More troubling news for Blake Bailey, the man whose recent biography of noted misogynist Philip Roth, was recently pulled from production because of sexual assault allegations: it turns out that W.W. Norton, Bailey’s publisher, had been warned about other unsavory behavior but did nothing.
According to a new report from the New York Times, in 2015 Bailey allegedly raped Valentina Rice, a publishing executive, while they were both guests at New York Times writer Dwight Garner’s house. Rice ultimately decided against notifying the police, though she did tell Garner, who was “horrified” to hear what had happened and clarified that he and Bailey “do not have a relationship.”
A few years later, Rice wrote an email under a pseudonym to Julia A. Reidhead at Norton and a reporter at the Times, detailing her allegations against Bailey, spurred in part by #MeToo. In it, she wrote of her reluctance to report the rape to the police, but said felt it was necessary to “tell someone in the interests of protecting other women.” She assured Reidhead that she would confirm the allegation “if you can assure me of my anonymity even if it is likely Mr. Bailey will know exactly who I am.”
Instead of following up with this allegation against one of the publisher’s beloved and respected authors, Reidhead ignored it. But a week later, Rice received an email from Bailey, saying that Norton had forwarded him the email she wrote.
From the Times:
“I can assure you I have never had non-consensual sex of any kind, with anybody, ever, and if it comes to a point I shall vigorously defend my reputation and livelihood,” he wrote in the email, which the Times reviewed. “Meanwhile, I appeal to your decency: I have a wife and young daughter who adore and depend on me, and such a rumor, even untrue, would destroy them.”
It is certainly rich that a man who has been credibly accused of rape, grooming, and sexual assault by a number of women is pulling out the “but I have a wife and daughter” defense, but it is fitting—like a bad subplot in a Philip Roth novel and the worst sort of irony.
However, Rice isn’t the only woman that has accused Bailey of rape. Per the Times’ reporting, another woman, Eve Peyton, who was one of Bailey’s students, alleges that he raped her when they were both in New Orleans by happenstance.
Afterward, he invited her back to the place he was staying, where he kissed her, initiated oral sex, and when she squirmed away, he pinned her to the bed and forcibly had sex with her, she said. He finally stopped when she told him she wasn’t using birth control, she recalled.
After he drove her to her father’s house, where she was staying, Mr. Bailey said he had “wanted her” since the day they met, when she was 12, Ms. Peyton said.
A few days after this incident, Bailey reportedly apologized to Peyton in an email and asked her to not speak of it publicly. In 2020, Peyton heard from Bailey again, in an email that alluded to the night he allegedly raped her and blamed his behavior on “mental illness.”
Norton’s response to their star biographer’s sordid past as a dangerous sex pest has been relatively lackluster. A Norton spokesperson said that they took Rice’s allegation “very seriously,” but seemingly failed to do anything about it, because the New York Times is a “a news organization that was well equipped to look into it.” But, naturally, when they asked Bailey about these allegations, he denied them. “We were mindful of the sender’s request for a guarantee of anonymity,” the spokesperson said to the Times. It’s not that they were exactly complicit, but it sure seems like they didn’t do much to stop him.