Was Literary Plagiarism a Problem in the 19th Century?

Fan fiction is a big deal today, but in the mid-1800s, it was more plague than praise for Charles Dickens. The author of classics like Oliver Twist, A Tale of Two Cities, and A Christmas Carol was greatly chagrined when the London publisher Edward Lloyd started selling obvious ripoffs of Dickens' work, with titles like Oliver Twiss and The Penny Pickwick, at a fraction of the cost of the real thing. The books sold, ostensibly because readers grabbed them without knowing the difference, so Dickens went to court, clearly with some great expectations of getting some of his lost profit back. But the judge ruled that no one could possibly mistake the real thing from the obvious fraud, and dismissed the case, leaving Lloyd to keep printing. As it turned out, Lloyd built a publishing empire on the back of the cheap frauds and eventually originated the much-loved "penny dreadful" novels. Dickens' work, of course, remains some of the most-read fiction in the world.

A Tale of One Author:

  • At 53, Charles Dickens reportedly helped save fellow passengers when a train they were in derailed, with some cars falling into a river below.
  • Dickens learned how to hypnotize others and was a member of England's first ghost-hunting organization, along with fellow author Arthur Conan Doyle.
  • Dickens is believed by many to have been epileptic, in part because many of the characters in his novels suffered from the disease.
More Info: The Guardian

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