Inspiration or infringement: The plagiarist in court
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- Copyright and Piracy: An Interdisciplinary Critique, 2010, pp. 3 - 16
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© Cambridge University Press 2010. In Maurice Shadbolt's novel, The House of Strife, the protagonist Ferdinand Wildblood finds himself fleeing London for Blackguard Beach in New Zealand, in the year 1840. Wildblood's crime was plagiarism and the destination is more than ironic. As a hack writer, Wildblood had been asked to edit a manuscript by a man called James Dinwiddie which tells a blood-curdling tale of murder, mayhem, battle and bravery, lust and lasciviousness in the far-flung colony of New Zealand. Finding the writing style impenetrable and the storyline highly improbable, Wildblood rewrites the work, under the pseudonym of Henry Youngman. The story is a runaway success and Youngman becomes the toast of London. But Dinwiddie catches up with Wildblood and, in fear for his life, Wildblood jumps aboard the first ship for New Zealand. While in New Zealand, Wildblood becomes caught up in the Maori wars initiated by the young Maori chief, John, or Hone, Heke. After numerous hair-raising adventures, Wildblood returns to spend his twilight years in London. But at the point of finishing his first-hand, original, account of what will become known as the ‘Flagstaff Wars’, he is tracked down in his gentleman's club by Dinwiddie and meets his mysterious, uncertain, fate at the hands of his nemesis. Wildblood has perpetrated a literary ‘crime’ against the ‘original author’, for which he pays dearly. In fiction, then, a rough justice is meted out against literary offenders. In real life too, plagiarists may be punished by institutional sanctions or social stigma.
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