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Anorak | Philip Roth RIP – with replies by John Updike, The Atlantic and Wikipedia

Philip Roth RIP – with replies by John Updike, The Atlantic and Wikipedia

by | 23rd, May 2018

Philip Roth, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1998, has died. He was 85.  Claudia Roth Pierpont said his books looked at “the Jewish family, sex, American ideals, the betrayal of American ideals, political zealotry, personal identity [and] the human body (usually male) in its strength, its frailty, and its often ridiculous need.” And, boy, was he funny.

In 1996 Roth reacted to Claire Bloom’s memoir Leaving a Doll’s House. The actress commented at length on her and Roth’s marriage. “He’s tense; she’s tense,” said Gore Vidal said. “Each is neurotic. They were together 17 years; it couldn’t have been all that bad. It’s always best to stay out of other people’s divorces. And their civil wars.”

The book was trailed thus in the NY Times:

Ms. Bloom was 47 when she began her romance with Mr. Roth. In the memoir, the opening scene of their relationship reads like a parody of the daily life of two cultivated New Yorkers, with Mr. Roth on his way to his psychoanalyst, and Ms. Bloom on her way to her yoga class….

 

But soon there were signs of trouble. Mr. Roth was suspicious and mistrustful, she said, and pressed her to send her daughter elsewhere. In the memoir, Ms. Bloom expresses guilt for having done so. But the real problems began when Mr. Roth had a knee operation, she said, and became addicted to sleeping pills and an anti-anxiety drug. She writes that a terrible depression ensued, and that the couple took refuge on Martha’s Vineyard in the home of their friend William Styron, who has written a moving book about his own depression.

Later, when Mr. Roth wrote ”Deception,” he named the character of the deceived wife ”Claire,” Ms. Bloom writes, changing it only after she begged him to do so. Still, as if teasing his readers, Mr. Roth reserved the name of ”Philip” for the book’s narrator.

In 1999,  when the book came up in a John Updike essay about literary biography in The New York Review of Books, Roth wrote to the Editors:

To the Editors:

In your February 4, 1999, issue, John Updike, commenting on Claire Bloom’s 1996 memoir Leaving the Doll’s House, writes: “Claire Bloom, as the wronged ex-wife of Philip Roth, shows him to have been, as their marriage rapidly unraveled, neurasthenic to the point of hospitalization, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive.” Allow me to imagine a slight revision of this sentence: “Claire Bloom, presenting herself as the wronged ex-wife of Philip Roth, alleges him to have been neurasthenic to the point of hospitalization, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive.” Written thus, the sentence would have had the neutral tone that Mr. Updike is careful to maintain elsewhere in this essay on literary biography when he is addressing Paul Theroux’s characterization of V.S. Naipaul and Joyce Maynard’s characterization of J.D. Salinger. Would that he had maintained that neutral tone in my case as well.

Over the past three years I have become accustomed to finding Miss Bloom’s characterization of me taken at face value. One Sara Nelson, reviewing my novel American Pastoral, digressed long enough to write: “In her memoir, Leaving the Doll’s House, Roth’s ex, Claire Bloom, outed the author as a verbally abusive neurotic, a womanizer, a venal nutcase. Do we believe her? Pretty much:Roth is, after all, the guy who glamorized sex-with-liver in Portnoy’s Complaint.” Mr. Updike offers the same bill of particulars (“neurasthenic…, adulterous, callously selfish, and financially vindictive”) as does Ms. Nelson (“neurotic, a womanizer, a venal nutcase”). Like her, he adduces no evidence other than Miss Bloom’s book. But while I might ignore her in an obscure review on the World Wide Web, I cannot ignore him in a lead essay in The New York Review of Books.

Philip Roth
Cornwall Bridge, Connecticut

John Updike reply was slo printed in the magazine:

Mr. Roth’s imagined revisions sound fine to me, but my own wording conveys, I think, the same sense of one-sided allegations.

In 2012, Roth had more words for the World Wie Web. He wrote an open letter to persuade Wikipedia to let him adjust inaccurate description of his novel The Human Stain. Wikipedia refused to accept him as a credible source.

Dear Wikipedia,

I am Philip Roth. I had reason recently to read for the first time the Wikipedia entry discussing my novel “The Human Stain.” The entry contains a serious misstatement that I would like to ask to have removed. This item entered Wikipedia not from the world of truthfulness but from the babble of literary gossip—there is no truth in it at all.

Yet when, through an official interlocutor, I recently petitioned Wikipedia to delete this misstatement, along with two others, my interlocutor was told by the “English Wikipedia Administrator”—in a letter dated August 25th and addressed to my interlocutor—that I, Roth, was not a credible source: “I understand your point that the author is the greatest authority on their own work,” writes the Wikipedia Administrator—“but we require secondary sources.”

Also in 2012, Roth wrote to the The Atlantic over an essay’s claims that he suffered “a ‘crack-up’ in his mid-50s”.

“The statement is not true nor is there reliable biographical evidence to support it,” wrote Roth at the time. “After knee surgery in March 1987, when I was 54, I was prescribed the sleeping pill Halcion, a sedative hypnotic in the benzodiazepine class of medications that can induce a debilitating cluster of adverse effects … My own adverse reaction to Halcion … started when I began taking the drug and resolved promptly when, with the helpful intervention of my family doctor, I stopped.”

The letters have stopped. But the books remain brilliant.

Spotter: Dangerous Minds, NYRoB

 



Posted: 23rd, May 2018 | In: Books, Celebrities, News Comment | TrackBack | Permalink