Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Schulman, Sam. "Good Writers. Bad Men. Does It Matter?" IN CHARACTER: A JOURNAL OF EVERYDAY VIRTUES March 30, 2010.

A great majority of us have done discreditable, even cruel things in our lives, even after we have ceased to be children. And the great majority of that majority find it in our hearts to forgive ourselves, and to think more about how we have been injured than the injuries we have made. But it seems to matter more when a writer or artist behaves badly. Why should it? If my dentist loves one of his daughters more than any of his other children, or a Boeing engineer is having an affair with her best friend's husband, it is cruel. But their cruelties don't impair the quality of my bridgework or disturb my tendency to sleep peacefully through take-offs and landings. Why does the bad character of a writer or artist matters so much more? And how does "mattering" work? Big biographies of major authors tend to raise or lower their subjects in the esteem of their publics: Flannery O'Connor, up; John Cheever, not so much. But when there is a big revelation - especially a revelation of weakness or worse - there is a stimulus effect. The reputation of Philip Larkin has never recovered from his friend Andrew Motion's biography, which pointed out repeatedly that he, Motion, though a pretty dreadful poet, is a far better human being than Larkin was. Readers knew about John Cheever's alcoholism and his bisexual priapism from his journals, first published in the same magazine which published his beautiful short stories and from the complaining memoirs of his daughter before Brad Bailey's Cheever biography of last year. The big shock of the year, however, was the "authorized biography" of V.S. Naipaul, by Patrick French: The World Is What it is. French's book shocked only partly because of the story it told, the real surprise was that Naipaul collaborated so completely with its telling. . . . Read the rest here:

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