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

orwell crichton1

Images via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

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.

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via Red­dit

Relat­ed Con­tent:

George Orwell’s Five Great­est Essays (as Select­ed by Pulitzer-Prize Win­ning Colum­nist Michael Hiltzik)

T.S. Eliot, as Faber & Faber Edi­tor, Rejects George Orwell’s “Trot­skyite” Nov­el Ani­mal Farm (1944)

George Orwell Explains in a Reveal­ing 1944 Let­ter Why He’d Write 1984

George Orwell’s Har­row­ing Race to Fin­ish 1984 Before His Death

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Comments (28)
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  • Shannon Ferguson says:

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

  • bjza says:

    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.

  • Zach says:

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

  • pgrudin says:

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

  • bmann says:

    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”.

  • Carlos Pereira Gonçalves says:

    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…

  • Jim Cameron says:

    meh. Pla­gia­rism, pure and sim­ple. Very seri­ous offense and a mark of poor char­ac­ter, no mat­ter the cir­cum­stance.

    Methinks it went more like this: now that he was famous, he want­ed to cov­er his tracks, in case any­one researched his past. In order to pre-empt crit­i­cism that he was guilty of this seri­ous vio­la­tion in col­lege — and risk hav­ing his degree revoked, may I add — he came up with this par­tic­u­lar work of fic­tion.

  • Joe says:

    Well, he was a suc­cess­ful fic­tion writer…

  • aname Ipicked says:

    Yeah, he had that weird hair­line and he’s dead now.

  • Mr. B says:

    He was actu­al­ly a pret­ty good writer by the late 60’s. You might know some of his work — he wrote Juras­sic Park, Con­go, Sphere and around twen­ty oth­er nov­els.

    He also won a num­ber of awards for his writ­ing:

  • Michael Crichton says:

    Jim Cameron, that’s pure con­jec­ture. Thanks though.

  • Mr. B says:

    There was a Twi­light Zone episode where Shake­speare trav­eled though time and failed a class on Shake­speare.

  • Nicole says:

    Michael Crich­ton helmed many nov­els, includ­ing Juras­sic Park and State of Fear. He was a very, very accom­plished author.

  • Sean Penn says:

    You are an idiot. And a poor­ly edu­cat­ed one at that.

  • Barry Secrest says:

    Crich­ton is one of the most pen­e­tra­tive authors of the 20th cen­tu­ry with regard to both tech­nol­o­gy and Amer­i­ca’s death knell of polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness. Your lack of lan­guage skills and use of pro­fan­i­ty in a pub­lic forum prob­a­bly makes you a Lucifer­ian elit­ist of the acad­e­mia class. Crich­ton was mere­ly point­ing out both the piety and the hypocrisy of the indoc­tri­nat­ed fas­cists who now occu­py most high­er [sic] learn­ing insti­tu­tions.

  • James says:

    What do you think he cares if he got his degree revoked? He is already a mil­lionare from his movies. He does­n’t are what you think about him.

  • daveo says:

    this book was pub­lished in 1988, not 2002

  • Jordan says:

    I refuse to acknowl­edge the opin­ion of any­one who writes ‘meh’ or ‘methinks’.

  • Bill says:

    Sor­ry, Bar­rack, but 3 dol­lar words don’t make you a schol­ar. Crich­ton was a hack with a polit­i­cal ax to grind. Just because you agree with his pol­i­tics does­n’t make him smart. He admit­ted to pla­gia­rism in acad­e­mia, which sim­ply makes him of poor char­ac­ter, and goes a long way to explain­ing his polit­i­cal lean­ings. It’s not an “exper­i­ment”. Sor­ry. I’m sure George Orwell prob­a­bly got the equiv­a­lent of B’s too, and prob­a­bly because he did­n’t fol­low the direc­tions in the rubric. I’ve taught col­lege. Young know-it-all’s are all the same.

  • Leeroy Jenkins says:

    Sounds like a Pro­fes­sor. Call­ing a suc­cess­ful author a hack, hides behind the safe­ty net of cur­ricu­lum when it suits them, unable to iden­ti­fy bril­liant minds, claims any­one who does­n’t fol­low their arbi­trary rules is a know-it-all.

    That sums up half of my col­lege pro­fes­sors.

  • seriously says:

    You have GOT to be jok­ing. Your idio­cy is bound­less if you seri­ous­ly just said that regard­ing orwell and ‘rubrics’. Old hacks who did­n’t get the edu­ca­tions they’d actu­al­ly want­ed are all pathet­ic, over­bear­ing, author­i­tar­i­an, nar­cis­sis­tic, and all the same. Back to talk­ing to your cats now!

  • Mike F says:

    I have no idea what you are so worked up about but I find your use of ;… and …- and …, to be most infor­ma­tive about the tenor of the writ­ing.

    As for Crich­ton, I think Stephen King said it best: “As a pop nov­el­ist, he was divine. A Crich­ton book was a head­long expe­ri­ence dri­ven by a man who was both a nat­ur­al sto­ry­teller and fiendish­ly clever when it came to verisimil­i­tude; he made you believe that cloning dinosaurs was­n’t just over the hori­zon but pos­si­ble tomor­row. Maybe today.”

  • jones69 says:

    “The Androm­e­da Strain” was anoth­er com­plete­ly hokey book. The strain mutat­ed at the end to save the world. No one did any­thing to make this hap­pen, so all the ten­sion in the book was a com­plete waste of time. I think Crich­ton has stolen oth­er ideas, too–he had to go to court over the screen­play of “Twister.” And from the New York Times dur­ing that time: “Mr. Crich­ton, who is in St. Louis for the tri­al, said yes­ter­day that he had been accused of steal­ing ideas for almost all his movie scripts since his ”Androm­e­da Strain” of 1969.” He’s not a great writer by any stretch, and appar­ent­ly he does­n’t have many orig­i­nal ideas, either.

  • elvis says:

    Bill, just a quick ques­tion for you; to whom were you refer­ring to when you used the name Bar­rack in your com­ment? I may have missed some­thing but I can not see any com­ments from a per­son by that name, nor was the arti­cle writ­ten by some­body named Bar­rack. Fur­ther infor­ma­tion would be great­ly appre­ci­at­ed

  • James says:

    Eng­lish pro­fes­sors are the worst, you’ll nev­er meet some­one with such a high opin­ion of them­selves

  • Mavis Davis says:

    Crich­ton won the law­suits.

    I believe he also told the head of the Eng­lish Depart­ment at Har­vard before he sub­mit­ted the essay and the embar­rassed prof want­ed to bring charges against him, but Har­vard did­n’t want to look fool­ish.

    Crich­ton dropped Eng­lish because because he felt Har­vard had noth­ing to teach him in that area and grad­u­at­ed sum­ma cum laude & phi beta kap­pa.

    Not many peo­ple can claim the #1 book, #1 movie and #1 tv show at the same time.

  • betsye j.lee says:

    Dear folks,in my experience,not to many peo­ple can grad­u­ate from Harvard.the smart peo­ple can,and I still feel they are the exception,the minority.Mainly,because,their good,solid,above aver­age students.i would nev­er be one of these,or even be the in that category,because,quite frankly,I nev­er qual­i­fied as ‘the straight a type.‘I per­son­al­ly think(in my mind,anyway),that a per­son should go to col­lege only if they want to learn,and achieve something.Roosevelt high school students.….this would be the school for you!FrOM;Betsye J.Lee

  • Michelle says:

    I think it was a delib­er­ate ploy to get his lec­tur­ers to realise he was being under marked by a pro­fes­sor. I’m sure some­one on this list knows how that feels…it’s hap­pened to me once and this sto­ry res­ig­na­tion at the time as I lost a mod­ule due to some­one not real­ly doing their job well. It’s funny…I wish I did it in that instance I’d have full marks and deserved them. Hind­sight… I think he act­ed in the moment and taught the col­lege a les­son. Maybe research this sto­ry more, a lot more infor­ma­tion could have been in this arti­cle. What he did was clever.

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