Rarnaby Budge, or The Fine Art of the Knockoff

July 8, 2008 | 3 books mentioned 2

This weekend, hurtling toward the conclusion of Charles Dickens’ Little Dorrit, I took a pit-stop to thumb through Edgar Johnson’s biography of the author. I was curious to see what had triggered Dickens’ transformation from the showman of the early novels to the architect of the series of dizzying edifices that began with Dombey and Son. I didn’t find the answer I was looking for. I did, however, discover the wonderful fact that Dickens was the victim of plagiarists, who during his lifetime published knockoffs like David Copperful, Nikelas Nickelbery, The Posthumous Papers of the Pickwickians, and – my favorite – Oliver Twiss.

You may recall that a couple of years ago, there were newspaper reports about Chinese J.K. Rowling manqués, who authored such blockbusters as Harry Potter and Beaker and Burn and Harry Potter and the Filler of Big. Apparently, this was no late-capitalist aberration, but part of a venerable literary tradition. I’m now wondering what might happen if some Millions favorites were plagiarized. The Corruptions? Jilliad? Shabbat’s Theatre? The Amazing Adventurousness of Caviller and Quai? The Short Wonderful Life of Oskar Wow? Your suggestions are welcome below.

is the author of City on Fire and A Field Guide to the North American Family. In 2017, he was named one of Granta's Best Young American Novelists.


  1. Garth, if you haven't yet, you may want to check out Jane Smiley's bio of Dickens that's part of the Penguin Lives series. It's very good, blissfully short, and especially strong on his evolution as a writer and tracing the arc of the novels from a writer's view. I don't know if you'll find the complete answer there but a good part of it.

    — CAAF

  2. Don't forget Cervantes. Before he he finally wrote the "sequel" to Don Quixote, some guy beat him to it, and throughout the real sequel Cervantes blasted the interloper unmercifully.

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