Friday, October 2, 2009

The arrest of Roman Polanski in Switzerland last week on his 1977 conviction for unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor had the world debating whether the talented director had been punished enough for his crime. He’s certainly not the first great artist known for bad behavior. There’s even a French term for the type, monstre sacre.

1. Caravaggio — The Italian known for his intensely emotional paintings was notorious for getting into violent fights. He left Milan after wounding a police officer and then had to flee Rome when he killed a man in a brawl, remaining a fugitive for the rest of his life.

2. V.S. Naipaul — What was more shocking: the revelation in Patrick French’s recent biography of the Nobel Prize-winning novelist that he felt he had killed his wife with his cruelty? (She discovered he visited prostitutes on reading an interview with him, and he regularly abandoned her to travel with his mistress.) Or that Mr. Naipaul openly admitted his bad behavior in the authorized biography?

3. Louis-Ferdinand Celine — Debate still rages — just this summer in the letters section of the Times Literary Supplement — over the legacy of the influential avant-garde French novelist, who also was a fascist, convicted Nazi collaborator and author of anti-Semitic pamphlets.

4. Lord Byron — Lady Caroline Lamb, one of the Romantic poet’s many romantic victims, famously described him as “mad, bad, and dangerous to know.” His marriage ended in scandal amidst rumors of violence and adultery — including with his half-sister, whose child many believe was his.

5. Richard Wagner — Wagner’s lush but disquieting “Tristan und Isolde” changed the course of classical music. Some believe his nationalistic, anti-Semitic views influenced Adolf Hitler and changed the course of history.

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