The Australian novelist John Hughes, who last week admitted to “unintentionally” plagiarising parts of a Nobel laureate’s novel, appears to have also copied without acknowledgment parts of The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and other classic texts in his new book The Dogs.
The revelation of new similarities follows an investigation by Guardian Australia which resulted in Hughes’ 2021 novel being withdrawn from the longlist of the $60,000 Miles Franklin literary award.
That investigation uncovered 58 similarities and identical instances of text between parts of The Dogs and the 2017 English translation of Belarusian Nobel prize laureate Svetlana Alexievich’s nonfiction work The Unwomanly Face of War.
It has since been revealed that The Dogs also contains passages which are similar to books including The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and All Quiet on the Western Front.
Guardian Australia has cross-referenced all the similarities between Hughes’ work and those classic texts and found some cases in which whole sentences were identical or where just one word had changed.
Hughes responded to requests for comment on the similarities between the works by saying the past week since Guardian Australia’s investigation had been the most difficult of his writing career.
“I don’t think I am a plagiarist more than any other writer who has been influenced by the greats who have come before them,” he said in an email.
“This new material has led me to reflect on my process as a writer. I’ve always used the work of other writers in my own. It’s a rare writer who doesn’t … It’s a question of degree.
“As T.S. Eliot wrote in The Sacred Wood, ‘Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something better, or at least something different.’ That great centrepiece of modernism, The Wasteland, is itself a kind of anthology of the great words of others. Does this make Eliot a plagiarist? Not at all, it seems. You take, that is, and make something else out of it; you make it your own.”
Hughes apologised to Alexievich and her translators last week for using their words without acknowledgment “without realising I was doing so”.
Just five days after this apology, the writer Shannon Burns and academic Emmett Stinson identified similarities between ‘The Dogs’ and books including F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and translations of Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. There were also similarities to passages in WG Sebald’s The Emigrants and Andrei Makine’s Le Testament Francais.
Burns and Stinson shared their discoveries on Twitter.
Last week, Hughes blamed the similarities with Alexievich’s book on an untidy research process, which saw him copying and adding to pages upon pages of transcripts, becoming muddled about which words were his own and which he had read.
“I did not at any stage in the writing intend to pass off Alexievich’s work as my own and was truly surprised when I saw the material included in the article (there is nothing more disturbing than discovering your creative process is not what you had assumed),” he said.
The Dogs was previously shortlisted for the 2022 NSW premier’s and Victorian premier’s literary awards for fiction.
The following passages have been cross-referenced across all relevant texts by Guardian Australia. The ellipses indicate omitted text.
From F Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby:
“He smiled understandingly – much more than understandingly. It was one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it, that you may come across four or five times in life. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
From The Dogs:
“She smiled at me then, one of those rare smiles with a quality of eternal reassurance in it that you might come across once in your life, if you were lucky. It faced – or seemed to face – the whole eternal world for an instant, and then concentrated on you with an irresistible prejudice in your favour. It understood you just so far as you wanted to be understood, believed in you as you would like to believe in yourself, and assured you that it had precisely the impression of you that, at your best, you hoped to convey.”
From Leo Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina (published in 2006 in translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky):
“In that brief glance, Vronsky had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her face and fluttered between her shining eyes and the barely noticeable smile that curved her red lips. It was as if a surplus of something so overflowed her being that it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glace, now in her smile.”
From The Dogs:
“In that brief assessment I had time to notice the restrained animation that played over her features, and knew at once what drew my mother to her. It was as if some surplus so overflowed her it expressed itself beyond her will, now in the brightness of her glance, now in her smile.”
From Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front (published in 2005 in translation by Brian Murdoch):
“Haie Westhus is carried off with his back torn open; you can see the lung throbbing through the wound with every breath he takes”…
“We see men go on living with the top of their skulls missing; we see soldiers go on running when both their feet have been shot away”…
From The Dogs:
“She saw a man carried off with his back torn open, the lung throbbing through the wound.”
“She saw men go on living with the top of their skulls missing. She saw soldiers go on running when both their feet had been shot away.”
From All Quiet on the Western Front:
“One lance-corporal crawls for a full half-mile on his hands, dragging his legs behind him, with both knees shattered. Another man makes it to a dressing station with his guts spilling out over his hands as he holds them in. We see soldiers with their mouths missing, with their lower jaws missing, with their faces missing; we find someone who has gripped the main artery in his arm between his teeth or two hours so that he doesn’t bleed to death.”
From The Dogs:
“One man crawled for a full half-mile on his hands, dragging his legs behind him, both knees shattered. Another made it to a dressing station with his guts spilling over his hands as he held them in. She saw soldiers with their mouths missing, with their lower jaws missing, with their faces missing; she saw a man who had gripped the main artery in his arm between his teeth so he didn’t bleed to death.”