George Orwell Got a B – at Harvard, When Michael Crichton Submitted an Orwell Essay as His Own

In his 2002 memoir, Travels, Michael 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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