Thursday, December 3, 2009

More Libellous Fiction

Nathaniel Hawthorne (who as you can see was somewhat of a hottie) also experienced libel accusations in regard to one of his most famous works of fiction.

In The House of Seven Gables, the name of the corrupt, evil villain is Judge Pyncheon. It just so happens that there actually was a Judge Pyncheon, and one of his descendents wrote to Hawthorne, complaining of libel.

Hawthorne responded:

"It pains me to learn that I have given you what I am content to acknowledge a reasonable ground for offense, by borrowing the name of the Pyncheon family for my fictitious purposes, in the "House of the Seven Gables."

It never occurred to me, however, that the name was not as much the property of a romance-writer as that of Smith, for instance...

I intended no allusion to any Pyncheons, now or at any previous period extant...

You suggest that reparation is due for these injuries of my pen, but point out no mode in which it may be practicable. It is my own opinion that no real harm has been done; inasmuch as I expressly enter a protest, in the preface to "The House of the Seven Gables," against the narrative and the personages being considered as other than imaginary."

The entire letter is very apologetic in tone, and it seems that this was enough to "pacify" the complainant.

As it happens, we know Hawthorne absolutely meant no libel toward any Pyncheons because we know precisely on whom Judge Pyncheon was based.

But that is a tale for another day. :)


  1. I once spoke to a book club that had read my novel , "The Summer Before The Storm", in which one of the families that summer on a lake in Muskoka is named "Carrington". I took the name from one of the streets in my city because I thought that their business name would have a nice ring to it - Carrington Carpets. One of the (very affluent) ladies at the meeting asked me if knew the Carringtons on this lake. Surprised, I replied that I didn't know any Carringtons at all, let alone that some actually did have a cottage on the lake. She replied that I should really be careful whom I put into my books!

  2. Wow!

    But it's not like you can totally make up names like in science fiction or fantasy.

    What's an author to do?