One of the more interesting literary stories floating around the blogosphere these days comes from France, where two of the country’s most respected female authors are once again disputing a charge of plagiarism in the public eye.
Back in 2007, Camille Laurens accused Marie Darrieussecq of taking elements from her 1995 book, Phillipe, inspired by the death of her newborn son, to write the novel Tom est mort, about a grieving mother who loses a child. Though only one sentence from the two works was actually identical, according to Laurens, Darrieussecq was guilty of not just plagiarism but “psychological plagiarism” (plagiat psychique). In her turn, Darrieussecq said Laurens was trying to “assassinate” her.
For the next year, the two traded highbrow insults and accusations: charges of plagiarism against Darrieussecq from 1998 resurfaced; Laurens was said to be jealous of the younger writer’s success; their shared editor, Paul Otchakovsky, dropped Laurens.
The two authors both have books out this month that prove neither is ready to forgive and forget. Darrieussecq’s is not the expected novel: Rapport de police (Police report) is a treatise on plagiarism, which she claims comes from the secret desire of the plagiarist to be plagiarised themselves. In interviews with the French press, she calls Laurens insolent “to imagine herself as the center of my novel, to think that I had written the book thinking of her and not my mother” and says the accusation came from the Freudian desire to be the only “child” of Otchakovsky.
Laurens’ new book, Romance nerveuse, doesn’t necessarily disprove that: it’s a thinly veiled account of the entire incident that places huge emphasis on the emotional devastation of the writer dropped by her editor.
A recent piece in the Guardian reminds us that literary feuds are nothing new. But to me, literary feuds couched in the language of philosophy and psychoanalysis seem uniquely French.