What makes a great artist or writer? Is it solely their great work that we should acknowledge? What if they were actually bad people - should that affect our criticism of their work and contributions to art or literature? Many people argue that we need the separate the bad person from the great artist, as the two are in distinct categories. But sometimes the bad nature of a person seeps into their work, influencing the overall narrative to reflect them.
Take H.P. Lovecraft for example: his virulent racism was seeped into his work and made it a challenging read for many people who were offended by his slurs and attacks on other races. Is it right to support these artists by buying their work and giving them money for their prejudice? What if some people use that money to directly spread this bigotry, in a Chik-fil-A type of scenario. Regardless of your view point on the subject, we can all agree that finding out your favorite author was a bigot is less than exciting.Unfortunately though, like everyone else, they are people too, with flaws of their own. Sometimes those flaws are inexcusable, or even run contradictory to the very morals their works preach. The artists and writers below all led less than perfect lives and find themselves among the many artists and writers who were bad people throughout history.
Who she is: A crime novelist who murdered her mother.
The story: Anne Perry is one of the bestselling crime novelists in the world, most notably famous for her Thomas Pitt and William Monk novels. What makes Perry quite unusual is that, unlike other writers who were bad people, her crime was committed at a shockingly young age.
When she was a teenager, Perry, known as Juliet Hulme at the time, and Pauline Parker were best friends to an obsessive degree, creating fantasy worlds together and keeping in close contact. At the time, Hulme's mother was going through the process of divorcing her husband and moving to South Africa with relatives. Not wanting to separate from each other, Perry and Parker decided to murder Ms. Hulme while walking together on a path, by distracting her with a dropped jewel, and beating with a brick 20 times, ultimately killing her. They both serviced five years in prison, and never spoke to each other after that. Hulme then changed her name to Anne Perry and became a crime novelist.
The story was made into the film Heavenly Creatures (directed by Peter Jackson) and detailed in a biography, Anne Perry and the Murder of the Century.
Birthplace: London, United Kingdom
#35 on The Best Mystery Authors
Who he was: Author of Lord of the Flies and attempted rapist.
The story: William Golding is best known for writing Lord of the Flies, a groundbreaking novel about children fighting to the death on an island, which won him the Nobel Prize in 1954. But few people know about the darkness so integral to his work
The unpublished memoir Men and Women (which Golding wrote for his wife) details his attempted rape of a 15-year-old girl named Dora. For years this information was locked away, until John Carey, a professor at Oxford, gained access to private unpublished journals from Golding's collections. Golding was an adult at the time, away on holiday at Oxford. The memoir quotes Golding's journals, indicating that his lusting began with his observation of her being, "already sexy as an ape." After being sure that she "wanted heavy sex," Golding tried to advance on her. Being fought off, the two didn't meet again until two years later. As if nothing had ever happened they proceeded to have sex in a field, and Golding got off scot-free, going on to publish his most notable work.
Age: Died at 82 (1911-1993)
Birthplace: St Columb Minor, United Kingdom
Who she was: Crime novelist and racist.
The story: Patricia Highsmith captivated the world with her psychological thriller novels that bridged the twisting dissections of the minds of her mentally disturbed characters and an audience hungry for more. But she was also very much human, besot with some of the worst qualities a person could have. In fairness, she also had a horrible childhood. Her mother had tried to abort her by drinking turpentine while she was pregnant, forever creating a rift between the two.
The author was an alcoholic and had troubling intimacy issues, preferring the company of animals to that of people. When she did hang out with others, it was often to their own displeasure. "She was a mean, hard, cruel, unlovable, unloving person," Otto Penzler, an acquaintance, once said of her.
And then there wass her racism. Gathered from her deeply personal journals, she said that the Holocaust was a semicaust, because it had only succeeded halfway in eliminating Jews. She also hid no disdain for pretty much every race that wasn't white, frequently mocking them in her writings.
Age: Died at 74 (1921-1995)
Birthplace: Fort Worth, Texas
Who he was: Beat Generation writer who killed his wife.
The story: Emerging in the aftermath of World War II, the Beat Generation was made up of writers who sought to reject narrative conventions, question government authority, materialism, sex, and the human experience. The most famous of these artists were Allen Ginsberg ("Howl"), Jack Kerouac (On the Road), and William S. Burroughs. All three met in New York in 1943 and influenced each other, kickstarting a new style of thinking in literature. Burroughs experimented with autobiographical interpretations of a post-World War II era, drawing from the cracks and crevices of his heroin-addled life. However, the biggest tragedy he faced didn't come in the form of a needle, but a rifle.
In 1951, while on vacation in Mexico, Burroughs was drunk at a party with his wife (fellow Beat writer, Joan Vollmer), when they decided the play a shooting game. Burroughs pulled out a handgun and tried to hit a glass cup on his wife’s head, but shot too low and killed her instantly. Incredulously, he only spent 13 days in jail and was charged with manslaughter.
Age: Died at 83 (1914-1997)
Birthplace: St. Louis, Missouri