Henry Timrod, that is. See the blog Ralph the Sacred River for evidence of Dylan lifting lines in his memoir Chronicles from Marcel Proust, Mark Twain, and a 1946 book called “Really the Blues.”
This is potentially far more controversial than Dylan adapting phrases from a Civil War poet for some songs on Modern Times. After all, as Edward Cook, who discovered all this says, Chronicles is a work of prose, and readers are naturally entitled to assume that the text is original. Remember the recent “How Opal Mehta Got Kissed” episode?
On the other hand, in the examples provided, Dylan is not copying whole paragraphs and stealing elements of storyline, but is adapting certain phrases and imagery and turning them around to an extent. Still, some phrases are identical enough to warrant quotation marks, one would think.
So, allusiveness or plain deception?
I don’t want to defend too quickly, but I’m reminding myself of this, by way of a premise: Chronicles is not the story of Bob Dylan the man. If it were, we’d have lots more on his relationship with his wife and his kids (he might even mention their names!) and plenty of other intimate personal recollections that are not offered. Chronicles is Dylan’s way of telling his public story — to his public. It’s the memoir of Dylan the artist. What he’s providing is a seemingly very honest and startlingly clear portrait of how he went from being the kid from Hibbing full of dreams to the accomplished songwriter and performer who caused such a ruckus — in addition to how he arrived at later stages of artistic development. He goes to great lengths to tell us exactly what books he read, what authors he liked and why, what music he loved, what performers fascinated him and what moments of catharsis kicked him towards writing the kinds of songs he came to write. That’s what the book is about. In the course of contemplating all those matters and in particular revisiting the literary works that stuck in his mind through the years, perhaps he found it both amusing and appropriate to put some of those writers’ phrases into his own memoir — adapting them to tell his own story.
It’s worth remembering that no witnesses have accused him of making up the stories in Chronicles. From the survivors of the early Village days (admittedly there aren’t very many of them around) to later characters like Daniel Lanois — no one has said, “Hey, Bob’s imagining that — it never happened.” For that and other reasons we can be reasonably sure that he didn’t plagiarize the story that he is telling — it is what he claims it to be. If, in the course of it — as is now apparent — he planted and adapted phrases from some his favorite books, then that’s something else.
The ethics of it are debatable, of-course, and they will be debated. All I can say right now is: If Simon & Schuster does a complete recall on the book, I’m pretty sure I’ll be holding on to my copy.