Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has read a biography of V.S. Naipaul and decided she "certainly will not buy another book by this egomaniac." She proclaims:
The man and the writer are not as easily separated as critics would have us believe. Writers don't have to be saints but they do have to have empathy and live as civilised beings within the rules that apply to us all. What would we do if we found Richard Branson beat his mistress and drove his wife to death? Or if the BBC's director general spoke of his addiction to paid sex? Artists are part of our world and must be judged as others are. They cannot claim immunity from decency.
As a matter of fact, the man and the writer are quite easily separated. Step one would be to avoid reading biographies of writers. This would leave you with only the work (about which harsh things might certainly be said, but they wouldn't be inspired by an animus against the man founded on moral disapproval rather than an estimation of the writing founded on literary judgment) and spare you the emotional energy required to work up a good lathering of moral outrage. It would encourage you to regard "criticism" as an act of engaged reading of fiction or poetry rather than the dissemination of gossip. Indeed, if we would all forswear the reading of most literary biographies, such gossip would not become a part of our literary discourse in the first place and the whole question of "separating" the writer and the work would never come up.
If step one proves too difficult, step two might be to acknowledge that writers should indeed "live as civilised beings within the rules that apply to us all," but to further acknoweldge that this is a statement about personal conduct, about the way we interact with other humans in a social context, not about writing novels. What exactly are the rules of fiction-writing that "apply to us all," other than that those who do write novels should do so in an interesting or compelling way? If the writer has not fulfilled that obligation, then refusing to read any more of that writer's work would be an appropriate response, but such a refusal based on violation of rules of behavior (a malfeasance to which many. many writers would have to plead guilty) is just an easy way of avoiding the harder work of considering works of literature on their own terms as works of invention and imagination. It's a way of avoiding literature, which too often doesn't allow us to indulge in our moral certainties.
"Artists are part of our world and must be judged as others are. They cannot claim immunity from decency." Only writers and artists who themselves refuse to separate their lives from their work would stupidly "claim immunity from decency." They take their freedom to flaunt rules of decorum and challenge established conventions (formal and othewise) in their work to mean they have similar freedom in their real lives. This is mostly childishness, which is, I suppose, morally culpable, although again I can't see that it should affect our estimation of whatever genuine insights and aesthetic achievements arise from their iconoclasm as artists. It doesn't seem to me that Naipaul's moral failings can be placed in this category of deliberate indecency, anyway. His is a more garden-variety exhibition of human weakness, and as such will no doubt continue to be noted (probably ad nauseam, by those who don't want to be bothered by mere literature), but ultimately his reputation as a writer will still be determined by the appeal of this work, not by the noxiousness of his behavior, even if the charges apparently leveled at him in this biography are true, which I myself don't accept simply because the biographer claims they are.
As Steve Mitchelmore points out in his own discussion of Alibhai-Brown's condemnation of Naipaul, she "recalls wistfully the days she read and loved Naipaul's A House for Mr Biswas. As she doesn't say, we can only guess why she loved his work at that time. Was he a nicer chap?" Ailbhai-Brown's own response to Naipaul's artistry in Biswas shows that it is not only possible but preferable to separate the writer from the work. She might have remained blissfully unaware of Naipaul's personal derelictions, or dismissed them the irrelevancies they are, and retained her fondness for his earlier work. Instead she now has to concoct a narrative in which since Biswas Naipaul's books "have got increasingly bigoted and nasty; he was moved more by hate than love, and an ugliness repeatedly broke through his beautifully written prose." How in the world does Alibhai-Brown know that Naipaul was "moved more by hate than love"? She has to cling to some such notion in order to preserve her conviction that Naipaul the man emerges in all his nastiness in the work, but it's a pretty impoverished view of literature that suggests it can be so easily be dismissed through this two-bit piece of psychologizing.