I've always heard that children's author Roald Dahl was something of a creep in person, and knew that he had a reputation for doing library visits and conference appearances that turned into antisemetic rants. But this biographical sketch of him at This Recording depicts him as even creepier than suspected — a cruel, womanizing bully, ruled by lust and petty jealousies. I continue to enjoy his fiction with my daughter (even as I worry about their misogynist subtexts), but it's a shame to learn that an author who's given me so much pleasure and wonder was also such a rotten guy. Here's the letter in which Robert Gottlieb, editor-in-chief of Knopf, essentially fired Dahl from the house:
This is not in response to the specifics of your last several letters to me and my colleagues, but a general response to everything we've heard from you in the past year or two.
In brief, and as unemotionally as I can state it: since the time when you decided that Bob Bernstein, I and the rest of us had dealt badly with you over your contract, you have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched in my experience for overbearingness and utter lack of civility. Lately you've began addressing others here – who are less well placed to answer you back – with the same degree of abusiveness. For a while I put your behavior down to the physical pain you were in and so managed to excuse it. Now I've come to believe that you're just enjoying a prolonged tantrum and are bullying us.
Your threat to leave Knopf after this current contract is fulfilled leaves us far from intimidated. Harrison, Bernstein and I will be sorry to see you depart, for business reasons, but these are not strong enough to make us put up with your manner to us any longer. I've worked hard for you editorially but had already decided to stop doing so; indeed, you've managed to make the entire experience of publishing you unappealing for all of us – counterproductive behavior, I would have thought.
To be perfectly clear, let me reverse your threat: unless you start acting civilly to us, there is no possibility of our agreeing to continue to publish you. Nor will I – or any of us – answer any future letter that we consider to be as rude as those we've been receiving.