Thursday, March 31, 2011

Edith Nesbit a thief?

Edith Nesbit is one of my favorite children's book authors. Now, another author, Ada J. Graves, wrote a book about "railway children" some 9 years before Edith did, and the similarities of the story line are there...

Edith Nesbit accused of plagiarism

Quite possible. It is also possible that both ladies were inspired by the same story, perhaps a news article. Anyway, what I find incredibly amusing is that both ladies have been dead a good while, and this "theft" happened over 100 years ago. Nevertheless, there are people taking sides in this story.
"There was a huge sweep of railways spreading across Britain from the 1830s and it had a profound effect on the whole country, so it was inevitable that there would be children's fiction about railways, and it's a classic trope of children's adventure that the children do something crucial that saves the day. In a book about railways, that's likely to be something to do with saving a train, and red has always been the colour of danger. I don't think it's enough of a coincidence to be certain."
- Kate Agnew
 Ok... so are there more stories like this around? 

I don't think it makes Edith Nesbit look bad. She published more than 40 books, when mrs. Graves published two, and not even her own grandchild had read her books until she was over 60. Edith Nesbit's books have influenced many of my favorite authors:
"She created an innovative body of work that combined realistic, contemporary children in real-world settings with magical objects and adventures and sometimes travel to fantastic worlds. In doing so, she was a direct or indirect influence on many subsequent writers, including P. L. Travers (author of Mary Poppins), Edward Eager, Diana Wynne Jones and J. K. Rowling. C. S. Lewis wrote of her influence on his Narnia  series and mentions the Bastable children in The Magician's Nephew. Michael Moorcock  would go on to write a series of steampunk novels with an adult Oswald Bastable (of The Treasure Seekers) as the lead character."

and the Railway Children was not even her main work... I started reading Edith Nesbit after having read C.S.Lewis' biography.

It's only her Railway Children that has been translated into Finnish... interestingly enough. I think I need to do that. :-)

Let's say she read Ada's book and stole some interesting storylines. She has fame enough for two Victorian writers :-D Let's republish Ada's book and let us decide for ourselves, huh?


Hart Johnson said...

I think there are ideas that seep into the collective conscious and get taken up by multiple people... a mad increase in rail... more news about it, perhaps a trip... so easy for similar stories to be inspired completely independently.

It IS funny people are taking this up now. I mean in what way could it MATTER? I suppose bringing new eyes to both stories is a benefit... maybe that is the goal.

Helena said...

You have a sensible solution to the problem. But as you point out, this story is about a century old, so book royalties aren't an issue. And the collective unconscious thing that Hart mentions can explain why even writers like J.K. Rowling have been sued (unsuccessfully) for plagiarism. Similar good stories must pop into multiple writers' minds all the time.