Blake Bailey & Philip Roth Biography That Blew Up


Blake Bailey.Photo by Allen J. Chapin / Los Angeles Times / Getty Images

Philip Roth He didn’t have much luck with this autobiography book. Late in his life, he is deeply sad after his failed marriage to actress Claire Bloom and the publication of Blooms. Incendiary Notes During his years together, he asked his close friend, Ross Miller, a professor of English at the University of Connecticut, to take over the job. Ruth sent Miller’s lists of family and friends he wanted to interview, as well as questions he felt should be asked. (“Were you expecting him to succeed on the scale that he has?”) It didn’t work for various reasons. Ruth wanted Miller to refute a familiar accusation, “This crazy misogynistic nonsense!” He felt his long sexy history landed down to one false accusation. But Miller came to his own conclusion. “There is a predatory side to both Sandy and Philip,” he said to Ruth’s cousin. (Sandy was Ruth’s older brother.) “They look at women – I won’t write about this – but they are Be Misogyny. They talk about women this way. “

Blake Bailey, Miller’s successor, narrated this anecdote in Philip Roth: The Autobiography, his eight-hundred-page account of Ruth’s eighty-five-year-old life, published earlier this month. Talking about women “this way” didn’t seem to be a problem for Bailey. Ruth had read and admired Billy’s biography of John Schaefer, but offered Billy the job, by his own account, after Ruth’s enthusiasm about the qualities of Ali McGraw, who had starred in the film “Goodbye, Columbus. Readers of Billy’s book will encounter a lot of this kind of thing, often to the point of eavesdropping. (“The Nice Sex Talk in the Locker Room,” a writer friend of mine sent me a text message about a clip in which she described Ruth’s young friend Maxine Groowski, model Brenda Pattimkin. , “Goodbye, Columbus” character as “slipping into a cabana,” he says, blowing it up, “while Ruth changes into a bathing suit.” Who is writing this sentence? Seems he’s joking with Ruth. “) But the book’s readership is limited now. On Wednesday, after allegations surfaced that Billy had domesticated and harassed female students in the 1990s, while he was an eighth-grade English teacher at Locher School, in New Orleans – and that he raped two women, including an ex-student – his publisher W.W. Norton stopped distributing the résumé. Bailey was shot down by his literary agency earlier in the week.

This turn of events is so shocking and so disturbing that it is difficult to know where to begin. But since this is a story, among other things, of a profound and sinister failure of accountability in the publishing world, let’s start there. In 2015, according to Report in TimesBailey met Executive Director of Publishing, Valentina Rice, at Times Home of critic Dwight Garner, New Jersey. Both guests were invited to overnight. After Rice went to bed, she says, Billy came into her room and raped her. (In an email she sent me, Pelly denied the allegations and all others. Rice declined to comment.) Rice captivated in a friend; As is very common in such situations, the police were not involved. Three years later, encouraged by the #MeToo movement, Rice emailed Norton president Julia A. Redhead, from an alias address. “I didn’t feel able to report this to the police, but I feel I have to do something and tell someone to protect other women,” she wrote. “I understand that you will need to confirm this claim which I am prepared to make, if you can assure me of anonymity even if Mr. Bailey will probably know who I am exactly.”

No one from Norton responded to the email, but it was sent to Bailey, an act that speaks, at best, of catastrophic neglect. Bailey then wrote to the defendant, denying the prosecution (“I can assure you that I have never had sex without consent of any kind, with anyone, at all, and if it comes to some point, I will vigorously defend my reputation and livelihood”), and the irony to To some extent, to claim her silence: “In the meantime, I appeal to your fitness: I have a wife and young daughter who loves me and depends on me, and such rumors, even if they are untrue, will destroy them.”

The fact that Norton made such an accusation and apparently not done much to investigate it is a stain on the publisher’s reputation, and it’s hard to erase it. (In a statement, Norton said: “We take this claim very seriously. We were aware that the allegation was also being sent to two people at Mr. Bailey’s former employer and to a reporter in New York.” Times. We have taken steps, including questioning Mr. Bailey about the allegations, which he categorically denies. We never knew the identity of the sender of the email, and we were conscious of the sender’s request to ensure anonymity. There has been a lot of scrutiny, lately, at the stumbling of the embarrassing corporate publishing of our polarized era. Last week, Simon & Schuster took the unusual step of announcing that he would not be distributing a book written by one of the Louisville cops who shot Briona Taylor; The book by a conservative subsidiary, Post Hill Press, has met with public outrage. Just as a policeman had the right to write a book, the publisher had the right to refuse to distribute it; how you feel about either decision will depend on your policy and moral compass. He rushes to protect himself from her failure to look more deeply into a serious claim.This is not a case of censorship, which means suppressing thoughts, but rather, a jostling in control of damage.

A different type of funnel is an even greater concern. Bailey, as Ruth’s certified biographer, was granted exclusive access to certain papers and materials that may not be shown again to other researchers. If his book is to disappear, Roth ownership must be sure that other scholars get their chance.

How will the allegations against Pelly change our reading of his book – if we read it? In a sense, they already have it. It is more than a terrible irony that the biographer of a man who is being severely accused of misogyny allegations is being accused of violence against women; It pollutes the entire organization. Several of the women who spoke out against Billy said they were moved by doing so after reading the book and feeling that he had condoned Ruth’s abuse of the women in his life. (Bailey wrote to a former student in an email he got Times-Picayune/ New Orleans Pro. “But I didn’t do anything illegal.”)

What may be more damning, however, is what Bailey’s discoveries have not changed. Ruth once said to Miller, “It wasn’t just about“ having sex with this person who had sex with that person. ”However, Billy’s biography gives the impression that it was just this way: a long life spent writing book after book, Pursuit , And then flee from, woman after woman, the lovers that Billy likes to describe by body type and temperament – “rational,” gorgeous, young and wealthy “Groffsky, who refused to be interviewed by Bailey; The sweet and boring Ann Mudge, Ruth’s loyal companion in his thirties and one of a surprising number of his fans who either attempted suicide or threatened suicide when he left; And Maggie Martinson, Ruth’s first wife, is a “bitter, poor, and sexually unwanted divorcee” who is relentlessly chastened by Paley’s prose to the extent that his portrayal limits an act of personal revenge.

Billy’s role as a biographer was not to make a judgment about his topic. He just needed to try to understand him, and he made us understand him, too. “Why don’t I take as seriously as Colette on this?” Ruth had asked Miller the gender question. “I gave a tongue job to this guy at the railway station. Who cares about that? … that doesn’t tell me anything. What did the hand jobs?” Means Her? “So what does sex mean to Ruth? Billy’s book is so stuck in its obsessive indexing of lovers that the woods are lost in an endless succession of trees. It was where Ruth found insight into his character on the page. Time and time again, in novels, he changed life. Bailey’s literal and comprehensive version of that life reflects the influence, and the result is sadly pale. What he never realized was the artist’s dung, with his abilities of imagination, expression and language – what made him absolutely autobiographical.

The sins of the biographer are not the sins of his subject. However, it seems certain that Billy’s situation will expose Ruth to the misogyny issue again. Was Ruth a misogynist? I have always found this appellation extremely elegant and, in short, dismissive of a novelist like Ruth is capacious, innovative and terrifying. But I might be avoiding it because it also hurts me to use it. When you read a novel with earnestness, with absorption and commitment, you find yourself bonded with it, pressed together in a mental dance. You have the right to argue, praise, love, criticize and even insult the work; Engagement seriousness is a sign of respect imagining the novelist’s comeback. This respect is the unspoken contract that binds the writer to the reader, and when he is suddenly pulled it is a slap, a brutal shock. It is this decade that tears apart Bailey’s alleged criminal behavior with his readers, even though readers are hardly the true victims of this terrible case. We are accustomed to thinking about the ways in which the artist’s life affects the work; There is poetic justice in the fact that here Ruth’s work has fallen into the trap of his biographer. It’s tempting to imagine what Ruth could have done, in his metafictional setting, for a writer who is revealed after he hints himself at the story of his subject. But this is real life, not fiction, and art cannot replace facts with facts.

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