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Monday, May 10, 2010

Plagiarism Controversy

A Charles Jacobs of Indianapolis, having read Hardy's novel The Trumpet-Major shortly after publication, sent a letter to the New York periodical The Critic accusing Hardy of plagiarizing a section of chapter 23 from an American book Georgia Scenes by A.B. Longstreet, a former Emory University President who died in 1870.  The accusation was reprinted in The Academy, a London periodical, a month later in February 1882.  Two other similar charges caused Hardy to assert he was "doomed to squabbles this year." though he did not issue a formal condemnation of the charge.  The resmblance of the two passages is undeniable, with exact phrases being used, such as "'Tention the whole" and "you are all a crooking in."

In the 1895 edition of The Trumpet-Major Hardy included the following in his preface:

The drilling scene of the local militia received some additions from an account given in so grave a work as Gifford’s ‘History of the Wars of the French Revolution’ (London, 1817). But on reference to the History I find I was mistaken in supposing the account to be advanced as authentic, or to refer to rural England. However, it does in a large degree accord with the local traditions of such scenes that I have heard recounted, times without number, and the system of drill was tested by reference to the Army Regulations of 1801, and other military handbooks.

However, The Critic was not satisfied with this explanation and Hardy was forced to respond to that periodical directly:

My publishers have just sent me a cutting from The Critic of May 9, which contains a paragraph on a resemblance between the drilling scene in The Trumopet-Major and a scene in an American book published in 1840.  I know nothing of the latter work....Some of the details of this particular militia drill...were suggested by a similar description in Gifford's History of the War with Napoleon, published in London in 1817--a description which I understood to refer to the English peasantry.  This book and the Army Regulations...were the only printed matter I used.

The Critic accepted Hardy's letter and made the assumption that both works used the same reference.  However, further literary investigation has revealed that Gifford and Longstreet both copied accounts in works of their own from an American work by Oliver Prince, so that Longstreet and Hardy ultimately did not use the same source.

"A Connecticut Yankee in King Alfred's Country" by Carl J. Weber in Colophon 1.4 (Spring 1936), 525-535.
Thomas Hardy: A Biography Revisted (2004) by Michael Millgate.

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