George Orwell Got a B- at Harvard, When Michael Crichton Submitted an Orwell Essay as His Own


In his 2002 memoir, TravelsMichael Crichton took his readers back several decades, to the early 1960s when, as a Harvard student, he tried an interesting little experiment in his English class. He recalled:

I had gone to college planning to become a writer, but early on a scientific tendency appeared. In the English department at Harvard, my writing style was severely criticized and I was receiving grades of C or C+ on my papers. At eighteen, I was vain about my writing and felt it was Harvard, and not I, that was in error, so I decided to make an experiment. The next assignment was a paper on Gulliver’s Travels, and I remembered an essay by George Orwell that might fit. With some hesitation, I retyped Orwell’s essay and submitted it as my own. I hesitated because if I were caught for plagiarism I would be expelled; but I was pretty sure that my instructor was not only wrong about writing styles, but poorly read as well. In any case, George Orwell got a B- at Harvard, which convinced me that the English department was too difficult for me.

I decided to study anthropology instead. But I doubted my desire to continue as a graduate student in anthropology, so I began taking premed courses, just in case.

Most likely Crichton submitted Orwell’s essay 1946 essay, “Politics vs. Literature: An Examination of Gulliver’s Travels.”  He eventually went to Harvard Medical School but kept writing on the side. Perhaps getting a grade just a shade below Orwell’s B- gave Crichton some bizarre confirmation that he could one day make it as a writer.

via Reddit

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  1. Shannon Ferguson says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 5:23 am

    That picture of Crichton looks weird. What going on with the hairline?

  2. bjza says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 5:58 am

    Just because the essay was by Orwell and related to the literature under discussion doesn’t mean the essay fit the assignment. Ask any professor how many grades are lowered because the student didn’t answer the prompt.

  3. Zach says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 7:42 am

    Great article and fun. Travels was 1988, though, not 2002.

  4. pgrudin says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 11:39 am

    Did Creighton ever become a writer? That prof was right about him if wrong about Orwell.

  5. bmann says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 2:50 pm

    Reminds me of the movie “Back to School” where Rodney Dangerfield had Kurt Vonnegut write an essay on one of Vonnegut’s stories. The essay got a “B”.

  6. Carlos Pereira Gonçalves says . . . | January 25, 2014 / 3:29 pm

    And he should find himself funny, this fuckup. Presenting another’s work as his own seems to be already a habit; … “Jurassic Park” – and Michael Crichton doesn’t “exist” for nothing more… – is the most extraordinary plagiarism in all contemporary literature, never complained and still completely unpunished; “The fateful eggs” by Mikhail Bulgakov, are passed from a Soviet cooperative five-year plans for a capitalist Disneyland.
    I found really annoying the luck of this bastard. And extraordinary the ignorance of literary critics …, the academics of such B-, after all…

  7. Nobody says . . . | January 30, 2014 / 10:23 am

    I bet george Orwell laughed his arse off in the grave.

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