3 Brilliant Authors You Forgot Were Tremendous Douchebags
Around this time last year I discovered some pretty abhorrent things about some of my favorite authors. I found out that Orson Scott Card advocated armed revolt to keep gays from getting married, that Ayn Rand had praised a man that had kidnapped a little girl, killed her, then sawn her in half, and that Michael Crichton had responded to a critic's negative review by using his name for a particularly sick child molester in a later book. In total, eight of my literary heroes revealed deep pockets of asshattedness.
I didn't stop reading their books, because all the ones I mentioned were fantastically brilliant at writing. I just started buying their books secondhand because they were terrible at being human beings and I didn't want to fund their shenanigans through royalties.
I thought I got it out of my system, but the Internet is always around to remind you that Slayer was right and God hates us all. Here's four more geniuses that failed the nice guy test.
Simone de Beauvoir
Why You Should Read Her: De Beauvoir is known mostly for the impact she had on philosophy, with her treatise The Second Sex being one of the central texts in modern feminism and in feminist existentialism. It's She Came to Stay, though, that is the book you should pick up. It's a semi-autobiographical novel about her close sexual relationships with some of the greatest writers of the '30s and '40s, and is basically the Bible of open relationships and unfettered intellectualism.
Why She Was a Douchebag: In addition to being a writer, de Beauvoir was also a teacher at the Lycée Pierre Corneille in Rouen. What is pretty much the most important thing you should not do with your underage students if you are a teacher? C'mon, you obviously read the Houston Press, and we cover this a lot. Right, you don't touch their fun parts or make them touch yours. De Beauvoir found this rule to be silly.
This tends to get glossed over as a crime. I'll let glbtq.com tell it...
Several of these relationships occurred during Beauvoir's career as a philosophy teacher during the 1930s and 1940s, and involved her students (who seemed to be the initiators, able to resist neither Beauvoir's physical nor her intellectual magnetism).
So remember, teachers, it is apparently okay to bone your students as long as they ask your impossible-to-resist self first. Oh wait, no it's not. Which is probably why a student named Nathalie Sorokine's parents got Beauvoir's ass fired for it... because horny teenagers are not legally allowed to decide whether they want to have sex with their teachers for this exact reason.
Why You Should Read Him: You probably haven't heard of Hamsun because frankly people who win the Nobel Prize for Literature tend to be folks you haven't heard of. It's sort of annoyingly hipster like that, actually. Ever read a book that is using stream of consciousness? Hamsun damn near invented it. Pretty much every interior mental musing by a character in a book was pioneered by techniques that Hamsun either expanded or just outright came up with in books like Pan and Growth of the Soil. It's because of Hamsun that you can read a novel where nothing at all really happens but you can't put it down for the brilliance of the narrator's inner monologue.
Why He Was a Douchebag: Now, you might have heard of Hamsun specifically because he wrote the obituary of a very, very, very famous person. Here's a quote.
I'm not worthy to speak up for _______, and to any sentimental rousing his life and deeds do not invite.
______ was a warrior, a warrior for humankind and a preacher of the gospel of justice for all nations. He was a reforming character of the highest order, and his historical fate was that he functioned in a time of exampleless [unequalled] brutality, which in the end felled him.
You want a hint? The subject's name rhymes with "shitler." Yes, Hamsun penned a glowing eulogy to history's greatest monster. Did I mention that Hamsun was Norwegian? Norway was occupied by the Nazis with so dominating an invasion that they felt confident enough to enter Oslo headed by a complete brass band.
The only reason Hitler didn't start bombing everything in sight was because he considered Scandinavians the perfect breeding stock for Aryan supermen. Oh, and Norway immediately started facing famine once Hitler set up a puppet government because no other country would trade with it, so most Norwegians started to go hungry. That's not even counting that Hitler killed more than a third of the entire Jewish population of the country.
So yes, Mr. Hamsun. Hitler did indeed function in a time of great brutality that got him in the end. Meaning he was such a shithead that Joseph Stalin was forced to go after him.
Why You Should Read Him: Harlan Ellison's genius is unrivaled and unparalleled. Rather than gush like a fanboy, I'll just link to a previous story where I've already gushed exhaustively. Suffice to say that if you haven't read Ellison, you have no business calling yourself edgy. He is science fiction's most glorious treasure. That's why this next bit hurts so much to type.
Why He Was a Douchebag: Having read his author's notes on various short stories from every era of his career, I can tell you that Ellison has been a crotchety son of a bitch for approximately 80 percent of his life. I would need to see notes from teachers to confirm the other 20 percent. He is famously angry at anyone and everyone, but that's not why he's a douchebag.
There was an incident at the 2006 Hugo Awards where Ellison apparently thought it would be hilarious to touch award-winning novelist Connie Willis's boob onstage. It may have been funny to Ellison, but pretty much the rest of the sci-fi world wondered what the hell was wrong with him.
". . . I even a leetle bit entitled to think that Connie likes to play [the Harlan as infantile schtick], and geez ain't it sad that as long as SHE sets the rules for play, and I'm the village idiot, she's cool ... but gawd forbid I change the rules and play MY way for a change . . ."
That response, by the way, was not to the incident itself, but because Ellison was upset that everyone was still mad at him even though he had issued a bizarre semi-apology within 15 minutes after finding out that other people thought his actions were offensive... three days after he did it. In other words, he didn't apologize for groping a fellow author without permission; he apologized because there was a brouhaha he hadn't meant to cause.
Apparently, Ellison's personal skills with women aren't the best, though he's light-years from Norman Mailer territory. Author K. Tempest Bradford commented on Ellison's actions, as well as mentioning that she used to trade stories of Ellison's behavior at conventions with others, and posting a mock-up of a Realms magazine cover that included the words "senile meanderings" next to Ellison's name. That story got back to Ellison via fax because he is very weird about the Internet.
"He also wants to "bee-atch-slap" me because I'm a woman of color. Specifically because he helped Octavia Butler launch her career so, as a woman of color, I owe him fealty or something. I dunno."
Oh, and he's kept what is believed to be the greatest science fiction anthology of all time locked up in his house and unpublished for the last 30 years because fuck you, that's why, apparently.
Get the Theater and Arts Newsletter
Exclusive discounts and announcements to Houston theater shows and art events