Wednesday, April 26, 2006


Everyone and their niece, having whistled in admiration or died of envy of the young, strong, pretty-nosed Kaavya Vishwanathan, have also probably heard of her having plagiarised twenty-nine - once more, with feeling, twenty-nine - passages from another chick-lit novel of dubious quality. For those living under a rock (or who don't read the Times of India): NRI Kaavya Vishwanathan, at only age seventeen, sold a novel called 'How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild and Got A Life' for a staggering $500K advance, and was poised to live happily, or at least richly and famously, for her proverbial fifteen minutes after. Then, this week, she got caught out for having copied small but several bits of her book from a writer called Megan McCafferty.

The whole story. Note how bitchy free and fair reporting @ the Crimson can be.

Language Log carries very strong opinions against and for KV's 'seeped into my subconscious' defense.

For what it's worth, I don't think she has any defence against plagiarism. Applying my limited experience to a considerably larger demographic, I can only say that writers who are serious about their work would back off speedily, or at least think very hard before stealing a plot or a significant idea, but that it takes a lot more self-control for them to avoid evoking a mood or a description - something small and well-turned out - by hurriedly dropping in a string of words that you've known and loved from another book. Especially books you've read and re-read in your tender youth, which by all means is where Kaavya V is still situated. Presumably everyone reading this knows that I refer not to stock phrases and allusions, but those things like the transucent skin of the tragically young and dying, and so on.

(Case in point: my writing still bubbles up here and there with some of the more flowery phrases of L M Montgomery, writer of the regressive but hopelessly charming Anne of Green Gables novels. Why yes, I am leaving town forever now that I have made this admission.)

I do, however, think that she is in no position to weather the growing storm of opinion against her. Harvard is threateningly murmuring that they don't have checks in place against non-academic plagiarism. Well, duh. I don't understand why, if at all, such a discussion needs to take place. After all, she's there to get a degree, one that, hopefully, was never going to be awarded to her on the strength of Opal alone. What is going to happen now? Will she be ridiculed by peers? Will her professors double-google all her submissions? Maybe. And those are valid responses. Does she deserve to be hauled over the coals for what she did? Yeah, well, in the public domain, accountability is everybody's friend. I'm still sorry for her. She kicked up a storm of good publicity because she was a young, female Ivy Leaguer, and the shit is going to hit the fan for the same reason.

(When I say I'm sorry, I mean it. I signify a total absence of schadenfreude. I am, of course, quite petty, but it seems wrong to envy a 19-year-old who has just been so dumb. I'll save it to rail against people like Jonathan Safran Foer.)

I blogged, in the past, about James Frey and his fearsome cheat-and-lie-to-the-reading-public skillz.

current musix: france galle - laisse tomber les filles. this song is eating my brain. it's short, sulky, sour, and reminiscent of the days when, one imagines, people ran around naked on the golden beaches of la belle france. oh, wait.


  1. Plagiarism seems to be all the rage these days. This is the second post today and something like the seventh over the past couple of weeks that I've seen. I keep meaning to weigh in on the controversy over in the Peer Writing Crew blog (i.e. the blog for my job as a writing tutor) but somehow I've been too busy not plagiarizing my way to some final reports...

  2. You're right, it's hard not to feel a little sorry.

    My own writing? I don't know, but sometimes things fall out of my mouth that, five seconds later, I can attribute to Stephen Fry. Lol.

  3. furius12:07 pm

    I have severe doubts that words, sentence structures, and sequence of events can "seep into the subconsciousness" to such a degree that all original character and plot can be entirely absent from memory. She liked the passages, which's all very well, she wanted to use them somehow, which's again all very good, but there is still a line between influence and plagiarism that she crossed as a writer who intends to be a published author (I don't think even allows this, if they could catch it, and there's no money in fanfics at all).

    Evoking the same atmosphere and mood is very different from using the same wording. Effectively passing off another person's words (few as they may be) as her own in the middle of her own work has an element of self-treachery in it...A very gross dishonesty once perceived by others I think.

    The case would've been far more arguable, say, if she was so influenced that her book seemed another version of it while remaining her own. There's a certain audacity in that, and better precedents. Poets usually start writing from the poets they admire anyways.

    Little things..render the enterprise of changing few words here and there...petty. And at worst, she's a plagiaris with questional morals, at best, juvenile.

  4. Great post. We can all be inspired by things we read or experienced as a kid. And not a few movies pay open hommage to the greats. However the best artists take what they have experienced and reinterpret it - from T S Eliot to Tarantinto. Sadly, it seems that this chick blatantly stole - the sentence structure etc is just too close. Pathetic. And the fact the publishing house is essentially condoning it shows that they put money before integrity. So what if the passages will be re-written for the next edition - that book is still on sale in the UK and earning phat cash. I only hope the plagiarised author sues, and in the UK, where she is more likely to get a big pay out.

  5. I saw Ms. Vishwanathan on the Today Show, where the hideously untalented Katie Couric attempted to rake her over the coals a la Oprah & That Other Guy.

    I admired her poise, if nothing else, as the kid didn't veer from her defense no matter how many times Katie tried to worm it out of her.

    The examples from the two books that the show highlighted were damning evidence, though, and I suspect the cold hard truth of printed words (yay! words!) will be the proverbial nail coffin.

    And hooray for anyone who can unconsciously spout Stephen Fry. The best I can come up with is a smattering of Trollope crossed with a soupcon of Wodehouse. Grr.

  6. Anonymous11:54 am

    Damn .. just when i thought i found rich smart(ish) tambrahm girl ... she goes and does this! ... woe is me ...

    also .. france gall rules! Guess where i heard her songs ...?