I recently read about an interesting ethical dilemma. In an article in the New York Times Magazine someone posed the following question: Should he boycott Woody Allen’s films, based on the allegation by Mia Farrow and her daughter Dylan, that Woody sexually abused the child.
A person is of course totally free to stop watching Manhattan or Hannah and her Sisters or any future films by Woody Allen if his distaste for the author’s conduct interferes with his enjoyment of the movies. Personally I would not react this way.
I have read Woody’s refutation of these charges and I tend to believe him. Even if I did not, however, I would not stop watching his films. I think that a work of art takes on a life of its own once it has emerged from the artist’s brain. It then stands or falls on its own merit. Once a chrysalis becomes a butterfly it sheds its previous covering and starts to fly. The creator can only watch its progress from the sidelines.
Juliet Marion Hulme is better known as Anne Perry, the author of two detective series set in Victorian England. I have enjoyed reading them, especially the one featuring Thomas Pitt and his wife Charlotte. Perry emphasizes old-fashioned virtues like honor and loyalty. Hulme, however, was no angel. In 1954 at age 15 she and her friend Pauline Parker brutally murdered Pauline’s mother for which they served 5 years in prison. I did not know this when I started reading the novels but even when I found out about it I continued reading them because I still found them interesting.
Arthur Koestler was a favorite author of mine for many years. I read everything he wrote: novels as well as scientific essays on biology and evolution. He struck a responsive chord in me and I always looked forward to each book he wrote. Well, it turns out that he was not what we would call a “nice human being”. He was accused of sexual depravity and serial rape. When he committed suicide because of an incurable illness, he allowed his much younger and devoted wife to join with him even though she was in perfect health. If he wrote today, I would still read him.
Many French poets like Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud abused alcohol and drugs and led a “dissolute” life. They were called “Les poetes maudits” (Cursed poets). They are taught in school not because of who they were but because of the beauty of their poetry.
Franz Schubert died of syphilis and was said to lead a “depraved” life style. I would never stop listening to his melodic music because of that.
There are many such examples in literature and the arts and I think that we must accept the premise that an exemplary private life is not a requisite for the creation of the masterpieces we all admire.