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Pirating Fictions

Ownership and Creativity in Nineteenth-Century Popular Culture
Monica F. Cohen

BUY Cloth · 312 pp. · 6 × 9 · ISBN 9780813940694 · $45.00 · Jan 2018
BUY Ebook · 312 pp. · ISBN 9780813940700 · $45.00 · Jan 2018

Two distinctly different meanings of piracy are ingeniously intertwined in Monica Cohen's lively new book, which shows how popular depictions of the pirate held sway on the page and the stage even as their creators were preoccupied with the ravages of literary appropriation. The golden age of piracy captured the nineteenth-century imagination, animating such best-selling novels as  Treasure Island and inspiring theatrical hits from  The Pirates of Penzance to  Peter Pan. But the prevalence of unauthorized reprinting and dramatic adaptation meant that authors lost immense profits from the most lucrative markets. Infuriated, novelists and playwrights denounced such literary piracy in essays, speeches, and testimonies. Their fiction, however, tells a different story.

Using landmarks in copyright history as a backdrop,  Pirating Fictions argues that popular nineteenth-century pirate fiction mischievously resists the creation of intellectual property in copyright legislation and law. Drawing on classic pirate stories by such writers as Walter Scott, James Fenimore Cooper, Robert Louis Stevenson, and J. M. Barrie, this wide-ranging account demonstrates, in raucous tales and telling asides, how literary appropriation was celebrated at the very moment when the forces of possessive individualism began to enshrine the language of personal ownership in Anglo-American views of creative work.


Engagingly written and sprightly in its moves between texts and ideas, Pirating Fictions is attractive, fresh, and fun.

Clare Pettitt, King's College London, author of Patent Inventions: Intellectual Property and the Victorian Novel

Written in a lively and engaging style,  Pirating Fictions examines the interplay between literary theft and nautical piracy, outlining a compelling case for a dialogue between the two and their roles in the move towards international copyright agreements.... Cohen’s rich and intelligent study draws out links between Scottish authorship, piracy and copyright questions. Her work sheds new light on such late Victorian favourites as  Treasure Island and  Peter Pan by emphasizing a collaborative, communal authorship of the pirate tale, one which satisfied public expectations for piratical behaviour and appearance by referencing – or raiding – previous works.

Times Literary Supplement

About the Author: 

Monica F. Cohen, Adjunct Assistant Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Columbia University, is the author of  Professional Domesticity in the Victorian Novel: Women, Work and Home.

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