McEwan on the Charge of Plagiarism

The accusation tha Ian McEwan plagiarized parts of Atonement from a 1977 memoir by Lucilla Andrews elicited this response and now words of solidarity and support from other authors, including the reclusive Thomas Pynchon. McEwan on the charge

It was extraordinary, then, to find in the Wellcome Trust medical library, in Oxford, No Time for Romance, the autobiography of Lucilla Andrews, a well-known writer of hospital romances – my mother used to read her novels with great pleasure. Contained within this book was a factual account of the rigours of Nightingale training, the daily routines and crucially, of the arrival of wounded soldiers from the Dunkirk evacuation and their treatment. As far as I know, no other such factual account exists. Andrews even recounted an episode that paralleled my father’s experience of being told off for swearing.

What Andrews described was not an imaginary world – it was not a fiction. It was the world of a shared reality, of those War Museum letters and of my father’s prolonged hospital stay. Within the pages of a conventional life story, she created an important and unique historical document. With painstaking accuracy, so it seemed to me, she rendered in the form of superb reportage, an experience of the war that has been almost entirely neglected, and which I too wanted to bring to life through the eyes of my heroine. As with the Dunkirk section, I drew on the scenes she described. Again, it was important to me that these events actually occurred. For certain long-outdated medical practices, she was my sole source and I have always been grateful to her.

I have openly acknowledged my debt to her in the author’s note at the end of Atonement, and ever since on public platforms, where questions about research are almost as frequent as “where do you get your ideas from?”.