Wednesday, December 06, 2006

"the color and the music of this English idiom we are blessed to have inherited"

Note: the "From Thomas Pynchon" at the top of the typewritten letter appears to be hand-written in block capitals and is partially underlined; Atonement is underlined as well in the original:

From Thomas Pynchon

Given the British genius for coded utterance, this could all be about something else entirely, impossible on this side of the ocean to appreciate in any nuanced way-- but assuming that it really is about who owns the right to describe using gentian violet for ringworm, for heaven's sake, allow me a gentle suggestion. Oddly enough, most of us who write historical fiction do feel some obligation to accuracy. It is that Ruskin business about "a capacity responsive to the claims of fact, but unoppressed by them." Unless we were actually there, we must turn to people who were, or to letters, contemporary reporting, the Internet until, with luck, we can begin to make a few things of our own up. To discover in the course of research some engaging detail we know can be put into a story where it will do some good can hardly be classed as a felonious acvt-- it is simply what we do. The worst you can call it is a form of primate behavior. Writers are naturally drawn, chimpanzee-like, to the color and the music of this English idiom we are blessed to have inherited. When given the choice we will usually try to use the more vivid and tuneful among its words. I cannot of course speak for Mr. McEwan's method of proceeding, but should be very surprised indeed if something of the sort, even for brief moments, had not occurred during his research for Atonement- Gentian violet! Come on. Who among us could have resisted that one?

Memoirs of the Blitz have borne indispensable witness, and helped later generations know something of the tragedcy and heroism of those days. For Mr. McEwan to have put details from one of them to further creative use, acknowledging this openly and often, and then explaining it clearly and honorably, surely merits not our scolding, but our gratitude.

from Pynchon-L:

Makes the front page of the Telegraph this morning, along with his own
section, with sailor suit pic, of the McEwan full page.

Front page text:


By Nigel Reynolds
Arts Correspondent

Thomas Pynchon, who vies with J D Salinger for the title of the
world's most secretive author, has broken his strict rules on privacy
to join a campaign to clear the British Booker Prize-winning novelist
Ian McEwan of charges of plagiarism.

In a move described by his British publisher as "unknown", Pynchon, an
American who is never seen in public, does not give interviews and
whose whereabouts are a closely guarded secret, sent a typed letter to
his British agent yesterday to say that McEwan "merits not our
scolding but our gratitude" for using details from another author's

McEwan has been under fire for copying several details from the
memoirs of a wartime nurse in London for his Booker-nominated novel,

In an extraordinary campaign launched yesterday, many of the world's
best known authors rallied around McEwan, complaining that the future
of historical novel writing was threatened if they could not copy or
borrow details from eyewitnesses to history.

Other novelists backing the author include John Updike, Martin Amis,
Margaret Atwood, Thomas Keneally and Zadie Smith.

They recite their experiences of taking others' material for their
books exclusively in the Daily Telegraph.