Unauthorized Author Backs Down

This is a Jan. 31, 1947 file photo of British novelist Evelyn Waugh, on board the liner S.S. America, after it arrived in New York. Waugh's estate has persuaded an author to pull a sequel to Waugh's classic "Brideshead revisited" an estate spokesman said Monday Sept. 29, 2003
Under pressure from Evelyn Waugh's estate, a self-published sequel to the classic "Brideshead Revisited" will only be available on the Internet, an estate spokesman said Monday.

Michael Johnston's "Brideshead Regained: Continuing the Memoirs of Charles Ryder," which he spent his own money to publish, was billed as a sequel but did not have the authorization of the Waugh estate.

The estate complained to Johnston and, fearing legal action, he backed down. He has now agreed to sell his book only on the Internet and then only until the first run of a few hundred copies has gone. All copies must carry a sticker indicating it is not an authorized sequel and further publication is forbidden.

"You cannot just wander into someone else's property and take their characters," said James Gill, who represents the Evelyn Waugh estate.

Waugh died in 1966. An author's rights under copyright law continue for 70 years after death.

Gill added that Johnston "has not been able to find a publisher because the book is not very good and he has had to publish it himself. So we don't see it as a major threat."

Johnston said the estate "missed the point entirely."

"Endeavoring to extend a wonderful story to unimagined places and conclusions may certainly be controversial, but it's also the most sincere form of a tribute to the original author," he said.

Observers have likened Johnston to novelist Alice Randall, whose controversial sequel to Margaret Mitchell's "Gone With The Wind" also ran into difficulties with Mitchell's estate.

Last year, the estate agreed to an out-of-court settlement which allowed Alice Randall's "The Wind Done Gone" to be sold. Randall's publisher, Houghton Mifflin, agreed to make an undisclosed contribution to Morehouse College, a historically black school. Thanks largely to the estate's attempts to stop publication, Randall's book was a best seller.

A similar battle was fought over "Lo's Diary," a novel retelling the late Vladimir Nabokov's "Lolita" from the young girl's point of view. That dispute ended with an agreement to share royalties.

In 2001, a French court rejected a suit by descendants of Victor Hugo, who died in 1885, to have a newly published sequel to "Les Miserables" pulled from bookstores.

The author's descendants argued the new book, Francois Ceresa's "Cosette ou le temps des illusions" ("Cosette or the Time of Illusions"), violated Hugo's intellectual property rights. The court noted that Hugo, in his lifetime, said he had not wanted his descendants to have any control over his literary legacy.

"Brideshead Revisited" follows the fortunes of Ryder, an aspiring artist from a middle-class family, as he goes to Oxford University and makes friends with the upper-class Sebastian Flyte and his family.

Johnston's sequel opens in 1945 at the funeral of Sebastian's beloved Nanny Hawkins, with Ryder giving an account of the intervening years, during which he has worked as a war artist in North Africa. On a painting expedition with Prime Minister Winston Churchill he rediscovers Sebastian and later sees the horrors of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.

The book has its fans. "A fine sequel to one of the greatest stories ever told," wrote author and critic Sheridan Morley.

Simon Howard, owner of Castle Howard, where the acclaimed TV series of "Brideshead Revisited" was filmed, called it "a compelling narrative, beautifully written."

By Sue Leeman