I was in Grade 6 when I submitted a short story to my English teacher for marking that I was particularly proud of. It was the story of a young orphan girl who went to live with her grieving aunt in a crumbling manor in the English countryside where she befriends the local wildlife before stumbling upon a key and a ‘secret garden’.
I am sure you recognize this tale. Frances Hodgson Burnett called it The Secret Garden and in her version the aunt is an uncle.
Mr Roberts gave me a C for that story and rather than chastise me for wrongful appropriation he very kindly told me I could do better.
His reaction helped cement (for me at least) the belief that imitation is a form of flattery. He also made me want to work harder at finding my own voice; my own point of view.
I am, it seems spellbound by The Secret Garden. I know that my first complete novel is populated with a set of over indulged and petulant characters and grounded in similar settings to Burnett’s masterpiece and almost every story I have written since reading that book draws heavily on tragedy and family secrets.
Eleanor Catton, the Canadian born New Zealander who became the youngest writer ever to win the Booker Prize for The Luminaries says in an interview conducted by Globe Books that she strongly believes in imitation ‘I think it’s the first place you need to go to if you’re going to be able to understand how something works. True mimicry is actually quite difficult. One of the first books that I ripped off consciously was by Elizabeth Winthrop called The Castle in the Attic…’
Various scholarly essays suggest that Frances Hodgson Burnett’s drew inspiration for The Secret Garden from Wuthering Heights and quote strong similarities and connections between characters and settings.
I think all books that move us leave a lasting impression – a psychic imprint – especially those we treasured as children and that appropriation in art is commonplace. I can think of a handful of books with strong similarities to The Secret Garden for example.
What do you think?
Do you find yourself as a writer or artist unconsciously imitating a certain author/artist or appropriating a story?