A highly-anticipated biography of Philip Roth has been pulled by the publishers after two women accused its Pulitzer-nominated author of rape, and three of his former students said he had been sexually inappropriate.
Blake Bailey, 57, was handpicked by Roth – who died in 2018, aged 85 – to write the biography after meeting with him in 2012.
The book, published on April 6, was heralded pre-publication as one of the books of the year: it received rave reviews and widespread media coverage, and immediately rocketed onto the New York Times bestseller list.
Yet on Wednesday the publishers, W.W. Norton, announced that they had stopped shipments of his book and cancelled its promotional schedule.
Blake Bailey, 57, has been accused of raping two women – one in 2015, one in 2003
Philip Roth, who died in 2018 aged 85, hand-picked Bailey to write his autobiography
‘These allegations are serious,’ it said in a statement.
‘In light of them, we have decided to pause the shipping and promotion of ‘Philip Roth: The Biography’ pending any further information that may emerge.’
Bailey was also dropped by his literary agency, The Story Factory.
Bailey’s book was published on April 6
The dramatic announcements came after two named women gave detailed to newspapers about their encounters, spurred on by the praise and adulation he was receiving. Several more women, who were students of Bailey’s when he taught in New Orleans, told The Times-Picayune that they too had sexually inappropriate encounters with the celebrated writer.
Bailey was accused of grooming students as young as 12 and 13 years old while working at Lusher High School in New Orleans, offering to ‘mentor’ them as writers.
He is then said to have had sex with them – or attempted to have sex with them – when they were young adults.
Bailey is said to have done so while studying Vladimir Nabokov’s 1955 novel Lolita with his students, which tells the story of a middle-aged professor’s infatuation with a 10 year-old girl.
When one woman, who spoke to The Times-Picayune on condition of anonymity, confronted Bailey via email about a sexual encounter that took place between them, he appeared to acknowledge that he was infamous for his behavior.
‘Whatever the rumor mill says, I had sex with no minors or students who were my students at the time,’ Bailey said, in the email to the anonymous woman.
‘My behavior was deplorable, but I did nothing illegal.’
In the email, Bailey repeated his denial that he ever had sex with a minor or with one of his then-students.
Roth, widely considered a giant of American literature, was awarded the National Humanities Medal in March 2011 by Barack Obama
One of his accusers, Valentina Rice, 47, a publishing executive, claimed that he entered her bedroom in 2015, when they were both staying with a mutual acquaintance in New Jersey, and raped her.
The second, Eve Peyton, 40, a former student who now works in publicity at a high school in New Orleans, alleged that he raped her in June 2003 in his hotel room in the Louisiana city, when he was on vacation.
Bailey has vehemently denied both their allegations, calling them ‘categorically false and libelous.’
His lawyer, Billy Gibbens, said in an email that his client ‘disagrees with Norton’s decision to stop promoting his book.’
Roth on his death was described by The New York Times as ‘the last of the great white males: the triumvirate of writers — Saul Bellow and John Updike were the others — who towered over American letters in the second half of the 20th century’
Rice told The New York Times that she met Bailey at the home of Dwight Garner, a book critic for the paper, and his wife in Frenchtown.
She was a frequent guest at their home, and planned to stay overnight, as did Bailey.
She told the paper that, after she went to bed, Bailey entered her room and attacked her, while she begged for him to stop, saying ‘no’ and ‘stop’ repeatedly.
Eliot Nolen, Rice’s friend, told the paper that she remembers Rice saying that she was assaulted by Bailey about a week after the party.
Rice decided at the time against reporting it to the police.
Around 2018, however, prompted by the growing #MeToo movement and encouraged by friends, Rice wrote an anonymous email to the president of Norton, Julia A. Reidhead.
In her email to the publishing president, she wrote: ‘I have not felt able to report this to the police but feel I have to do something and tell someone in the interests of protecting other women.
‘I understand that you would need to confirm this allegation which I am prepared to do, if you can assure me of my anonymity even if it is likely Mr Bailey will know exactly who I am.’
Reidhead did not respond, Rice said.
But a week after she sent it, Rice received an email from Bailey, who said that his publisher had forwarded her note.
‘I can assure you I have never had non-consensual sex of any kind, with anybody, ever, and if it comes to a point I shall vigorously defend my reputation and livelihood,’ he wrote in the email, which the Times reviewed.
‘Meanwhile, I appeal to your decency: I have a wife and young daughter who adore and depend on me, and such a rumor, even untrue, would destroy them.’
Rice also emailed a New York Times reporter, who responded, but then she declined to pursue it further.
Norton on Wednesday insisted they had respected Rice’s request for anonymity, and questioned him about her account.
‘We took this allegation very seriously,’ a spokesman said.
‘We were aware that the allegation was also sent to two people at Mr Bailey’s former employer and to a reporter at the New York Times, a news organization that was well equipped to look into it.
‘We did take steps, including asking Mr Bailey about the allegations, which he categorically denied, and we were mindful of the sender’s request for a guarantee of anonymity.’
At least six women who were taught by Bailey at Lusher School (above) have accused him of inappropriate sexual behavior, with one, Eve Peyton, alleging he raped her, in 2003
In Peyton’s case, she alleged that Bailey raped her when she was a 22-year-old graduate student, studying journalism at the University of Missouri but back in New Orleans for a visit.
When she was his student at Lusher Middle School, at he treated her as ‘one of his special girls,’ she told The New York Times, describing his attention as flattering.
In an open letter that she first shared with the Times, she said Bailey’s behavior was widely discussed.
‘These stories have been whispered about for decades or shared over a glass of wine by former students, who all thought they were the only ones,’ Peyton wrote.
‘His behavior was something of an open secret, and it absolutely followed a pattern and was textbook grooming, but no one ever said anything.
‘Even those of us hurt by him still loved him on some level. He was supposed to be our mentor.
‘In many ways, he was. And then he used our trust in him against us in the cruelest and most intimate way possible.’
She added: ‘To be fair, he never did anything then, not in eighth grade.
‘But he laid the groundwork. With dirty jokes, sly comments, hugs that went on slightly too long, encouraging us to share our personal lives once we moved on to high school (‘write to me about your latest slap-and-tickle’).’
Peyton said that when she was 22, she was invited to meet Bailey for a drink.
Afterward, Peyton alleges Bailey invited her to his hotel room.
There, Bailey allegedly started to kiss her, causing her to laugh nervously.
Bailey is then alleged to have proceeded to undress her before performing oral sex on her.
Peyton told The Times-Picayune that she moved away because she was engaged to be married and Bailey was already married.
She said Bailey paused for a moment. He then allegedly initiated sexual intercourse and kept going even though Peyton tried to push him away.
‘I was pushing on him really hard – he took my hand, pinned me down on the bed, and he kept having sex with me,’ Peyton said.
She then alleges that Bailey stopped when she told him she wasn’t on birth control.
According to Peyton, Bailey allegedly rolled off and said to her: ‘What is wrong with you? You just don’t know how the game is played.’
Peyton also alleged that Bailey told her that he wanted her since the eighth grade.
She said she didn’t report Bailey to the police because she struggled to ‘make sense of what happened.’
Peyton told The Times-Picayune that she confided in her fiance and her best friend from high school, but could not bring herself to go to the authorities.
‘I just wanted it to have not happened,’ Peyton said.
In an email to her, he blamed his behavior on mental illness.
‘For what it’s worth, you weren’t in 8th grade when the night in question occurred; you were in your 20s and I was in my 30s (just), and for the record I wasn’t attracted to you when you were in 8th grade and have never laid a glove on any student, while she was my student, including college and grad school students.’
One of Peyton’s former classmates told a similar story – although she is not accusing Bailey of rape.
When she was 18 or 19, she said she invited Bailey to get cigarettes with her after his bachelor party.
At one point, Bailey allegedly pressed her against a brick wall and started kissing her. He then took her to his house.
Bailey has written critically-acclaimed biographies of John Cheever and Richard Yates
Another ex-student, Jessie Wightkin Gelini, said Bailey ‘groomed’ her and other girls by giving them nicknames, calling them ‘class pets,’ getting close to them, and touching them.
Gelini, an arts teacher who lives in New Orleans, was a student in an English Honors class that Bailey taught while at Lusher Middle School in the 1999-2000 academic year.
When asked about Bailey, Gelini told the Times: ‘He was gross to me.’
She said that at the time of the alleged incidents, Gelini considered Bailey ‘so old’.
‘He’s still one of the best teachers I ever had, which is so sickening to me,’ she said.
‘I realize now as an adult and as a teacher, that the way he spoke to us was part of the grooming.’
Another former student, Amelia Ward, remembers Bailey going out of his way to compliment her and pay attention to her, even asking her to stay after school when there was no apparent reason.
Soon after her time in his class ended, he pursued a personal relationship, taking her out for coffee and asking her questions about her romantic interests. Ward became uncomfortable and cut off communication.
‘It’s affected me my whole life,’ says Ward, who now lives in Philadelphia.
‘I trusted him and he totally betrayed my trust.’
One former student alleged that Bailey ‘systematically groomed 12- and 13-year-olds.’
‘We cannot deny that he waited until we were no longer his students to cajole, coerce and rape us, and we also cannot deny the deep and lasting betrayal of trust that his actions ignited,’ the anonymous woman alleged in an online blog post.
Another former student, Elisha Diamond, alleges that during her freshman year in college, Bailey invited her to meet him for drinks.
Bailey allegedly insisted that she drink alcohol, but she refused.
During their encounter, Diamond alleged that Bailey asked for details about her sex life, which she shared because she viewed him as a father figure.
According to Diamond, Bailey then ran his hand up her jean skirt, placing it on her bare thigh and pulling her close.
‘I was having none of it,’ Diamond said. She then got up and left.
A spokesperson for the Lusher school told the AP that the school, where Kathy Reidlinger was the principal in the ’90s, was not aware of any concerns raised about him.
Some former students, including Sarah Stickney Murphy, disputed that.
‘I cannot believe that Kathy Reidlinger actually said that no one ever complained about Blake Bailey’s behavior when he was teaching at @LusherMiddle. What an astonishing lie,’ she tweeted Tuesday.
The allegations against Bailey come as his book renewed questions about how Roth depicted women in his fiction, from Portnoy’s Complaint, to My Life As a Man – and how he treated them in his private life.
Bailey documented in detail Roth’s two unhappy marriages, including to actor Claire Bloom; his chronic adultery, and most disturbingly, advances he made on a friend of Bloom’s daughter.
Most critics praised Bailey for a thorough and fair-minded narrative, though some faulted him as too sympathetic.
‘In Bailey, Roth found a biographer who is exceptionally attuned to his grievances and rarely challenges his moral accounting. Yet the result is not a final winning of the argument, as Roth might have hoped,’ wrote Laura Marsh of The New Republic.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author Phillip Roth could get CANCELED after his biographers posthumously reveal his ‘misogyny and sexual depravity’
Novelist Phillip Roth could face getting canceled after his biographers posthumously revealed allegations from his life reflecting misogyny seen in his books.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who died in 2018, was known for penning novels throughout the 20th Century filled with ‘enormous rage and disappointment with womenkind,’ as described by literary scholar Mary Allen in 1976.
After his death in 2018, critics surmised that that Roth, whose family was Jewish, would face a reckoning for his portrayal of women and Jews in his work and has previously been called anti-Semitic, The Conversation reported.
Philip Bloom, left, is pictured with ex-wife and actress Claire Bloom- who has previously made her own claims of misogyny in her own memoir
Novelist Philip Roth is pictured during a ceremony at the White House in 2011 where he received the National Humanities Medal from President Barack Obama
Now, two separate biographers have claimed revelations of his real life ‘sex and depravity’ could spur a reassessment of work and depictions of women, the Times of London reported.
Ira Nadel, author of Philip Roth: A Counterlife, wrote that he was ‘as sexually obsessed in real life as he was in literature,’ the outlet reported.
Nadel’s biography, set for release on March 29, ‘offers a full account of his development as a writer,’ according to publisher notes on Amazon.
Blake Bailey, for his authorized Philip Roth: The Biography, received independence and complete access from the author himself to spend years pouring over his personal archive and interviewing his friends and lovers.
In his book, Bailey claims Roth visited London brothels and chose female students to attend a seminar based on their attractiveness and flirts with younger women the older he gets, according to the Times of London.
In a visit to London, Roth allegedly went looking for Chinese prostitutes on Curzon Street in Soho.
‘God, I’m fond of adultery,’ said Roth, who had left his wife behind.
Roth was married twice in life. He met Margaret Martinson when he was 23 in 1956 and married her in 1959.
Williams, who was four years older than him, worked as a secretary at the University of Chicago and was the inspiration for some of his female characters.
Williams faked a pregnancy and abortion and the couple separated in 1963, according to The Atlantic.
Roth married Bloom in 1990 and the couple divorced in 1994. She later wrote a memoir in which she said he is a man filled with ‘a deep and irrepressible rage’ toward women
She withheld her consent for a divorce and later died in a car crash in Central Park in 1968.
In 1976, Roth began living with English actress Claire Bloom – who starred in A Streetcar Named Desire and nearly 60 other films. Roth married Bloom in 1990 and the couple divorced in 1994.
Bloom later wrote a memoir called Leaving a Doll’s House in which she described him as controlling and claimed scrutinized every decision she made.
She also described him as a self-centered misogynist and wrote that he is a man filled with ‘a deep and irrepressible rage’ toward women.
Bloom claimed also claimed that Roth forced her daughter by a previous marriage, Anna Steiger, to move out of the house because she ‘bored’ him.
Before his death, Roth wrote a ‘point-by-point’ rebuttal of Bloom’s memoir that legally embargoed for several more years before it can be released, the Times of London reported.
‘He could not stop litigating the past. He wanted to control the story from the grave,’ Nadel told the outlet.
Nadel argued that Bloom was viewed by Roth as ‘the quintessential example of his betrayal by women,’ the Times of London reported.
Sandra Newman, an American novelist, told the outlet that another fight over his work is due and that modern audiences will be less forgiving for the misogyny in his life and work.
Roth, whose family was Jewish, has often criticized for ‘anti-Semitic’ portrayals in his works
‘Looked at from the point of view today, the books are on the wrong side of MeToo. They often have a central male who is a victim of cancel culture,’ she told the outlet.
When asked by the Times of London if he believed Roth would ever get cancelled, Bailey said: ‘You never know these days.’
‘But I think there will always be an audience for Roth’s work in certain quarters, and a non-audience in others,’ he said.
‘I hope my biography helps Roth’s image; though it doesn’t spare his lapses, it does portray him as a rather touching human versus a label of whatever sort.’
After his death, many think pieces were published about Roth and misogyny, including one from The New York Times titled ‘What Philip Roth Didn’t Know About Women Could Fill a Book.’
‘Philip Roth is celebrated for bringing my family’s tiny slice of the world into the American pantheon, widening the literary canon to include American Jews. It is hardly news to point out that he accomplished this feat at the expense of Jewish women,’ novelist Dara Horn wrote in the article.
She continued: ‘Roth’s three favorite topics — Jews, women and New Jersey — all remain socially acceptable targets of irrational public mockery, and Roth was a virtuoso at mocking the combination of all three.’
‘Roth, who achieved true greatness in depicting people like himself, never had the imagination to give these women souls,’ she added.
In an article by the Canadian Jewish News, Sarah Horowitz wrote: ‘I confess that I am among those women readers who both admire Roth’s literary greatness and often feel put off by the female characters in his novels.’
‘When I first encountered Roth’s novels as a young reader, I could not read them without feeling as though they were a negative commentary on my own being.’
Claire Bloom is pictured with Philip Roth at the 38th Bafta Awards in 1986. A biographer argued Bloom was viewed by Roth as ‘the quintessential example of his betrayal by women’
She added: ‘The Roth misogyny debate opens up a larger question about genius and morality. What do we make of literary genius – really, any kind of genius – that encompasses attitudes we find objectionable, even immoral?’
Carmen Callil, one of the judges on a panel when Roth was up for a Man Booker award, resigned in protest when she learned he would get the prize, Reuters reported at the time.
Mike Witcombe, a Lecturer at Bath Spa University, noted in an op-ed for The Conversation that Roth often writes his feminist critics into his fiction.
In Roth’s 1990 novel Deception, Roth writes himself in as the protagonist and places the fictional version of himself in a courtroom to defend himself from charges of misogyny.
‘This is an argument that Roth was inviting his readers to take part in. Many have taken up the challenge,’ Witcombe wrote.
‘Few scholars would defend scenes such as the one we find in 1974’s My Life as a Man, in which an instance of domestic abuse is described in a manner so laconic that it comes across as indefensibly vicious to many modern readers – including myself.’