A famous author looked out his window one day and saw a four-year-old girl playing in the garden with her sisters. He opened his diary and made a notation describing the event, adding that he was “marking this day with a white stone.” He had many child-friends before he met her and many after, all of them preadolescent girls, all of which he would lose touch with around the time they turned 10. But there was something special about the White Stone Girl, as he would tell her himself in one of his few surviving letters to her, written after they had become estranged. He wrote a book about her. It included everyone they knew and every in-joke they had ever shared; his original manuscript is covered with drawings of her and the last page features her oval portrait, which he photographed himself. He was a respected child-photograper in his day and took many pictures of young girls, some of them in the nude. One of his most praised portraits was of the White Stone Girl; she leans against a brick wall in a torn waifish dress and gazes provacatively into the camera with a sullen pout.
Volumes of his diaries survive, but the pages that would have detailed their last year as friends are missing. We have many of his letters, but most of the letters he wrote to her were burned by her mother. In the published version of his most famous book, the story ends with a poem that’s beginning letters spell out her full name. His sequel includes a chapter that some say the illustrator recognized as an exchange between the author and the White Stone Girl, and in his disgust, the illustrator drew this self-insert character as a decrepit old man to emphasize the age difference. In spite of all of this, the most respected authorites on the life of Lewis Carroll will tell you that his relationship with Alice Liddell was platonic, fatherly and completely innocent.
There are plenty of people who will now dismiss the molestation rumors about Michael Jackson. I heard one newscaster explain his companionship with young boys as a result of his inability to grow up, so children were all he could relate to. Naturally then they would need to share a bed. Why hasn’t anyone tried that one on To Catch a Predator? “Not me officer, I’m just here for a sleepover.”
We have a difficult time separating genius from the genius. We believe if we like the work, we must like the person who made it. We fail to recognize the ultimate contradiction: that divine talent and divine madness are entertwined. Worse, that it might not be a contradiction, that we might have to admit that what inspired us in their art, their literature or music was inspired by their personal demons in the first place. Admit that Marilyn Monroe’s equisite vulnerability might have come from being raped at age 11, admit that Betty Page’s warm smile at the camera while sporting leather bondage gear was made possible by an earlier theft of her innocence, admit that Hemingway’s driving thirst for adventure might have been a race against a ticking clock built by his father’s suicide. And if we admit that, what does that say about us?