Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Ten Lays That Shook the World

I've been writing about John Lawton's novel A Little White Death, whose plot includes a scandal similar to the Profumo Affair of 1963, a sex-and-spies caper that contributed to the downfall of a government in the United Kingdom.

At the same time, Adrian McKinty has written about Iris Robinson (left), a Northern Ireland politician whose hot pants he suggests could derail the peace process there.

(That Iris Robinson is a born-again Christian who has railed against homosexuality and proclaimed that "the government has the responsibility to uphold God's laws" makes her own downfall especially delicious. Robinson has said she has been treated for mental illness. If she's telling the truth, I wish her well. I am also suspicious about the timing of her revelation, since she has also been linked to financial scandals, and mental illness, like addiction, is a convenient excuse for politicians caught with their hands in the till or other places where they don't belong.

(One of McKinty's comments also includes a well-deserved slap at the New York Times which, in a desperate grab for both relevance and snob appeal, takes a gratuitous shot at bloggers and "local newspaper headlines" for their coverage of the Robinsons' affair. We at the Times, reporter John F. Burns as much as sneers, would never descend to the level of "local" newspapers.)

I'll invoke Lawton's novel to claim this post's relevance to international crime fiction. And I'll ask your help: What are the most influential sex scandals in history? Extra credit for scandals that do not involve conservative politicians.

© Peter Rozovsky 2010

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

45 Comments:

Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Most influential? Perhaps one to be considered was Henry VIII's divorce from Catherine of Aragon in order to marry Anne Boleyn. Beginning the English Reformation and the eventual separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church.

Also far-reaching was the Cleopatra, Julius Caesar, Marc Antony affair.

David and Bathsheba?

Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar?

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Also influential, as well as one of the sadder ones? Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

If Henry VIII's serial marriages are considered scandalous, then I suspect that his was the most influential.

Abraham, Sarah and Hagar? Too politically explosive; I won't touch that one. Nor will I mention that someone once called Cleopatra the product of generations of Macedonian inbreeding.

Here, by the way, is a post I made about another of the scandals you named.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Two of my personal favorites? Abelard and Heloise; Justinian and Theodora.
Well, the general Englishman-in-the-street thought Henry's string of wives was fairly scandalous, even if the members of the Tudor court (like today's members of Parliament and Congress) just wondered how they could spin events to their best advantage.
Third time's the charm; I'll shut up now.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I knew next to nothing about Wilde and Douglas, but a quick read of an online biography suggests that Douglas was a thoroughly miserable human being.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

But I promised that before I read your reply, Peter... I went to that post you mentioned. Have to say I've never been the greatest admirer of Rembrandt's paintings, although I believe he is the greatest draftsman and etcher to have ever lived.

Seeing Bathsheba there and knowing that you're an art history guy... have you ever noticed the paintings on the wall of the lobby of the Bates Motel in "Psycho"?

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Oh, don't shut up now!

Your mdieval and Late Antique scandals gave the world some memorable literature, at least. I've read a few of the letters and Abelard and Heloise, and that has made me want to read more. I have also read some of the more salacious parts of Procopius' Secret History. I suppose it's hard to talk speak of "public" scandals from the sixth and eleventh centuries, when no one talked about public and private spheres, but I wonder how much public comment the doomed love attracted. I would suspect that Theodora's theatrical notoriety would have attracted a fair amount of sniggering and sharp intake of breath in Constantinople.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have not so noticed, as I've only seen "Psycho" once, and it underwhelmed me. In retrospect, old Mrs. Bates reminds me of "Whistler's Mother."

I'm not sure Rembrandt was that great a draftsman, but I do believe he may have been the most psychologically penetrating painter who ever lived. See his late self-portraits, the "Bathsheba" and his portrait of "Johan Wttenbogaert." Hmm, "The Syndics" (best known, perhaps, as the painting on the Dutch Masters cigar package) is a superb example of figure placement -- maybe he was the greatest of all draftsman in addition to his supremacy as an etcher.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I meant the twelfth century for Abelard and Heloise, of course. There is a monument to them at the Pere Lachaise cemetery in Paris, a nice idea, I think.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Sam said...

Charles Stuart Parnell?

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Sam, you may know that I have only recently begun my acquaintance with Irish history. Until your post and some quick reading I did as a result, I had never heard of Katharine O’Shea. Many thanks for history lesson.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"Rembrandt...may have been the most psychologically penetrating painter who ever lived." You and many others have said this and while I know it is very probably true at the same time I also find a number of these late paintings to have a self-pitying quality that, yes, others see as noble, dignified, humane, etc. I think the "psychologically penetrating" element of Rembrandt's work makes his works especially appealing to today's sensibilities.

So I realize I am in the distinct minority in preferring his older contemporary, Rubens. What a difference wealth, international fame, and a pretty, plump, young wife can do for an artist.

Oh, and the paintings in the Bates Motel lobby depict "Susanna Surprised by the Elders" and "Diana and Actaeon."

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I am satisfied that you and I see the same things when we look at Rembrandt's late self-portraits, then, though we evaluate them differently.

I've never warmed to Rubens as much as I did to Rembrandt. If the self-contemplation turns you off, think about "The Syndics." The group portrait was a Netherlandish tradition by the time Rembrandt came along, and how the hell does a painter make such a boring, static composition exciting? That Rembrandt could endow such a static composition with so much motion and visual excitement is one of the great wonders of Western art, almost up there with Giotto's creation of drama out of all those simple, blocky forms.

Of painters from Rembrandt's and Rubens' time, I have stood in awe before the standard Velasquezes. I never much cared for his royal portraits, though.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

I never warmed up to the Spanish Baroque, even Velasquez. We've discussed Caravaggio before. Among the many Baroque-era painters whose work I enjoy, I particularly admire Jan Vermeer; like Caravaggio he's one of my few "pilgrimage" artists, i.e. I am willing to travel to any destination where his paintings may be found. So when they asked "do you want to work at a conference in The Hague?" a few years ago I said you betcha!

Perhaps when more of Rembrandt's paintings are cleaned like "The Night Watch" was, and all those years of discolored varnish are removed and the true Baroque vitality and bright colors pop out from them I will re-evaluate my view of his work.

Ah, Giotto... I had occasion to work with a text concerning him earlier today. Always a bright spot in the day.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Work at a conference in the Hague? Good Lord, what a job!

Have I ever mentioned my own Vermeer pilgrimage? Years ago on the first night of a week- or ten-day-long vacation for which I had no travel plans, I was in bed looking at a book of color plates of Vermeer paintings. I liked them so much that I flew to Holland that Friday and visited Amsterdam and the Hague. I don't remember if I made it to Delft and Haarlem, but I certainly visited both cities on subsequent trips. I have also been to the Frick and the Metropolitan in New York, and I attended the Vermeer exhibition at the National Gallery in Washington a few years ago. You'll know that few of Vermeer's works survive, so I've seen almost all of them. I've also reproduced at least one Vermeer painting on this blog.

I've never been a big fan of "The Nightwatch," but I have stood rapt before Velasquez's "Las Meninas" and some of his dwarf and philosopher paintings as well, not to mention the "Water Seller of Seville" and the "Luis de Gongora" portrait, the latter of which I could not find in Boston when I was there last week.

January 12, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I can't say I know much about the Spanish Baroque at all, but other than Velazquez, I never thought much of its pictures -- just a lot of sentimental, agonized monks and other brothers.

January 12, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

Is it because you live on the East Coast that you were able to just say "Hmm, think I'll go look at some Vermeers this week" and then fly to the Netherlands? From LA that is such an undertaking; it's disheartening. You might want to head over to the Mauritshuis for the exhibit "The Young Vermeer," 12 May-22 August 2010, to catch up with any paintings you might have missed. I have not seen the Nat Gallery of Scotland's "Christ in the House of Mary and Martha," for example.

After slaving away at the conference in The Hague I had planned some vacation days so I could see Darmstadt (a Jugendstil pilgrimage site) and then on to Dresden where only one of their 2 Vermeers was on exhibit at the Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister (they have so many paintings they don't have wall space to exhibit them all, all the time) -- The Procuress. I could stare at his depiction of that oriental carpet for a week. Check out this very cool (as well as art historically stimulating) interactive site if you haven't already seen it: www.essentialvermeer.com and mouse over the objects in the paintings.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Parnell was a biggie if you ask me. I think Ireland could very well have gone Scotland's route and ended up with autonomy but stayed within the Union were it not for Kitty O'Shea.

Many many lives would have been saved and there would have been no border. Full independence might have come too without all the bloodshed.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Well, you on the West Coast can pop over to Japan or India or Australia or Cambodia a lot more easily than I could. I'll check that site, and I'll look to see if the Dresden paintings travelled to Washington. Thanks.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I'd thought Irish history was bloody, confusing, disheartening and tragic based on what little I'd learned during and since my recent visits, but Kitty O'Shea teaches me that I knew nothing. What writers have based stories on her?

January 13, 2010  
Blogger solea said...

You know that Italy takes the cake in political scandals (and justice)! and of a sexual nature?! come on! Alessandra Mussolini, burned trannies, mamoni Berlusconi...i think that's why i love italian noir so much...you really don't need to dream up bizarre twisting scandalous scenarios, there all over the place!

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've just read up on Alessandra Mussolini. Now for the burned trannies. This post is proving more educational than I thought it would be.

Was La Cicciolina ever regarded as a scandal in Italy, or just as a bit of salacious entertainment?

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Huh thats weird. I lost my post there for a while. And I reposted it so if you see it twice just ignore...

Good question about dramas. The BBC did one about Kitty OShea but apart from dozens of pubs I dont remember a lot of novels.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

What I mean is Miss OShea seems to have inspired many pubs but not many novels.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

adrian mckinty said...
Peter

I think Parnell is a very good one. But for Kitty O'Shea Ireland might have had Home Rule in the 1890's. There would have been no border, no IRA, no Civil War, no Troubles. Ireland very probably would have stayed in the Union and retained Scottish style autonomy. I'd go further: with fewer Irish MP's in Parliament the Conservatives would have been the dominant party in the UK up until the twenties (with a potential rise of Labour) and I think their isolationist strain would have kept Britain out of World War I. With Britain out, Germany wins easily, there's no Russian Revolution, no World War 2 etc.


I'd say that even confining your speculation to Ireland and the UK, Parnell and Kitty O'Shea could provide the take-off for a serious, rueful, angry drama, and never mind the alternative histories. Some good popular historian ought to be able to do something good with the story, too.

My dim impression of the confusing welter of Irish history is how the hell did two sides that might have been able to work together degenerated into murderous factions, with some of the bloodiest and most mutually destructive acts perpetrated by people who should have been on the same side.

It looks to me as if a good biography of Parnell should be my starting point if I decide to read any more Irish history.

In re Kitty O'Shea inspiring more watering holes than books, I did a search for her name, hoping to learn more about her. I got so many Kitty O'Shea's pubs, from Dublin to Paris to Arlinton, Virginia, that I had to add "Wikipedia" to my search to reduce the field.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Its a crying shame about the sectarian aspect to all of this. The United Irishmen were largely Protestant, Parnell was a Protestant. I think it was Edward Carson (the man who prosecuted Oscar Wilde) who helped stoke the fires of sectarianism and I suppose it was the Easter Rising that cemented it.

A real shame: it did not have to go that way at all.

Why is Kitty O'Shea such a popular pub name? No clue. I'll bet in one of the ironies of history that Miss O'Shea was a teetotaller.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I've mentioned that I never knew there was such a thing as a Protestant nationalist til I visited Ireland and learned about Wolfe Tone. A good book or two ought to help folks today unlearn what they know about the country.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

BTW I should say Miss OShea because of course it was Mrs. (Thats what started all the trouble.)

Half way through this article it becomes clear that Bono helped kick start the Irish pub chain called Kitty O'Shea's. Though why they picked the name is never explained.

Wallis Simpson is a fortunate divorcee who intervened in history. A pro Nazi king might have complicated things considerably.

January 13, 2010  
Anonymous Howard Shrier said...

Caesar and Cleopatra.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, you'd be a calmer man had Banker Bob Hewson had a daughter rather than a son.

Wallis Simpson is a fortunate divorcee who intervened in history. A pro Nazi king might have complicated things considerably.

God bless Americans!

But without Kitty O'Shea, there would have been no World War II and hence no fuss about pro-Nazi kings.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

"The monarch of the United Kingdom is Supreme Governor of the Church of England—at the time of the proposed marriage, and until 2002, the Church of England did not permit the re-marriage of divorced people with LIVING ex-spouses.[47]"

Speaking of the world second-most famous Mrs. Simpson (after Marge), how about the highlighted word in the passage above? How many murder mysteries and real murders did that bit of church law foster?

January 13, 2010  
Blogger ccqdesigns said...

Picasso and Françoise Gilot, Frank Lloyd Wright and Olga (Olgivanna) Lazovich Hinzenburg, and of course Prince Charles and Camilla.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Did Prince Charles and Camilla really influence anything other than the role of feminine-hygiene products in salacious gossip?

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

J.C. and Cleopatra would have been even more influential had their scandal forced Caesar off the scene. On the other hand, if one argues that their affair led to Marc Antony's own dalliance with her and their defeat at Actium and the rise of Augustus as the first Roman emperor, yeah, I guess you could argue that they belong.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

Thats a great idea for a historical novel. All King Edward had to do was knock off Mrs Simpson's husband and he would have been free to marry? And of course Nazi spies would have helped...the thing practically writes itself.

Alan Coren said once that if you want to have a successfull book in England make it about the royals or the Nazis. Two birds one stone here.

And yes its becoming clear that the Hewson family is at the root of all evil in this world.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I even have two working titles for the book, but more on that later.

That the Church of England could have such a law demonstrates that a second old truism about the English is accurate. The law is evidence of an English flair for understated humo(u)r. The first, of course, is that quality English newspapers are better written than their American counterparts.

England and the royals ... I have spent the better part of two days at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park, and I have heard some ghastly, inflammatory things -- all permitted, unless one should breathe a word about the Royal Family. Odd to an outsider.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Hmm, Two Birds WIth One Bone was not one of my prospective titles for a scandal book -- but it is now.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Hewson's first two NYT editorials:

Two Turds One Bono

I think both of us would be happier with our lot writing headlines for Variety.

My favourite of those: Egghead Weds Hourglass (the Marilyn/Miller nuptials)

January 13, 2010  
Anonymous Elisabeth said...

"What writers have based stories on [Kitty O'Shea]?" Didn't see any responses to this query and unanswered queries are anathema to librarians, so...

"Never call it loving: a biographical novel of Katherine O'Shea and Charles Stewart Parnell," Dorothy Eden, Hodder & Stoughton, 1966

"Parnell and the Englishwoman," Hugh Leonard, Atheneum, 1991.

But do give a miss to 1937's "Parnell," starring Clark Gable and Myrna Loy. Regrettable whitewashing of the whole affair.

Apparently the BBC did an adaptation of the Leonard novel in 1992 (I think someone referred to this above?)

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian, I prefer the straightforward approach, as did Variety. One of my favorites appeared in the Boston Herald, reporting on a physician from overseas who assaulted one of his patients sexually and was deported:

Rape Doc Gets the Boot

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks, Elisabeth, for giving vent to your reference-librarian urges again. I presume the BBC adaptation you mentioned is the one to which an earlier comment referred.

Never Call It Loving promises a bit more melodrama than I might like, and I've always borne a cartain resentment toward novels of this, that or the other. The preposition used this way emobdies all that makes me apprehensive about historical fiction: costume drama, splashy pageantry, over-the-top tales of elemental passion set agains the backdrop of ancient Egypt. Warren Beatty's movie Reds might as well have been subtitled "A story of revolutionary Russia," in other words. But I'll keep the book in mind should I decide to take up the fight against my own prepositional demons.

I will take your advice and rely on the Thin Man movies when I need a Myrna Loy fix.

January 13, 2010  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Bill & Monica don't make anyone's list?

I'm sure both of them would be quite pleased to know it.

January 14, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

They naturally crossed my mind as I prepared this post, buit really, what difference did they make? Had Clinton been forced out of office, they'd have found a place on this list, but what did they really do except waste the nation's time and give ostensibly serious news oputlets a chance to get salacious while pretending to be serious? That's not up there with some of the other scandals that have come up in this discussion, I'm afraid.

January 14, 2010  
Blogger John McFetridge said...

And Peter, let's not forget Canada's small contribution to this, the Munsinger Affair.

January 15, 2010  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

My favorite bits from the Wikipedia article on the Munsinger Affair are it opening:

"The Munsinger Affair was Canada's first national political sex scandal." (I can can practically hear Bobby Gimby's voice swelling with pride at the declaration that we, too, can get caught with our pants down in Canada.)

and

"Possibly in a move to divert attention from the Munsinger affair, Prime Minister Lester Pearson started a public debate on capital punishment ..."

and the winner in a landslide:

"Charles Lynch, bureau chief of Southam News, suggested the Munsinger affair might change Canada's "dull and unexciting" image, and promote the upcoming Expo '67."

January 15, 2010  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home