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A letter to the Editor on Phillip Adams' misinterpretation of Bonfire of the Vanities, published in The Weekend Australian on 20-21 July 1991, p.24

Phillip Adams writes that New York's Reverend 'Big Al' Sharpton was the model for Tom Wolfe's fictional Reverend Bacon in The Bonfire of the Vanities (The Weekend Australian, 13-14 July 1991, Review 8). Yet Tom Wolfe wrote in his introduction to that very novel that his Reverend was merely 'a grotesque caricature of a black activist, grotesque or worse' and that its publication in book form preceded Sharpton's rise to prominence by some three months.

Wolfe took pains to make these points for he was apparently subjected to critical rebuke for creating such a 'grotesque caricature', yet with Sharpton's new renown he came to hear, using his words, 'people complain, This poor fellow Wolfe, he has no imagination. Here, on the front page of every newspaper, are the real goods.'

In any case, it seems to me that the Reverend Bacon was a distillation of the behaviour set out by Wolfe himself in his chaotic 1970 essay, 'Mau-mauing the Flak Catchers'. Perhaps the Reverend Sharpton drew some of his inspiration from that.

© 1991 - Stephen Dawson