In “Roald Dahl: my hero“, Guardian, Aug. 31, Michael Rosen, author of the soon to be released book ‘Fantastic Mr. Dahl’, pays tribute to the late author whose works include ‘James and the Giant Peach’, ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Matilda’.
Rosen writes that Dahl, who died in 1990, was “one of the first writers who can be read and enjoyed by children to show us adults in familiar, everyday situations failing spectacularly, grotesquely and exaggeratedly in this job of nurture”, a characterization which was included in the strap line of the Guardian piece.
While Dahl may have indeed been a gifted writer, he was also an outspoken and unapologetic antisemite.
The British periodical ‘Literary Review’ published a book review by Dahl in which he referred to “those powerful American Jewish bankers” and charged that the U.S. Government was “utterly dominated by the great Jewish financial institutions over there.”
He also claimed that Israeli military activity in Lebanon “was very much hushed up in the newspapers because they are primarily Jewish-owned.” In the same piece he likened Zionism to Nazism.
Dahl also said, during an interview in The New Statesman:
“There is a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity, maybe it’s a kind of lack of generosity towards non-Jews. I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn’t just pick on them for no reason.”
There have been, of course, quite a few accomplished literary figures who were compromised by anti-Jewish bigotry. Simply acknowledging, for instance, T.S. Eliot’s antisemitism doesn’t render his poem ‘The Waste Land‘ any less worthy of reverence. However, much of the mainstream commentary on the writer’s literary legacy, 47 years after his death, explores in some manner questions regarding his visceral hostility towards Jews.
We often honor such literary figures due to their gift of employing prose to convey sublime truths about the human condition, and the pursuit of a holistic understanding of the artistic contribution must invariably grapple with the often maddeningly complicated life of the artist him or herself.
Antisemitism, wrote Walter Russell Mead, “is not just a moral obscenity; it is the road to intellectual…ruin”, and inconsistent with “lucidity” itself.
While it is fair to bestow esteem upon Road Dahl and celebrate his unique insight into the inner lives of children, it seems fair to also characterize the author of undisguised antipathies as an man who – in some respects – failed “spectacularly, grotesquely and exaggeratedly” as an adult.