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And it’s only January: French author accused of plagiarism 2X this month!

January 19, 2011

Patrick Poivre d'Arvor

The famous French patience for charming rapscallionism is, apparently, not endless. Just ask Patrick Poivre d’Arvor, currently embroiled in not one but two nasty (or tasty!)  plagiarism scandals.

For the dumb Americans in the audience (and when it comes to things French, that’s all of us, isn’t it?), D’Arvor is something like Dan Rather and Clifford Irving mashed together, with a dash of Bernie Madoff tossed in for je ne sais quois.

Known as PPDA in France (doesn’t that sound like a minor sexually transmitted disease?), he was the nation’s top news anchor for 30 years. That’s despite a 1991 scandal in which PPDA took responses Fidel Castro gave in a press conference and mixed them with footage of himself asking questions. Voila! An exclusive!

Better yet, in 1996 a French court sentenced PPDA to 15 months in prison for his part in a plot to misappropriate public funds in the city of Lyon. The sentence was suspended.

Skipping over various lesser faux pas and embarrassments, the sum of which led to PPDA’s replacement as top news presenter at TFI in 2008: Earlier this month he was accused of “copying” 100 pages of his latest book, a biography of Ernest Hemingway, from Along With Youth, a much-praised 1985 biography by the American writer Peter Griffin.

PPDA’s publisher, Atrhaud, has floated the explanation that a “working draft” of the book was mistakenly released in December, but no one seems to be buying it. French newspapers, which  delight in making sport of PPDA, have published excerpts from the two books side by side so readers can see how similar they are. If you read French, here’s L’Express.

As if that’s not humiliating enough, today comes the news PPDA’s former lover, Agathe Borne, has sued him for “violation of privacy and plagiarism” for using her letters in a novel published in 2009. (A quick Google notwithstanding, I can’t track down who exactly Borne is — actress? model? physicist? — but maybe in France a woman can become famous just for being young, pretty and scary-skinny.)

Generally speaking I ignore the French like any patriotic American, so let me defer to a couple of websites where, evidently, attention is paid to Gallic goings-on: Mad  About Paris.com prefers ironic amusement: “If you’ve never lived in France, you probably don’t know Patrick Poivre d’Arvor. In which case I feel very sorry for you. You’ve really missed something.”

And at that famously cosmopolitan publication, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, James Lileks delivers an unimprovable verdict on the entire dust-up between Borne and PPDA: “It’s one of those May-Sepulchre relationships.” To judge for yourself, go here.

Let me close by observing that PPDA has apparently written something like three dozen books, not one of which, far as I can see, has appeared in English. Never before have I been grateful for the infamous American distaste for translated literature.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. January 19, 2011 10:11 pm

    The French have ignored me, so I’ll ignore them. But let me recommend a biography of Tolstoy by A.N. Wilson that I just fiinished. I’ve read the one by Troyat and Wilson beats it hands down. I know that is just what you need – another book to read! Sorry, Chauncey.

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 20, 2011 10:54 am

      Wilson is a terrific writer, I’ll agree. Twenty years ago he produced one of my favorite biographies of all time, on C.S. Lewis. Not only did he challenge Lewis’s life and thought (though respectfully), brought into sharp focus the world in which Lewis lived. It had the reading power, at least for me, of a great shaggy novel.

      A for the French and PPDA (that sounds like a hand-held electronic device, doesn’t it?), I’ll admit to liking the occasional stroll through the gutter of celebrity life, especially if it’s literary celebrity. What fools these mortals be, wot?!

  2. January 20, 2011 2:19 pm

    Quel scandale!

    I went and read the article (as best I could anyway) and apparently, this guy knowledged in his bibliography and notes the works of other well-known Hemingway biographers like Carlos Baker. But evidently, the book by Peter Griffin, whose work this guy lifted almost verbatim, isn’t available anywhere in France. And Griffin, the article says, “is no longer of this world.” Meaning the poor guy is dead and can’t even defend himself. The article also sez the publisher did an advance printing of 20,000 copies (huge in France) and libraries are awaiting their copies. No word from the pub and whether they are going to actually release the thing.

    What balls. Or, as the French would say, “quelle couilles.”

    • Chauncey Mabe permalink*
      January 21, 2011 2:36 pm

      It’s my understanding the Griffin book was published in France back in the day but has long been out of print. Given the wide and loud airing this scandal has enjoyed in Paris, I doubt many libraries will be stocking it on their shelves. But I may be wrong. You’ve spent about a thousand times more time in France than I have, so I’d trust your interpretation.

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