature at Cambridge so I expected him to have a sophisticated response to the book.” But in Rushdie’s case he never rescinded his “kidnapping.”

This making use of—even making off with—someone else’s life seems to me to be what a plagiarius does. But it is, simply, what writers do. In an endnote essay in The New York Times Book Review the novelist and playwright Roger Rosenblatt put this well:

For the wolf of a writer, the family is a crowd of sitting ducks. There they assemble at the Thanksgiving table, poor dears—blithering uncles, drugged-out siblings, warring couples—posing for a painting, though they do not know it.

The objects of a writer’s scrutiny may be entirely blameless, but the writer will infuse his family with whatever characteristics suit his purpose, because “defects make for better reading than virtues.”

Literature is littered with stories of how novelists have taken the lives of people they have met and used them for their fictions. The family is just the nearest ammunition to hand. Friends and enemies, lovers and ex-lovers, all are grist to the artist’s mill. The celebrated society hostess Lady Ottoline Morrell (1873-1938) was the inspiration for Mrs. Bidlake in Aldous Huxley’s Point Counter Point, for Hermione Roddice in D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, for Lady Caroline Bury in Graham Greene’s It’s a Battlefield, and for Lady Sybilline Quarrell in Alan Bennett’s Forty Years On. (In the first two instances at least, she felt betrayed by authors she regarded as friends.) Zelda Fitzgerald complained of her husband that in The Beautiful and Damned she could “recognize a portion of an old diary of mine which mysteriously disappeared shortly after my marriage, and also scraps of letters which sound vaguely familiar. Mr. Fitzgerald seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.” A novelist I edited wrote of a main character whose father had murdered her mother—a situation taken from real life by the novelist from the pillow talk of a onetime lover, whose own family had experienced exactly that tragedy. Only when the book was in proof did he show it to her, and she was outraged. Chastened, he rewrote the novel. Many writers do not behave as well—or, if they do, not as late.

In 1872 a neighbor of Tolstoy’s cast off his mistress, Anna Pirogova. The railroad had recently been extended into the province, and in her despair Anna rushed down to the tracks and threw herself under a train. The corpse was taken to a nearby engine shed, and Tolstoy, hearing of the tragedy, rode over to view the remains, even though he had never known the woman. We do not object when we learn that he used Anna Pirogova as the inspiration for Anna Karenina, or when an otherwise anonymous Madame Delphine Delamare, after numerous adulteries as the wife of an inattentive country doctor, in 1850 poisons herself and becomes the model for Emma Bovary. When, in The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann, for his portrait of Mynheer Peeperkorn, borrowed some of the features of Gerhart Hauptmann, at that time Germany’s foremost dramatist, a scandal ensued, and Mann was forced to appeal to Hauptmann directly: “I have sinned against you. I was in need, was led into temptation, and yielded to it. The need was artistic.” And there the matter rested. These are just three examples, when in truth hardly any imaginative writer doesn’t borrow from people they know. Even so, when the instances come closer to home, we may justifiably feel that our person has been kidnapped.*

Most writers acknowledge the destructive, even self-destructive element in their chosen profession. “As a younger man,” admitted Peter Carey, “if anything was worth stealing I would steal it.” Whether it is in fiction or nonfiction, most writers take that “right” for granted. “The novelist destroys the house of his life and uses its stones to build the house of his novel,” Milan Kundera wrote in Art of the Novel, not as apology but as a description of the way things are.

 

Most writers acknowledge the destructive, even
self-destructive element in their chosen profession.

 

John Updike confessed that fiction is “a dirty business.” His art had “a shabby side. . . . The artist who works in words and anecdotes, images and facts wants to share with us nothing less than his digested life.” In his book Self-Consciousness, he exempts himself from “normal intra-familial courtesy,” adding that “the nearer and dearer they are the more mercilessly they are served up.” Interviewed for a 1982 TV documentary, he bluntly states: “My duty as a writer is to make the best record I can of life as I understand it, and that duty takes precedence for me over all these other considerations.” After Updike and his first wife told their children they planned to divorce, he composed a story about the episode (“Separating”) a mere two weeks later, a “way of hiding,” he put it in a 1968 interview, “of too instantly transforming pain into honey.”

The Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard, whose six-part memoir/novel My Struggle is extremely revealing about his close relatives, has said that the question of whether a writer ought to use his family as material is like asking: Would you save the cat or the Rembrandt from a burning house? His answer is that we must save the cat, choosing life over art—but he portrays his own family in intimate, hurtful detail.

Graham Greene has famously written about the “ice chip in the heart” that allows novelists to plagiarize the lives of friends—an image he took from Hans Anderson’s The Snow Queen, in which a sliver of glass from a shattered magic mirror lodges in the heart of a young boy, Kai. For Greene, that chip of ice is essential equipment. Nearly all writers have to ask whether they possess such a splinter, and to what degree.

 

* This leaves plenty of room for error. Around 1999, a woman librarian brought a case against Joe Klein and Random House since she believed that she was the model for a character who has an affair with the Clintonesque presidential candidate in Klein’s Primary Colors and was thus defamed. It was said that the woman cited as evidence the description of her character’s shapely legs in the novel being an exact description of her own. In fact, Klein had used as inspiration the legs of his literary agent, Kathy Robbins (my wife). When Kathy was required to make a formal deposition, she made sure she wore a short skirt and high heels. The claim duly failed, a New York court ruling that a depiction “must be so closely akin” to the real person claiming to be defamed that “a reader of the book, knowing the real person, would have no difficulty linking the two.”

In an extreme case, David Graham Phillips, early hailed by H. L. Mencken as “the leading American novelist” of his day, was fatally shot in 1911 by a man overcome by rage at what he believed was the depiction of his family in one of Phillips’s fictions. The author, on his way to the hospital, said that he had no knowledge of his assailant or his family. See Peter Duffy, “Character Assassination,” The New York Times Book Review, January 16, 2011, p. 23.

By Richard Cohen, Via Random House

Need a Proofreader? We Are Here For You!

Editing and Proofreading Agency is exactly what you need in order to make your papers, speeches, official writing look and sound professional and accurate.

TO FUTURE CLIENTS:

To my knowledge the market is not really packed with proofreaders. And, yet, it is craving for ones. Recently I have had the opportunity to proofread some conference papers. It was a demanding work, for sure, as you need to be focused on both the content and the language if you wish to be professional. I can only imagine how demanding it might be for those of you who are struggling with the English, whatever the occasion you are writing for may be., Not only do you have to be content itself. There is the language: the grammar, the spelling, let alone the reading or speaking about the paper. Especially when the conferences,meetings, seminars are in question.Should I mention the presentations? Better not. I am sure how burdening it can be, especially if you are burdened by other duties and commitments.

WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS FOR BOTH A CLIENT AND A PROOFREADER!

This revelation helped me to come up with an idea to create an “Online Editing and Proofreading Agency”, hoping that the clients who need to have their papers proofread and are pressed with time, can hire a professional proofreader to do the job for them. On the other hand the proofreader benefits not just financially but professionally as well, by getting a chance to expand on the ESP vocabulary, improving and keep developing their language skills, as well.What  is more, learn the skill of proofreading. I will not take up this opportunity to write about this professional aspect. I am just inviting to visit out site and get to know us.

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CONFERENCES OR MARATHONS? THAT IS THE QUESTION!

images (3)You may be surprised by the title and ask yourselves what the conferences have to do with marathons. Well, they have so much in common.

Throughout my career I have had the opportunity to attend  various teachers’ professionals gatherings: trainings, panels, courses, conferences and seminars. And regardless of the content, which inevitably varies and is more or less interesting (it depends on personal preferences and inclinations in my opinion), they function on the same principal. Running from one presentation to another,spending hours in the morning and afternoons, listening to numerous speeches, watching presentations, listening to discussions, asking and answering questions. Ok. don’t let me be unfair, there are a few breaks in between the sessions and even a lunch break. Yet, when you come to think about it, the breaks are 4 or 5 time shorter than the rest of the programme.

I know, the teams that organise professional events of this sort would say: “It’s the budget”. and they are probably right.Without any doubt I am sure that they are trying to squeeze everything in within the budget they have at disposal.Yet, I am convinced that those professional events need re-organizing so that the visitors, presenters and guests could have some more free time to put themselves together .and be fresh for each session, workshop, roundtable or panel discussion. After all,the quantity does not ensure the quality. The number of participants from worldwide, the number of presentation does not ensure the success of any professional event. Less is more, as the saying goes. On the other hand, most of the people are eager to meet their colleagues. With large number of people who meet once or even never again, the connections and networks between colleagues can hardly be established. You can get connected with a few of them but not all of them. So, what is the point of organizing megalomania and omnipotent events? None.

Why?

Is it really necessary to answer this question? Ok, let me put it this way. Imagine how would you feel if you were running a marathon. If you were well trained and a pro, you will reach the finish. Still, the question remains: How would you feel? Dead tired, I am positive. Now, imagine those who are not professionals and still want to participate in the marathon. They will finish it after, more or less, 500m, I am sure.

The same goes with the conferences. Therefore, no wonder that some of the sessions, workshops or panel discussions are not attended in large number of participants, missing this way some, maybe, great presentations or speakers. Not to mention meeting them in person for informal chit-chat. People just need some rest from an enormous amount of information they receive (in case they are listening 😀 ) Isn’t that a pitty, putting it all together? And as for the rules of presenting and the presentation timing or contents of the presentation. Well, that is currently a different issue that I might right about some other time.

Besides those, imagine all the participants who need travel to other countries even continents, change flights, try to find their own feet in a totally new country where they need to look constantly into the map to find their hotel that they had to book in advance and pay for it. It means, dear participants, arrive on the scene two days ahead.in order to get used to the new environment, get to know the surrounding and the city, ask the passers-by for the directions ( if you are lucky enough to come across the locals who speak English decently well, with all due respect) so that you could get to the conference on time. Did I leave something out? If I did, do add. Oh, yes, all those costs are on you, unless you have a sponsor.

What can be done?

Dear hard-working teams, I know that you are doing your best to make everything function perfectly, professionally and worldly, yet consider these suggestions as well.

Cut down on the number of presentations that run around the same topic. Choose the most interesting ones and the one that focus more on practice than theory. We can all read the theory,that’s what the papers are for.

Instead of working on increasing the number of participants, that will, more or less talk about and run around the same issues, give the participants more free time to socialize and get to know each other better and in person. That is the best way to get to know somebody better, not only professionally but personally as well. Thus the firmer connections will be established. That seems to be a forgotten rule. It is a common knowledge that we are living in the age of technology and that most of the communication is run via different social network, yet I am a firm believer that personal contact is more effective. You can look people in the eyes, watch their body language, be more relaxed in communications, get even better feedback without saying a word. We already are professionals yet we are humans as well, who need to wind down, be ourselves and present as such.

Also,instead of giving people instructions how to reach to your town, organise a team that  will meet the participants at the bus stations or airports, so that they can truly feel welcomed into your images (4)country. Let them feel at home from the moment they step onto your country’s ground, After all, empathy is half the success if not more.

To finish off, these are the ideas that I have come up with upon reflecting on the numerous events I have attended, as I have already mentioned earlier.In case you have any additional suggestions considering conference marathons, feel free to add.

ESP CONFERENCE

PPT CONFERENCE PRESENTATION NADA RADENKOVIC The conference being over just yesterday, it’s time to reflect upon the last three days of intensive events and presentations.Lots of thing were going on, lots of people, lots of topics, lots of information, lots of food and fun lots of lots……….Time to take time for myself. Write soon! Cheeeeerrss!

Sleep well, B.B. King

R.I.P

James Rovira

I was lucky enough to see B.B. King in Morristown, NJ in the early 2000s, sometime before 2004. Yes, it was a great show, and he was a great performer and guitarist, but what impressed me the most at the time was that whatever he’d been all his life (I just don’t know), he’d become a gentleman in all of the best senses of the word. He seemed to me like someone to emulate. We lost a truly great person today. Sleep well, B.B. King.

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What Will Thy Verse Be?- A Collection of Poems

Lord Byron (

Lord Byron
(1788-1824)

I am proud to announce that “Bora Stankovic’ – Grammar School is about to publish a collection of poems, written by 16 years old students. The collection is a result of a lecture on Lord Byron’s poem WHEN WE TWO PARTED. Currently you have the opportunity to see the first draft of this tiny collection, As soon as it gets its visual design and is published (including a video in which the students recite their own poem) the complete version will be found on this website..  Please, for the time being, disregard any imperfections and I am kindly asking you to focus on the poems themselves.The whole lesson plan will be published on this website as soon as the collection is completed and published and the video recorded.

Thank you

Nada Radenkovic

WHEN WE TWO PARTED

WHEN WE TWO PARTED

Downloadable draft of the collection

WHAT WILL THY VERSE BE

Can we define scientifically a “Desired Classroom Discipline” ? ( If yes, how? )

download (3)Just a few hours ago, while surfing through the LinkedIn, I came across, in one of the groups, the above typed headline. I found it an eye-catching and interesting so I decided to open the page and hopefully read the post as it is one of the topics that bothers most of the teachers, if not all of them. To my surprise, as I opened it I found a blank page. To make the things worse I posted I comment indicating laughter. Soon after I got a reply: ” Is that your answer?……..hahhahahah”. Only then did I realize that the question was posted by a young teacher, who has, in my opinion recently started to work as a teacher and found himself in a classroom full of students lacking basic manners and behavior. I tried to apologize trying to explain that I wasn’t laughing at him but at myself. To be precise, since I was a child I have always had the need to open up things and look what’s inside. My mother would ask me: “Why did you do that?” and I would answer:”To see what’s inside.”Apparently, the character trait stayed with me for the next 45 years. As a consequence, I paid the cost of it by getting the feedback that resonated with desperation and disappointment. So there is no excuse for what I had done.

The question was posted twice, 27 days ago. To my astonishment, the young man did not get a single answer. So, although it’s 2.45 am, and it’s raining, with the fresh air coming through my window, feeling the coldness of the night, and exchanging the thoughts with Thiago Veigga , I decided to give the issue some thought and do some research.

When I look back into the past when I was a student, I can’t recall that anyone ever taught us anything about ‘the scientific definition of the desired classroom discipline’. When I started my career, I asked the colleagues the same question. The only answer I got was: “It all depends on you!” End of story. Of course I didn’t understand what they meant by it. All I know is that is took me about 17 years of experience to learn how to develop the skill of managing the classroom, keeping a nice and relaxed atmosphere, still maintaining the position of a teacher first, then a partner and finally a friend. So, my dear young man, Mahdi Najar, again accept my apology and take my advice:

1. Think of what kind of relationship and atmosphere you want to create in the classroom.

2. Try to engage the students as much as you can through a variety of activities. Diana Larsen Freeman is a good source for teaching techniques and principles. Also, there are loads of websites and blogs where you can find wonderful teaching material.

3. Try to avoid any conflicting situations with the students or parents. If you find yourself in some of them, you should better turn to professionals or even school principal for help. The system worldwide is supporting the students rather than protecting the teacher. So, be careful.

4. And finally, keep in mind that you are also a human being primarily and then a teacher, yet do your best to be a pro.

As for the scientific definitions of the classroom management, here are some links that you can refer to for starters:

1. The Classroom Management according to wikipedia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Classroom_management

2. Effective Classroom management

http://www.adprima.com/managing.htm

3. Ten Tips for Classroom Management

http://www.edutopia.org/classroom-management-resource-guide

So, that would be all from me for now. If anybody else has something to add and help the young man, please do so. We need to help each other and be humane.

Nada Radenkovic