Monday, 19 December 2011

Lenore Hart falls in the river again

Lenore Hart and her publisher, St Martin’s Press, claim that any "similarities" between her novel The Raven’s Bride and Cothburn O’Neal’s The Very Young Mrs. Poe can be put down to both writers having drawn on the "same limited historical record".

Fine. In that case, given that in their respective novels O’Neal and Hart describe in practically identical terms how their protagonist, Virginia "Sissy" Poe née Clemm, once sat alone by the fire and thought about her relationship with her husband, likening it to the alternately broadening and narrowing course of a river and its alternately calm and turbulent waters,* one of these two statements must necessarily be true:

(A) Virginia, unbeknownst to Poe scholars the world over, left a secret diary to which the two novelists have enjoyed privileged access. Both included the same fireside river-simile scene in their novels because it is a documented historical event. They know what she was thinking because she wrote it in this diary.

(B) Lenore Hart is a brazen plagiarist. Her publisher and the institutions where she teaches are — by their continued inaction — tacitly condoning her deceit, her lies and her intellectual theft.

So, St Martin’s Press, the Norman Mailer Center/Writers Colony and Wilkes University, which is it? A or B?

It’s your call. And your reputation. (Hers, as you must surely know by now, is a lost cause.)

Update - 20 December 2011
The Norman Mailer Center announced today - i.e. within 48 hours of this mess being drawn to their attention - that they have asked Lenore Hart to take leave of absence from their next workshop, where she had been scheduled to teach. St Martin's Press, meanwhile, seven months on, continue with their la-la-la-can't-hear-you strategy. This isn't going to end well.
* See the latest inventory of plagiarised passages found (No. 25).


Undine said...

Her book starts to develop a peculiar fascination, doesn't it?

I've been meaning to revisit John May's 2004 novel "Poe & Fanny"--another book Hart admitted reading--but I so hated May's book I honestly haven't been able to bring myself to do so. (It's really one of those novels that requires mind-bleach afterwards.) In particular, there's a scene where the Poes attend one of Anne Lynch's "salons" that I'd like to compare to the similar scene in "Raven's Bride," just out of curiosity. In any case, Hart is well and truly caught even without bringing another book into the picture.

I wonder if SMP realizes yet how they've painted themselves into a corner with that inane press release of theirs?

Jeremy Duns said...

Hold on. So John May's novel Poe & Fanny was published in 2004 by an imprint of Algonquin. Good reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. I think we need to look at that a lot more closely. What sources are there for the Poes attending Anne Lynch's parties and, more importantly, *the dialogue spoken at them*? Here are conversations between Fanny Osgood and Virginia Poe at a party given by Anne Lynch from both novels:

From Poe & Fanny by John May, 2004, page 76:

'As Anne led Edgar away for more introductions, Fanny took Virginia's arm and guided her out of the dining room and to the sofa in front of the fireplace.
"Edgar has told me much about you," Fanny said as they sat down, "but he neglected to say how pretty you are."
By Virginia's reaction it was evident that Fanny's compliment provided much-needed support. Modest, her frailty apparent, she seemed nervous, almost frightened. She was much younger than Fanny expected, and simply dressed in stark contrast to most of the women present. Naturally she wore no corset, her condition prohibiting it, nor did she wear crinolines, and she seemed exceedingly self-conscious about her appearance.'

From The Raven's Bride by Lenore Hart, 2011, pages 303-304:
'We passed into Anne's small, cluttered study, where Fanny Osgood rose to grasp my gloved hand. "Oh, I'm so glad you came!" She drew me down beside her onto a settee. "You know, your husband never adequately conveyed how young and beautiful you are, Mrs. Poe."
I looked at her narrowly, but she seemed sincere. She wore a low-cut garnet satin frock so well supported with crinolines her skirts engulfed is both like an exotic flesh-eating plant. Whereas my good but old black dress, refurbished with velvet edging by Muddy, had been several times mended. No fashionable petticoats - we could not afford them. No corset to cinch my waist as waspish as Fanny's, for such constriction would stop my breath and might literally kill me.'

What was Lenore Hart's source for this scene? Clearly, Hart can't have totally imagined it, as not only did all the characters in the scene exist in real life, but a previous novel from 2004 has Fanny Osgood, at a party held by the same woman, on a sofa/settee, meeting Virgina Poe, remarking that she is betetr looking than mentioned by her husband, and Virginia Poe is dressed in plainer clothing, because she is poorer, and without a corset because she has tuberculosis and this would 'literally' kill her (really, St Martin's editors? Literally?). Hart also admitted in her interview with Bookslut to having read this novel, although like O'Neal's she claims that she only did so after she had sent 'a corrected draft' to her editor. When I search for '"Anne Lynch" Poe corset' on Google Books, I get no non-fiction results at all, only May's novel. Same with several variations of the words in this scene of Hart's. So what was her hisorical source for this scene? Or did she, as she did with O'Neal's novel, simply grab scenes she liked and change some of the words in them. Plagiarism is not simply verbatim copying of language. It is also taking other people's ideas without acknowledgment or citatio. Wilkes University, where Lenore Hart teaches, quotes the sixth edition of the Little, Brown Handbook in its guidelines for plagiarism: it is "the presentation of someone else's ideas or words as your own".

I'll repost this to St Martin's Press's Facebook page now, but judging from their reactions so far, I can't imagine it will do very much. I think we need to try to contact John May.

John Mahy said...

I haven't read Ms. Hart's book. The scene cited above is fiction. To my recollection no historical account exists of Virginia Poe and Fanny Osgood's first meeting, but it has been some time since I did my research. It may be that there is some record of Virginia attending one of Anne Lynch's soirees, but the dialog came out of my own imagination.

John May said...

John May, not John Mahy. I don't think it was a typo, but it may have been.

stevemosby said...

The thing that also annoys me is that - while I do think Hart is guilty of wholesale, cynical plagiarism - I wouldn't accept her defence even if it were true.

She read Mr May and Mr O'Neal's novels after turning in a corrected draft and prior to the publication of The Raven's Bride. Even if the remarkable similarities to earlier works were purely down to rotten coincidence, she should *still* have recognised them, thought "oh God, no..." and immediately pulled the novel.

Archie_V said...

Thanks for commenting, John. Are you on Twitter? This discussion - as with most of the Hart affair - is dispersed all over the Net.

stevemosby said...

It is, Archie, and that's a bit problematic when it comes to pointing people towards it. The pdf is a good resource, but perhaps there needs to be something more concrete and centralised that sums everything up and can be added to?

I was wondering (I may easily have missed it) whether anyone has contacted S J Chambers, who conducted that Bookslut interview? Chambers raises the similarities to O'Neal's novel all the way back then, so presumably she'd read both. I wonder what she makes of the whole thing now?

Undine said...

SJ Chambers has been a long-time reader of my blog, so she's aware of all the recent developments. On one of her own blogs, awhile back she mentioned meeting Hart on a recent book tour, & I got the impression the two of them were pretty friendly. So, she probably doesn't want to push this issue.

John May said...

No. Not on Twitter.

Kelly Robinson said...

The Norman Mailer Center clearly has more sense than St. Martin's Press. said...

I researched Poe at the same university and and others, and of course at the L.C. and New York Public, and many others for twenty years. One error is Sissie's appearance. She was immature, undeveloped, and chubby. I do not have access where I am now for my notes to the sources, unfortunately. Although women sometimes married earlier, they matured later. Poe's mother, who became ill here in Norfolk, VA, had to go upriver, also, to Richmond, where she died. Myreen Moore Nicholson