May 26, 2009

Not to be

Ten days ago, Ruth Padel became the first woman in 301 years to hold the prestigious post of chair of poetry at Oxford University. Today Padel resigned after she "admitted what she had previously denied — that she had played a part in a covert effort to taint her main rival for the post with old allegations of sexual impropriety," the New York Times reports.

Her rival, Derek Walcott, stepped aside when the allegations hit. According to the Times:
...commentators in British newspapers noted the irony of hounding a distinguished literary figure on the basis of long-ago sexual transgressions when many of Britain’s greatest poets were social or political reprobates by the standards of modern-day Britain.

Michael Deacon in The Telegraph cited Lord Byron (“womanizer”), Samuel Taylor Coleridge (“drug fiend”), John Keats (“smackhead”), Rudyard Kipling (“imperialist”), T.S. Eliot (“lines that could be construed as racist”) and Dylan Thomas (“drank like a drain, begged and stole from friends”), among others, and concluded, “Not one of them, were they alive today, could hope to land the Oxford post — they just don’t meet the exacting moral standards set by people who conduct smear campaigns.”

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