Parts of UK best-seller found to match 1933 novel

  • World
  • Friday, 01 Jul 2005

By Jeffrey Goldfarb and Cheryl Juckes

LONDON (Reuters) - A 2005 best-selling memoir about a child abused by nuns contains passages strikingly similar to those in a renowned 1933 book on growing up in a convent, UK publisher Bloomsbury said. 

Judith Kelly's "Rock Me Gently", released by Bloomsbury in February, includes numerous passages and characterisations that are similar, and in some cases identical, to those in Antonia White's acclaimed semi-autobiographical novel, "Frost in May". 

The revelation comes as Bloomsbury gears up for the release of the sixth instalment of the Harry Potter saga, a lynchpin to the company's financial success. 

"There are striking similarities to 'Frost in May' and other books and the author is at the moment going through the text and checking everything to make sure that the text is corrected for the next edition," Bloomsbury Editor-in-Chief Alexandra Pringle wrote in an email on Wednesday. 

The next edition will be a paperback due out in February 2006, a Bloomsbury spokeswoman said. 

The email was in response to a Reuters query about the similarity of the passages. 

"We have sought legal advice and apparently there are not enough similarities to count as infringement of copyright," Pringle wrote. "However, it is obviously essential that this is dealt with and as swiftly as possible." 

The media industry has been rocked in recent years by several high-profile plagiarism cases, with renowned U.S. historians Stephen Ambrose and Doris Kearns Goodwin among those facing accusations of copying others' work. 

Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling won a U.S. court case in 2002 against a writer who claimed Rowling had stolen ideas for her series about the boy wizard. 


Virago Press, a publisher of women's literature and a division of Time Warner Books, re-released "Frost in May" in 1978. It was the first title under the Virago Modern Classics imprint dedicated to rediscovering out-of-print books. 

Pringle was also editor of the Virago Modern Classics series in 1978. 

The Bloomsbury spokeswoman said that Virago founder Carmen Callil originally commissioned "Frost in May" and that Pringle read it only once, more than 20 years ago. 

A spokeswoman in London for Time Warner Books and Virago said the publisher had no comment. 

"Rock Me Gently" became a top-10 non-fiction best-seller in Britain shortly after its publication. It was ranked No. 469 on Amazon's UK site on Thursday. 

Among numerous examples of similar passages in the two books, Kelly in one instance wrote, "I stayed in my position for a few minutes, breathing slowly and deeply but awake. I shall never get to sleep, I thought wretchedly. But even as I thought it my lids grew heavy and my crossed arms began to uncurl. I had just time to remember to whisper 'Jesus', when Ruth's gruff voice rang out...." 

"Frost in May" reads: "Nanda retained her position rigidly for a few minutes. 'I shall never get to sleep,' she thought miserably, as she heard the outdoor clock strike eight. But even as she thought it her lids grew heavy and her crossed hands began to uncurl. She had just time to remember to whisper 'Jesus' before she was fast asleep." 

"Frost in May" tells the story of 9-year-old Nanda Grey, daughter of a Catholic convert, who is sent to a British convent boarding school just before World War One. 

"Rock Me Gently" is billed as Kelly's tale of the abuse she suffered as a child in a Catholic orphanage before she moved to a kibbutz in Israel as an adult. 

In her email, Pringle wrote that Kelly was confused by her own notes and "lost sight of what was hers and what was not hers", and said the author was "horrified and upset" at what happened. Kelly could not be reached. 

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