[ilds] Plagiarism - and Caesar's Vast Ghost

Michael Haag michaelhaag at btinternet.com
Fri Jun 1 12:05:19 PDT 2007

James has touched on a number of interesting points, but right now I 
will refer only to one -- the authorship of Caesar's Vast Ghost.

In fact I raised the question of plagiarism (many moons ago, it seems 
now) because I was implicitly questioning how can one analyse and 
develop theories about a text when one does not know the origin and 
history of the text -- or how useful is such analysis and theorising 
without first establishing the authorship or authenticity of the text.  
Suppose there are parts of the Alexandria Quartet that were not written 
by Durrell at all?  Suppose Durrell never wrote Caesar's Vast Ghost?

Seeing two pages of my own writing in Caesar's Vast Ghost immediately 
alerted me to this problem and led me to ask questions.  Was the 
inclusion of my text Durrell's own choice?  Or, more radically, did 
Durrell write Caesar's Vast Ghost at all?  And all the possibilities in 
between -- how much of it is his, how finished are those parts which 
may be his, who made the selection, who made the arrangement, etc.

As it happens I have looked into this pretty thoroughly and have spoken 
to the suspects, starting with Durrell himself and working outwards, 
and I have also spoken with the relevant editors at Faber and Faber, 
and I have looked into Durrell's notebooks.  And I have a pretty good 
idea of Durrell's state of health and his awareness at the time, of the 
contractual circumstances, and so on.  In other words I have gone to 
original sources and have put the whole thing into context.

Things written about Durrell which operate in a realm entirely detached 
from, indeed often contemptuous of, fundamental matters of authenticity 
are in my experience without interest or value.  Having said that, I am 
also aware that there are people who are very much doing primary work 
and whose thoughts arise out of that; the interest of what they are 
doing immediately stands out.  An awareness of very real contingencies 
affecting the creation of work, as for example James has set out below 
with regard to Caesar's Vast Ghost, is extremely important; it provides 
a touchstone for meaningful discussion of Durrell's work.


On Friday, June 1, 2007, at 04:49  pm, James Gifford wrote:

>  I think the authorship of _Caesar's Vast Ghost_ is
> perhaps disputable as well...  I suspect ... [Durrell] had some very, 
> very substantial help in cobbling those
> jottings together into the final volume.  My understanding is that the 
> draft
> he sent to Faber was a mess of loose papers, and I heard a rumour he 
> had
> help patching it together.  Given his last few years of hard drinking, 
> ill
> health, and very likely a stroke ...  I find this neither surprising 
> nor significant.
> _Caesar's Vast Ghost_ is not
> Durrell's finest work, and I suspect the stitches holding it together 
> may
> not even be his own, though there are some absolutely lovely passages 
> that
> strike me as typical of something I'd find in his later notebooks.  
> That
> some of those sections were transcriptions from things he liked 
> surprises me
> not at all -- I actually wonder if he was the one who consciously 
> chose to
> include them.

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