On absolving plagiarism

In the 1930s in England, there were a bunch of authors, who wrote rather well. WH Auden, Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender. I can vouch for Auden, but I havent read more than one work by Isherwood or Spender. In 1951, Stephen Spender wrote his autobiography, “World within World”. In 1993, David Leavitt, a young American author, wrote a book called “While England Sleeps” which Spender claimed, closely derives in “Plot” from his autobiography. He filed a plagiarism suit on Leavitt, forcing him to change parts of his book (The plot itself?).

Leavitt argued in a piece called “Did I plagiarize his life” that plagiarism of a life is not an issue at all. Spender laughed at this idea in a subsequent piece, “My life is mine: It is not David Leavitt´s”

Now this same David Leavitt has gone and written a book on Srinivasa Ramanujan and Hardy in a book called The Indian Clerk. This time, before using Ramanujan´s life for his novel, he must have checked that neither Hardy nor Ramanujan were alive, nor had any living descendants.

I wonder if we scream at plagiarism only if it is committed by young Harvard undergraduates of Indian origin. Maybe we are so grateful to an American author for choosing an Indian topic, that we automatically bless him with glowing reviews, without digging a little deep into his history. Maybe Kaavya can write something fifteen years later and expect glowing reviews as well in America?

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