Mr Lassman, 43, had spent months trying without success to find a publisher for his own novel Freedom’s Temple. Out of frustration – and to test whether today’s publishers could spot great literature – he retyped the opening chapters of three Austen classics: Pride and Prejudice, Northanger Abbey and Persuasion.
He changed only the titles, the names of the characters and his own name – calling himself Alison Laydee, after Austen’s early pseudonym “A Lady” – then waited for the offers to roll in.
Instead he received yet another sheaf of rejection letters, including one from Penguin, which republished Pride and Prejudice last year, describing his plagarised chapters as “a really original and interesting read” but not right for Penguin.
Mr Lassman concocted his plan after returning from the Greek island where he had been writing his own novel and found himself facing a brick wall. “I was having a hard time getting it published and I was chatting to friends about it, saying I wondered how Jane would have fared today.
“Getting a novel accepted is very difficult unless you have an agent first, but I had no idea at the scale of rejection poor old Jane suffered.”
The literary agency Christopher Little, which represents J.K. Rowling, regretted that it was “not confident of placing this material with a publisher”. Jennifer Vale of Bloomsbury publishers turned down Northanger Abbey,renamed Susan, saying “I didn’t feel the book was suited to our list.”
The one publisher to recognise the deception was Alex Bowler, assistant editor at Jonathan Cape. His reply read: “Thank you for sending us the first two chapters of First Impressions; my first impression on reading these were ones of disbelief and mild annoyance, along with a moment’s laughter.
“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 the book’s opening. After all, there is such a thing as plagiarism and I’d hate for you to get in any kind of trouble with Jane Austen’s estate.”
Last night a spokeswoman for Penguin admitted that Mr Lassman’s submission may not actually have been read. She said: “We don’t take anything that is not agency-led, so I doubt the person would even have read it. I can’t comment on this individual case but I don’t think we have done anything bad.”
Saturday, July 21, 2007
Austen in the News
From the Times: