Ripping Off Austen Without Notice

David Lassman, the director of the Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England, decided to slightly alter the first paragraphs of a few of Jane Austen’s classic works for submission to today’s publishers. In the Guardian:

After making only minor changes, he sent off opening chapters and plot synopses to 18 of the UK’s biggest publishers and agents. He was amazed when they all sent the manuscripts back with polite but firm “no-thank-you’s” and almost all failed to spot that he was ripping off one of the world’s most famous literary figures.

Mr Lassman said: “I was staggered. Here is one of the greatest writers that has lived, with her oeuvre securely fixed in the English canon and yet only one recipient recognised them as Austen’s work.”

The one who recognised it said, “I suggest you reach for your copy of Pride and Prejudice, which I’d guess lives in close proximity to your typewriter, and make sure that your opening pages don’t too closely mimic that book’s opening.”

I love this kind of experiment, but hasn’t this been done before with another classic author? I don’t remember the specifics, but I think I’ve heard about someone doing this very thing a few years ago.

3 thoughts on “Ripping Off Austen Without Notice”

  1. I’ve read a similar story, about some famous man who sent a famous manuscript, with names changed, to several publishers, all of whom rejected it. But I can’t recall either the famous man or the book.

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