David Bergen on plagiarism and leaning on other writers
The Giller Prize-winning author of The Time in Between
looks at the fine line between admiration and mimickry.
In Living to tell the Tale, the first volume of his autobiography, Gabriel Garcia Marquez tells of his first novella, Leaf Storm, which he prematurely handed to Gustava Ibarra, his editor. After Ibarra read it, he sat Marquez down and said, 'This is the myth of Antigone.' At first Marquez did not understand until Ibarra took down the book by Sophocles and read to Marquez. Marquez writes:
'The dramatic situation in my novel was in essence the same as Antigone's. I had not noticed their emotional affinities until then. I felt my soul stirred by happiness and disillusionment. That night I read the work again, with a strange mixture of pride at having coincided in good faith with so great a writer and sorrow at the public embarrassment of plagiarism. After a dark week of crisis I decided to make some fundamental changes that would rescue my good faith, still not realizing the superhuman vanity of modifying a book of mine so that it would not resemble one by Sophocles. At last, resigned, I felt I had the moral right to use a sentence of his as a reverential epigraph, which I did.'
I love this image of a young Marquez suffering a 'dark week of crisis' because he unknowingly borrowed from a work that had been written 2,500 years earlier. And then making substantial changes, and finally claiming his 'moral right' by inserting an epigraph. I love too this idea of coinciding "in good faith with so great a writer."