Monday, December 12, 2011

Naomi Ragen and Edgar Allan Poe

The Jerusalem District Court this week ruled that author Naomi Ragen plagiarized the work of writer Sarah Shapiro. The court found that Ragen, in her 1992 novel Sotah, uplifted sections from Shapiro’s Growing With My Children: A Jewish Mother’s Diary, published in 1990. The case had many similarities to recent charges of plagiarism against the author of a novel about Edgar Allan Poe’s child bride.

According to media reports, the Jerusalem court determined that Ragen’s actions constituted a premeditated act. Ragen, the court noted, as reported in Haaretz, “testified that work written by the plaintiff served as 'raw materials' for her, and that her method of writing is based on drawing from a 'well' and 'imagination' in ways that include the works of others, including those rendered by the plaintiff."

Shapiro, who like Ragen is a former American Orthodox Jew who now lives in Jerusalem, wrote about the plagiarism case on Cross-Currents in 2007. She told how she met with Ragen shortly after the publication of her book, which was a daily journal of her parenting experience during the years 1986 to 1989. “During that visit, she related to me warmly and encouraged me to continue writing,” Shapiro wrote.

It was in 1994 that Shapiro took her first look at Ragen’s novel. “In just moments, to my shock, I started finding words that I recognized. There – in the mouths of two fictional characters, a haredi husband and wife – was the conversation I myself had had in the early 1980s with a certain Yerushalmi rabbi.”

A full comparison of the very similar ideas, motives and texts presented in the two books can be found here. This list was prepared by Shapiro’s lawyers as part of the case presented to the Jerusalem court. Shapiro was seeking NIS 1 million in damages and the court ruled that the two sides must negotiate to reach a settlement.

So, how does all this connect to Edgar Allan Poe? The Ragen case sounds very similar to the Raven case, in which charges of plagiarism have been made about a novel depicting Poe’s child bride.

Allegations have been made charging that Lenore Hart, author of the novel The Raven’s Bride, lifted material from the book The Very Young Mrs. Poe, written in 1956 by Cothburn O’Neal. Both books deal with the marriage of Poe to Virginia Clemm when she was thirteen years old.

According to British author Jeremy Duns, “Hart stole scenes and passages that O'Neal invented for his novel; i.e. they never happened." On his blog, Duns offers many examples of texts that appeared almost word for word in both novels, with only slight variations.

St. Martin's Press last week defended its author, stating that as “Hart explained in her response, of course two novels about the same historical figure necessarily reliant on the same limited historical record will have similarities. We have reviewed that response and remain satisfied with Ms. Hart's explanation."

What would Edgar Allan Poe say about the Ragen case and the Raven case?

As quoted on the World of Edgar Allan Poe blog:
Is it altogether impossible that a critic be instigated to the exposure of a plagiarism, or still better, of plagiarism generally wherever he meets it, by a strictly honorable and even charitable motive?"
Edgar Allan Poe, "Mr. Longfellow and Other Plagiarists" (1850)
Only this, and nothing more.

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