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You stole my work! Everyone stole my work!

June 11, 2011

More from Melissa Frazier:

Goncharov, author of Oblomov, who accused Turgenev of plagiarism

It is finally [Turgenev’s] participation in a changing media environment that helps explain one of the odder episodes in his literary career: his dispute with Ivan Goncharov over the latter’s increasingly insistent claims that Turgenev had plagiarized elements of A Nest of the Gentry from Goncharov’s own as-yet-unpublished Obryv (The Precipice, 1869).

In retrospect the accusation Goncharov first made in the late 1850s strikes us as the early signs of what eventually became a raging paranoia. By 1860 he had already added Nakanune (On the Eve, 1860) to the indictment, and in his posthumously published memoir Neobyknovennaia istoriia (Not an Ordinary Story, 1875-79) Goncharov would accuse Turgenev not only of plagiarizing from The Precipice in multiple works himself, but even of passing on Goncharov’s ideas to his wide circle of acquaintances among western European writers. Goncharov’s eventually sweeping indictment of what he called “parallel novels,” including not just Turgenev’s various writings, but also Berthold Auerbach’s Villa on the Rhine (1869) and Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary (1857) and Sentimental Education (1869), was obviously delusional. Still, his initial reading of A Nest of the Gentry was not entirely without merit, as Turgenev himself acknowledged. (926-27)

As the end of the passage suggests, Goncharov’s claim that A Nest of the Gentry took much from his own work wasn’t ridiculous on its face (see also pp. 938-43). And I’m sympathetic to the view that novelists are always borrowing from their contemporaries and a shared set of sources in a way that could, from a certain point of view, be called plagiarism. But Frazier really does make it sound like Goncharov was on his way to thinking that half of western Europe was waiting for Turgenev to stop by so they could ask to see the shorthand notes he’d taken on Goncharov’s salon readings of his work in progress, and didn’t write a word until they had him to copy.

See Melissa Frazier, “Turgenev and a Proliferating French Press: The Feuilleton and Feuilletonistic in A Nest of the Gentry,” Slavic Review 69.4 (2010): 925-43. (Abstract) She cites L. Maikov (mentioned on this blog for writing the earliest major monograph on Batiushkov) for more on the story: L. Maikov, “Ssora mezhdu I. A. Goncharovym i I. S. Turgenevym v 1859 i 1860 godakh,” Russkaia starina 1 (1900): 5-23.

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