Plagiarism High and Low
OSCAR WILDE to James McNeill Whistler: “I wish I’d said that, Jimmy.” Whistler: “Don’t worry, Oscar, you will.” As flippancies go, this is one you are not likely to hear any time soon. Offering in print, as your own, words another person has said or published is “something you never, never do,” declares James Fallows in the Atlantic Monthly. “Every line of work needs clear rules. If you’re a soldier, you don’t desert. If you’re a writer, you don’t steal anyone’s prose. It should be the one [cause for] automatic firing.” If passions seem to be running high lately on the subject of plagiarism, the cause is not far to seek, what with the fracas surrounding Stephen Am- brose, Doris Kearns Goodwin, and Hannah Crafts-three recent and much-publicized cases that the media have treated extensively. But to any- one who has ever looked into the centuries-long debate about literary imitation, appropriation, and originality, Fallows’s “never, never” cannot be the end but only the beginning of wisdom. Things are more interesting, and less clear-cut, than that.
About the Author
Thomas L. Jeffers is the editor of The Norman Podhoretz Reader, to be published by the Free Press this month.