Law: Of Whom the Bell Told

Mixed message from a legal battle over facts and fiction

Even if works of the imagination could talk, they could never testify. Being fictional, how could they swear to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but? Nonetheless, a number of angry plaintiffs in recent years have brought libel suits charging that they were represented, and misrepresented, by fictional characters in stories, novels and films. The latest such suit, against the film version of Sylvia Plath's novel The Bell Jar, ended last week with a court-endorsed settlement that sent a cautionary and somewhat paradoxical message: when you make things up, be sure to tell the truth.

Dr. Jane V. Anderson,...