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

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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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