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  • "People Will Pay to Hear the Drama":Plagiarism in Clotel
  • Geoffrey Sanborn (bio)

It is no secret that William Wells Brown did not write everything that appears under his name in Clotel; or, the President's Daughter, the first published novel by an African American. Since 1969, when William Edward Farrison published an edition of Clotel with extensive notes on Brown's sources, scholars have known that Brown lifted passages from Lydia Maria Child's "The Quadroons," John Reilly Beard's The Life of Touissant L'Ouverture, Bishop William Meade's Sermons Addressed to Masters and Servants, and Theodore Weld's Slavery As It Is. Almost all of chapters four and eight and part of chapter twenty-three are taken from "The Quadroons"; the opening of chapter twenty-three and ten sentences in chapter twenty-four are taken from The Life of Touissant L'Ouverture; eight paragraphs in chapter six are taken from Meade's collection; and four sentences from Weld's introduction appear in chapter sixteen. Elsewhere, Farrison shows, Brown recycles some of his own previously published material, reprints a poem by Grace Greenwood without identifying her as the author, and incorporates newspaper articles without citing their actual sources.1 In the latter cases, Brown does not actually represent the work of another writer as his own; at most, he simply leaves open the possibility that he composed the passages. The same is true of several similar cases identified by Robert S. Levine in his 2000 edition of Clotel.2 In a 2005 online edition of the novel, however, Christopher Mulvey reported the discovery of six more plagiarized passages, four of which are voiced by Georgiana Carlton, the most lecture-prone character in the novel.3 That brought the total amount of the plagiarism in Clotel to eighteen passages, or 4,781 words, derived from eight different sources.

This is, however, just the tip of a very large iceberg, a mass of information about Brown's expropriative practices, derived from phrase searches on various online databases, that is likely to occupy scholars for a long time to come. In a chapter on Clotel in her forthcoming Preaching and the Rise of the American Novel, Dawn Coleman identifies another twenty-six plagiarized passages, most of which are, like the passages identified by Mulvey, either sermonic or oratorical.4 In those twenty-six passages, Brown copies 4,016 words from twenty different sources. Here, for ease of reference, is a table indicating their location—keyed to chapter and page number in the 1853 edition—and source.

Passages in Clotel Sources
Narrator: "Marriage is, indeed . . . relation being protected." (1: 57-58) William Bowditch, Slavery and the Constitution, 56-57 (283 words)
Narrator: "What words can tell . . . meek-ness to forgive it." (1: 64) George Allen, Resistance to Slavery, 15-16 (78 words)
Peck: "I have searched in vain . . . as his necessity enforces." (6: 88-89) Col. Wm. F. Hutson, Rev. of History of the Girondists, 401-02 (242 words)
Peck: "The Bible furnishes to us . . . become an easy prey." (6: 89-90) [James Thornwell], "Religious Instruction," 108 (170 words) [End Page 65]
Georgiana: "We must try the character . . . toil, through life." (6: 91-92) Allen, Resistance to Slavery, 13 (223 words)
Georgiana: "True Christian love . . . Jesus Christ in sincerity." (6: 92) Thomas Reade, Christian Retirement, 375 (20 words)
Snyder: "Q. What command has God . . . harbour a runaway? A. No. (6: 98-99) Bowditch, Slavery, 50 (300 words)
Snyder: "No community can be . . . and to social well-being." (7: 106) John Gorham Palfrey, Papers on the Slave Power, 55 (48 words)
Georgiana: "To claim, hold, and treat . . . against God and man." (10: 115) La Roy Sunderland, Anti-Slavery Manual, 40 (16 words)
Georgiana: "The Christian religion . . . among murderers." (10: 115) La Roy Sunderland, Testimony of God, 159 (18 words)
Georgiana: "Slaveholding is the highest . . . life-long theft." (10: 115-16) Theodore Weld, The Bible against Slavery, 11 (29 words)
Georgiana: "When the Redeemer . . . who are bound." (10: 116-17) An Address to Free Colored Americans, 24-25 (385 words)
Georgiana: "for the argument from . . . character of God." (10: 117-18) William Weston Patton, Slavery—The Bible—Infidelity, 6, 7 (28 words)
Georgiana: "When...


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