Plagiarism, John Hughes’ The Dogs and the ethical responsibilities of the novelist

John Hughes’s novel The Pet dogs has been withdrawn from the longlist for the Miles Franklin Prize immediately after an investigation by The Guardian determined quite a few instances of plagiarism. Hughes’s lifting of passages from other guides has sparked furious discussion and literary detective operate – primarily on Twitter – prompting thoughts about the character of influences, literary pastiche and the attribution of resources in novels.

Hughes acknowledged he experienced unintentionally borrowed from the 2017 English translation of Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s The Unwomanly Facial area of War, immediately after The Guardian utilized doc comparison software program to the two publications, finding 58 similarities and some equivalent sentences.

Even more investigations by tutorial Emmett Stinson and writer and critic Shannon Burns exposed the clear copying of passages from textbooks such as Anna Karenina, All Peaceful on the Western Entrance, and The Fantastic Gatsby.

This week, in the meantime, poet Lachlan Brown has posted a sequence of Google files identifying similarities in between phrases and passages in The Dogs and individuals in Eric Newby’s Really like and War in the Apennines, W.B. Sebald’s The Emigrants, Amos Oz’s Judas, and Loren Eiseley’s The Invisible Island.

Australian National University tutorial Millicent Weber has also added to the increasing listing, highlighting similarities amongst phrases utilized by Hughes and phrases in operate by five other writers which include Saul Bellow and Nadezhda Mandel’shtam.

In response to the accusations of plagiarism, Hughes launched two statements. In the initially, he defined he had inadvertently included passages typed up from Alexievich’s reserve into transcripts from his grandparent’s stories of surviving the 2nd planet war, which show up fictionalised in The Canine. Hughes apologised to Alexievich and her translators “for using their words and phrases with out acknowledgement”.


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Last Thursday, nevertheless, following even further revelations, Hughes unveiled a next, more time statement, conveying why he was not a plagiarist. Relatively than a mea culpa, he drew on arguments very first proffered by the Passionate poets of the late 18th century about the impossibility of originality, and the value of drawing on other writers’ get the job done as section of the imaginative process.

“It is a rare author who doesn’t use the do the job of other writers in their personal work”, Hughes reported. He went on to cite modernist poet T.S. Eliot, who wrote in his 1920 essay assortment, The Sacred Wood:

Immature poets imitate mature poets steal poor poets deface what they choose, and very good poets make it into one thing greater, or at minimum anything various.

The Dogs is a novel, in aspect, claims Hughes, about secondhand tales: fragmented, contradictory memories of war. It is a intricate, multi-generational get the job done, narrated by the protagonist, Michael Shamanov, a scriptwriter, and centring on his partnership with his elderly mother, Anna, who is slowly and gradually dying in a nursing house. Shifting among previous and present, it traces the family’s traumatic history, discovering the pressure involving the want to keep in mind and the motivation to neglect.

The controversy all-around this novel, which was previously shortlisted for the New South Wales and the Victorian Premiers’ Literary Awards, echoes latest Australian plagiarism scandals, increasing tough thoughts about publishing and resourceful procedures. But this just one, to say the the very least, is primarily messy.

Cento defence

In his assertion of defence (revealed prior to this latest materials was posted on Twitter), Hughes contended he is “no thief”. He experienced “wanted the appropriated passages” – which, aside from these taken from Alexievich, he did not title – “to be seen and recognised as in a collage”.

This is a popular line of argument in plagiarism scandals, often understood as the “cento defence”. A cento is a poem comprised fully of traces published by other poets, an historic form of collage courting again to Homer and Virgil

The achievement of this sort is predicated on two vital variables: the transformation of the “stolen” performs into one thing new, intriguing or useful, and an explicit acknowledgement of the processes at do the job.

But if, as Hughes claims, The Dogs usually takes “ventriloquism as its theme”, intra-textually signalling to the reader that experimental video games this sort of as pastiche are at enjoy, why did this not form part of the contextual discussions about the novel?

(In fact Hughes’s publisher, Terri-ann White, explained on Friday she felt “affronted” on understanding, from his next assertion, that he preferred the appropriated passages to be recognised as in a collage.)

Hughes is right: there is a legit custom of bricolage and pastiche as artistic varieties but in carrying out so, even T.S. Eliot employed considerable citations.

Terri-ann White, went on to say:

I have published a lot of writers who use collage and bricolage and other methods to weaving in other voices and materials to their individual perform. All of them have acknowledged their resources within just the book, commonly in a listing of exactly in which these borrowings come from.

I should really have pushed John Hughes more difficult on his deficiency of the conventional manner of e-book acknowledgements exactly where any credits to other writers (with permissions or if not) […] are held. I regret that now, as you may expect. To have furnished a take note in this guide with attribution would have been the only way to take care of it.

The freedoms of fiction do not absolve the writer of the require to reference when lifting passages of get the job done from others.




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Conflicting statements

Australia has a extensive record of literary scandals. Just one latest plagiarism circumstance involved Newcastle poet Andrew Slattery, whose prize-successful poem Ransom, released in 2013, was discovered to be comprised of the operate of 50 other poets, this kind of as Charles Simic and Robert Bly. Slattery utilized the “cento defence”, boasting this poem was component of a “cynical experiment.” He acknowledged, however, that it ought to “have involved footnotes”.

In 2020, having said that, when poet Judith Beveridge was exposed by poetry sleuth Ira Lightman to have utilized phrases borrowed from other poets in a selection of her poems, including Incense, At Dusk, and Earning Fragrance, her confession and swift apology ensured there was comparatively little outrage.

Interestingly, in his reserve of autobiographical essays The Notion of Residence, Hughes describes an early (but deserted) doctoral investigate venture on Samuel Taylor Coleridge. An English poet and literary critic, Coleridge – one particular of the founders of the English Passionate motion – was one of literature’s most notorious plagiarists.

John Hughes.
Upswell Publishing

Hughes’s situation is designed specially messy and strange by the conflicting statements available by the creator: not only is The Puppies ostensibly an example of pastiche, as noted, but apparently also the final result of untidy observe-keeping, and an unintended aspect result of how “influence […] plays these a vital role in the creative process”.

As it continues to enjoy out on Twitter, with but much more supply texts getting discovered, the scandal has concentrated focus on the obligations of the creator, the complexities of producing fiction, and the ethics of creative apply.