University Diaries
A professor of English describes American university life.
Aim: To change things.
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Wednesday, February 02, 2005


This curious plagiarism story combines two of UD's favorite things -- plagiarism, of course; and astrology:


Louise Evans

February 03, 2005

BEST-SELLING Australian author and Fairfax newspapers astrologer Jessica Adams has been accused of plagiarism after publishing a short story that bears a close resemblance to one penned by the great crime writer Agatha Christie in 1928.

Titled "The Circle," Adams's story is a dark tale of mystery, murder and the supernatural. It was published in a collection of short stories by fellow Australian authors in the New Year edition of The Big Issue magazine, a fundraiser for the homeless.

Both the Christie and Adams murders occur at an isolated property, in a circle of trees believed to have significance as a site for ancient rituals. Both stories feature a beautiful woman as a suspect, the property owner as the victim, a missing murder weapon, supernatural intervention, and a jealous relative who fakes a similar attack and who turns out to be the guilty person.

The similarities between the Adams and Christie stories were discovered by Brisbane playwright Janelle Evans who picked up a copy of The Big Issue magazine to read on the bus.

"I knew immediately I had read something very similar," said Evans, who rushed home to sift through her healthy collection of Agatha Christie books. After five minutes, Evans found what she was looking for, The Thirteen Problems, a collection of short stories by Christie. Evans found that the plot of one of the stories, "The Idol House of Astarte," contained many similarities to Adams's "The Circle."

"I read the stories - Christie's and Adams's - side by side and I was staggered," Evans said. "It could be a coincidence. It may be possible that she read the story some time ago and inadvertently used it."

Adams is best known as a chick-lit writer whose books include Single White E-mail, Girls' Night In and Tom, Dick and Debbie Harry. She has sold about 400,000 copies worldwide. She also writes a weekly astrology column in The Sunday Age and The Sun-Herald, both published by the Fairfax group. Her columns are published in Vogue magazine.

Debra Adelaide, a novelist and lecturer in writing at Sydney's University of Technology, said based on the similarities and differences in the two stories, Adams appeared to have plagiarised elements of the Christie story.

"Without reading the whole story for myself, and based on the evidence provided by the extracts I was given, this is a clear case of plagiarism," Dr Adelaide said.

"There is a pattern in the names of characters and sets of characters and a consistency of patterning in their relationships. Plagiarism is a terribly serious charge to lay against an experienced high-profile author like Jessica Adams, but for such an author to commit plagiarism is an unforgivable sin.

"It is possible to see influences as a reader and use them as a writer, but to appropriate material without attributing it is cut-and-dried plagiarism."

Adams yesterday denied copying, mistakenly copying, or adapting the Christie story. "Why are you asking me these questions?" she asked.

Curious as to whether she might have inadvertently used the Christie story, Evans spoke earlier this week to Adams - who has been compared to Helen Fielding of Bridget Jones fame - about her influences.

Adams denied "The Circle" was influenced by Christie. "I'm a great fan of Agatha Christie, but she's not a source of inspiration. She's a classic writer, but for a classic murder writer my favourite would be Ruth Rendell or Jonathan Creek for its weirdness and quirkiness," Adams said.

The Big Issue's contributing editor Mic Looby said the magazine had received letters from readers about "The Circle" pointing out the similarities with Christie.

In a statement yesterday, The Big Issue editor Martin Hughes said: "As a publication which prides itself on its originality and integrity, we are very concerned and disappointed by the allegations regarding the Jessica Adams's short story 'The Circle.'

"We published 'The Circle' in good faith, believing it to be an original work. She denied any implications of plagiarism. We are continuing to follow this matter and are investigating the options open to us if it is established that the story was less than original."

In her stars column last Sunday, Adams, who is a Leo, predicts: "If you face opposition or challenging people this week, you're likely to come up with your most cunning plan yet. You'll get away with it, too, if you're clever, but don't get carried away with your success." '