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Monday, March 26, 2007

How Nancy Drew Saved My Life

Or how to succeed in publishing without really trying. Answer? Copy Jane Eyre.

Not only is Jane Eyre (in a severely stripped form) the official template for some publishing houses specializing in serial romances, but it is a favourite novel to be just plain ripped off. No copyright, no problem.

The following is a summary of 'How Nancy Drew Saved My Life' by Lauren Baratz-Logsted:

In her fourth novel, Baratz-Logsted, author of The Thin Pink Line (2003), offers the charming tale of a literature-loving nanny. At 23, Charlotte Bell has just had her heart broken by the married man she unwisely fell in love with. She decides to take another position, as nanny for the American ambassador in Iceland. Once she takes up residence in the large, creaky house and meets her imperious, forbidding employer, Edgar Rawlings, she can't help but feel like literature's most famous governess, Jane Eyre. But Charlotte turns to Nancy Drew (channeling the girl detective) for help investigating the more puzzling aspects of her situation, such as the silence surrounding Edgar's mysteriously absent wife and the strange laughter she hears coming from behind a closed door. To make matters worse, Charlotte is starting to fall for Edgar, whose engagement to an Icelandic ice queen seems imminent. Readers who appreciate classic love stories will enjoy the old-fashioned dialogue and Charlotte's fanciful imagination. Kristine Huntley
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Old fashioned dialogue stolen directly from Jane Eyre, according to this reader:

I was really enjoying this book when I realized that it was practically an EXACT replica of Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Even some of the dialogue is the same!
I was rather shocked when I began reading about where Charlotte goes into the library to meet Mr. Rawlings for the first time (which is actually the second because she met him a few hours earlier when he almost runs her over) and they have the same conversation that is in Jane Eyre; where he asks her if she likes presents and she replies that she has had little experience with them. I shut the book right there!
The names of the characters are extremely parallel too, which is even more annoying! Charlotte Bell is the main heroine=Charlotte Bronte. The hero is Edgar Rawlings=Edward Rochester; the housekeeper is Mrs. Fairly=Mrs Fairfax, the dog is Captain=Pilot....it goes on and on.
I just can't believe that she actually got a publisher to publisher her book with the blatant copying of the the characters and the story-line are amazingly unbelievable!

Not to mention, Jane Eyre was written under a pseudonymn. The full title was: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography Edited by Currer Bell.

ETA: I realise that the wording of this post is stronger than I had intended. I did not mean to imply that the author of this particular book has plagiarised Jane Eyre (ex. 'stolen,' 'rip off.'). In addition, I want to make it clear that I have my information from a third party, and have not read the book myself.


gandy said...

this is really interesting.

it's an odd topic to focus on, but i did some papers at college regarding harlequin romances of the seventies, and many of them are very nearly word-for-word aping jane eyre at times. i kept the majority of those harlequins/mills and boons that were the most derivative even after i'd finished the essays.

it's kind of shocking to see just how important a 'template' the basics of charlotte's story were when considering how to write a romance that women would buy and enjoy. the women are always young and (the main difference) beautiful (though they definitely see themselves as plain or just barely pleasant looking); the men they love are always much older, taciturn, cruel at times, possessed of a sardonic sense of humor, and keep the heroine confused as to his feelings for her until the romantic clinch at the fade. there is always a blanche figure, and most always a secret as well. not necessarily a wife in the attic mind you, but the man is generally keeping something from the protagonist.

basically, they're all jane eyre without jane leaving thornfield hall.

there was no real sexual contact in the books put out in the early to mid-seventies, but there is a lot of banter and teasing. kisses here and there, but not much else till the end.

i think i'm going to dig some of them out--they really are so blatant in their...i hate to say plagiarism...but it's pretty close--and have another read. i seem to recall that the violet winspear psuedonym was very good at copying jane eyre faithfully, and it seemed that, at the very least, she/he had a sort of honest love for the book itself.

Kathleen Bolton said...

I'm going to blog about this at my blog, Writer Unboxed, tomorrow(www.writerunboxed.com). As writers, it's a really sticky wicket between creating a work of original fiction that's a homage, but not a ripoff. Since I haven't read the book, I'm not going to comment on this particular work of fiction. But there is a difference between writing a book that clearly references a classic (I'm thinking Bridget Jones Diary) and one that plagiarizes lines of dialogue. That's never acceptable.

Alex said...

I wonder if the publisher had ever read Jane Eyre to know the difference...sad.

Kathleen Bolton said...

As promised, I did blog about this on my blog Writer Unboxed (not trying to shill the blog) and, if anyone's interested, Lauren Baratz-Logsted just posted a comment about it.

It is true that the romance genre, particularly historicals, have relied on the Jane Eyre template, especially in the early years of the 1970's when sexual tension had to be muted in the narrative. These days authors feel more comfortable being more explicit in their connections to the classics. Witness the trend for all the Mr. Darcy novels sprouting up out there. I'm not saying its right, but I should point out that most of this is market driven. If people didn't want to read books like that, the trend would wither. But it's pretty healthy right now, and I take that as a postitive sign that JE continues to hold a hypnotic sway.

Brontëana said...

to gandy:

One of my professors claims that she was sent a template by one of the big romance publishing companies, and it was pretty clear that it was based on Jane Eyre. I've never read them myself, although someone once 'donated' an entire garage full to the cause.

Brontëana said...

to kathleen:

I enjoy a good homage- isn't one of my favourite pastimes hunting for intertextuality in my favourite books? So far I have come across a large array of novels which take the plot and names, events, and even dialogue of Jane Eyre and shift it to another place and/or time. It's not plagiarism, but it's not very creative either (Jenna Starborn, for instance, is Jane Eyre set in outer space).

Have you considered how fan fiction relates to this issue?

Brontëana said...

to alex:

Rewrites and repackaging of classics is very popular at the moment. I'm not surprised, since it is increasingly difficult for publishers to turn a profit. Sometimes it seems best to go with something more reliable, like a classic which should attract a market from fans of the original.

Brontëana said...

to kathleen:

My name isn't Sophie.