September 16, 2016
Happy belated birthday, Roald Dahl (you jerk)
by Simon Reichley
Earlier this week, legendary children’s author and ace fighter pilot Roald Dahl would have celebrated his 100th birthday, had he been alive. Of course, even if he was still kicking around, and had in fact celebrated his 100th birthday, there’s a good chance nobody would have attended, because the guy was by all accounts a huge jerk!
Don’t believe me? Just ask renowned editor and ballet enthusiast Robert Gottlieb, who was Dahl’s editor at Knopf. Or, more precisely, read this letter that Gottlieb wrote to Dahl, having endured several years of abuse at the hands of the writer. It was recently uncovered and reprinted in the Telegraph by Alice Vincent.
This is not in response to the specifics of your last several letters to me and my colleagues, but a general response to everything we’ve heard from you in the past year or two.
In brief, and as unemotionally as I can state it: since the time when you decided that Bob Bernstein, I and the rest of us had dealt badly with you over your contract, you have behaved to us in a way I can honestly say is unmatched in my experience for overbearingness and utter lack of civility. Lately you’ve began addressing others here—who are less well placed to answer you back—with the same degree of abusiveness. For a while I put your behavior down to the physical pain you were in and so managed to excuse it. Now I’ve come to believe that you’re just enjoying a prolonged tantrum and are bullying us.
Your threat to leave Knopf after this current contract is fulfilled leaves us far from intimidated. Harrison, Bernstein and I will be sorry to see you depart, for business reasons, but these are not strong enough to make us put up with your manner to us any longer. I’ve worked hard for you editorially but had already decided to stop doing so; indeed, you’ve managed to make the entire experience of publishing you unappealing for all of us — counterproductive behavior, I would have thought.
To be perfectly clear, let me reverse your threat: unless you start acting civilly to us, there is no possibility of our agreeing to continue to publish you. Nor will I—or any of us—answer any future letter that we consider to be as rude as those we’ve been receiving.
Simon Reichley is the rights and operations manager at Melville House.