Bloomsbury withdraws paperback accused of plagiarising 'Jane Eyre' and 'Brighton Rock'

Such was the success earlier this year of the memoir of a tragic childhood by a first-time author, Judith Kelly, that its publisher, Bloomsbury, laid down plans to produce a paperback edition to build on the 30,000 copies sold in hardback.

Until, that is, one reader noticed striking similarities between sections of the autobiographical work and text from a comic novel by a prominent British author. Yesterday, Bloomsbury, the publishing house behind the commercial phenomenon of Harry Potter, announced that it was indefinitely postponing the paperback edition of Rock Me Gently amid claims that it plagiarised not one but three other works, including Graham Greene's Brighton Rock. The book also appears to borrow from a section of Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre.

A spokeswoman for Bloomsbury told The Independent: "We currently have no plans for a paperback edition. Judith is mortified by what has happened. We take responsibility for the book and we have withdrawn it until we can be certain there be will no further problems."

The alleged plagiarism came to light when another writer, Hilary Mantel, was told by a reader at the Cambridge Literary Festival in April that she might find it "interesting" to compare Kelly's work with her own novel Fludd, a darkly comical study of religious faith, and a collection of short stories, Learning To Talk. When Mantel, one of the 17 writers on the long-list for the Man Booker prize this year, read the book and catalogued 10 separate points where text from her work appears to a greater or less extent unchanged in Rock Me Gently, she wrote to challenge Bloomsbury.

One line from Fludd, published in 1989, reads: "'I could drink sleep,' she said, 'I could eat it. I could roll around in my dreams like a pig in mud'." In Rock Me Gently, the following sentence appears: "Now I could drink sleep. I could eat it. I could roll around in my dreams like a pig in mud."

In a letter to Mantel, Bloomsbury's senior editor, Alexandra Pringle, said Kelly, a graduate from Chelsea School of Art and a former television producer for Reuters and BSkyB, had inadvertently included the sentences because of her photographic memory.

Ms Pringle wrote: "[Judith Kelly] has a remarkable memory, and during the decade in which she was working on her book, some of her wide-ranging reading emerged in her own prose without her realising it."

Bloomsbury said it had no reason to doubt that the events described by Kelly in her book, a moving and shocking account of the cruelty of nuns running a convent orphanage in Sussex in the 1950s, had taken place.

Kelly, 61, was sent to the institution as an eight-year-old following the death of her alcoholic father because her mother could not cope on her own.

The memoir, which has won plaudits for bringing to light abuse at Nazareth House in Bexhill, East Sussex, has a graphic account of how Kelly's best friend at the institution drowned in the sea while the nuns looked on, praying. The author, who ran a helpline for victims of abuse by Catholic clergy, relates how she was blamed because she lost her friend's grip before she disappeared beneath the waves.

Mantel, who has won a number of literary awards, said that while the suffering of those in Nazareth House was not doubted, the plagiarism undermined the memoir's credibility.

She said: "What Judith Kelly has done is to misrepresent her past by passing off as her own memory conversations and descriptions that are taken from other authors. I have no desire to pursue her but it does compromise the authenticity of what she writes. To apparently take lines from my novel, which is about comic grotesques, and use them in a subject as deeply serious as hers is very surprising indeed. I would rather that the book was withdrawn."

Sources at another publisher, Virago, confirmed that they were seeking legal advice about the similarity of lines in Rock Me Gently to the acclaimed 1933 novel Frost In May by Antonia White.

The alleged similarities

Fludd, Hilary Mantel: "The parlour was both stuffy and cold, and smelled mysteriously of congealed gravy. Over the mantelpiece, Christ hung in a heavy gilt frame, thin yellow tongues of light streaming from his head. His ribcage was open, neatly split by the Roman spear, and with a pallid, pointed finger he indicated his exposed and perfectly shaped heart."

Rock Me Gently, Judith Kelly: "In the centre of the room hung a heavy gilt frame showing a picture of Christ with yellow beams of light streaming from his head. His ribcage was neatly split and with a pale pointed finger he indicated his exposed and perfectly heart-shaped heart. There was a mysterious smell of congealed gravy in the air."

King Billy is a Gentleman, Mantel: "My childhood seemed to belong to some much earlier, greyer world. It was my inner country, visited sometimes in dreams..."

Rock Me Gently: "My childhood had been consigned to some much earlier, greyer world. It was my inner country, rarely visited."

Brighton Rock, Graham Greene: "'But you believe, don't you,' Rose implored him, 'you think it's true?' 'Of course it's true,' the Boy said. 'What else could there be?' he went scornfully on. 'Why,' he said, 'it's the only thing that fits...' 'And Heaven too,' Rose said with anxiety..."

Rock Me Gently: "'But you believe, don't you?' I implored her. 'You think it's true.' 'Of course it's true. What else could there be?' she went on scornfully. 'Because it's the only thing that fits...' 'And Heaven too,' I said with anxiety."

Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë: "That forest-dell, where Lowood lay, was the cradle of fog and fog-bred pestilence, which ... breathed typhus through its crowded school-room and dormitory, and, ere May arrived, transformed the seminary into an hospital. Semi-starvation and neglected colds had predisposed most of the pupils to receive infection: forty-five out of eighty girls lay ill at one time."

Rock Me Gently: "The convent was a cradle of fly bred infection at that time. With the oncoming of warm weather, disease had crept into the orphanage and breathed its foul breath through the kitchens and refectory. Lack of food, rat-ridden dormitories and clogged drains had primed the children to catch infections. Before May arrived, 45 out of 60 girls lay ill and classrooms stood almost empty."

Frost in May, Antonia White: "Her lids grew heavy and her crossed hands began to uncurl. She had just time to remember to whisper 'Jesus' before she was fast asleep."

Rock Me Gently: "My lids grew heavy and my crossed arms began to uncurl. I had just time to remember to whisper 'Jesus', when Ruth's gruff voice rung out."

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell