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I miss the days when writers behaved badly

The late “drunken raconteur” Christopher Hitchens. Marvin Joseph/Getty

There was something nostalgic about the obituaries of Martin Amis, says Martha Gill in The Observer. Specifically, the “semi-tolerant fascination” with his personal life. It was a throwback to when people were more relaxed about the proclivities of writers: “their outrageous love affairs, their bad political opinions”. Back then, a flawed personality was “part of the package” for the likes of Amis (“lothario”), Christopher Hitchens (“drunken raconteur”) and Philip Larkin (“recluse”). Readers enjoyed speculating over where “fact met fiction”; over which characters were based on whom. No longer. Today, few novelists with “messy lives or offbeat opinions” top the bestseller lists. Sally Rooney lives a quiet life in Ireland; “there are no Ernest Hemingways or Ted Hugheses”. For writers, painters, musicians and the rest, “personality is out of fashion”.

Part of this, surely, is that many more of today’s cultural stars are women, who are always held to higher standards of behaviour than men. But it’s also about that age-old question of whether you can separate art from the artist. For a long time, you could get away with anything if you had enough talent. Today, quite rightly, we no longer think someone should dodge prison just because they’re “a dab hand with a paintbrush”. But I worry we’re in the midst of an “overcorrection” – an era in which “likeability comes first and talent later”. Because there is, surely, a reason why original thinkers often dodge conformity. “Not every prodigy is also a prefect.”

📚🥷 Artists wanting to let their hair down should take a leaf out of the Romantics’ book, says Susie Goldsbrough in The Times. More than 80% of novels in the second half of the 18th century are thought to have been published anonymously, “particularly those by women”. Jane Austen wrote as “A Lady”; the Brontës were the Bells; Mary Ann Evans was George Eliot. One modern writer who does the same is Elena Ferrante, the pseudonymous author of the Neapolitan novels. As she puts it: “Books, once they are written, have no need of their authors.”