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Art or Artist

In 2014 I learned Marion Zimmer Bradley was not just a passive child abuser. I knew she had known about her husband Walter Breen’s sexual abuse of children. I learned she abused their daughter Moria. I could almost write off covering for her husband as a wife’s misguided loyalty. I learned she was a depraved individual on her own.

One of my favorite books as a teenager was Hawkmistress! by Bradley. It is a teenage girl’s coming of age story which resonated with me. Only the first two [Harper Hall books][harper] by Anne McCaffrey matched it in terms of myself identification. Hawkmistress! itself as part of Bradley’s Darkover novels. As a result, I read Darkover story available when I was in high school. I also read a lot of other books by Bradley.

Last week I discussed our public reaction to being associated with people who committed pedophilia. I briefly said keeping their art in our life was a separate discussion. That is my topic now.

The question I faced was, what was I do to with the works by Bradley that filled my shelves. I had more than just Darkover. The House Between the Worlds remains my favorite book by Bradley and had long kept a copy. Although I did not enjoy it much, I have a copy of The Mists of Avalon. Yes, I do, in the present tense.

The Guardian article linked above indicates I may be alone or at the least in the minority. John Scalzi and G. Willow Wilson, among others, will no longer read her novels. I remember many people discussing how they were getting rid of her books, not just refusing to read them.

I didn’t. I do not believe as a reader I am culpable for the moral behavior of an author no matter how much I enjoy their work. It is not a sign of depravity to continue enjoy something I enjoyed prior to this knowledge. Buying new books in order that the author benefits might be a sign of tacit support. If Bradley was alive, I would discontinue purchasing her new books.

When I first learned about the abuse I had no thought I should not buy new volumes of Bradley’s work to fill out my collection. I thought Moria, being Bradley’s daughter, would be, with her brother, the beneficiary of her mother’s literary estate. In fact, I won’t round out my collection with new books because Moria is not the beneficiary of the estate. The beneficiary is Elizabeth Waters, Bradley’s lover who helped cover up for Breen and I suspect Bradley herself.

You might, however, considering buying Moria’s album or book about her experiences. I have linked them, instead of Bradley’s work, in this post for that reason.

I also won’t be buying new volumes of Sword & Sorceress. New volumes have been published since Bradley’s death. I love the series, but I have not bought the new ones.

This no new purchase policies may change. Based on the research for this post it appears money from the literary estate is going to anti-abuse charities. I will need to check further. Unless her children reject the proceeds based on their suffering, I would rather see the fruits of Bradley’s work go to them and her other victims instead of filtered through victims charities.

That said, I have read and bought used copies of Bradley’s work since her death. It has been older material. The primary reason is I found her later books less interesting. Also, I sense some of her proclivities surfaced more in later books.

I still buy co-written books where I like the second author. I have seen no evidence that her various co-authors were aware she abused children. As I said last week, if I reject co-authored books I punish the innocent instead of the guilty.

You can disagree with my stance. You may decide that her books, even ones you have loved for years, must be sold off. You may even decide to consign them to the dumpster or the fire, not wanting to pass them on or gain from selling them. As a personal choice I can support that.

However, if everyone adopts that standard, where does it end? A little known bit of trivia is Bradley coined the name, The Society for Creative Anachronism when the early organization needed to reserve a park. Is the SCA tainted? Does it need to change its name? Does it need to disband?

If you say, “that’s silly, the SCA is the product of thousands of people working over decades,” I won’t disagree. Several of Bradley’s novels are co-written with other authors. Is it silly to throw out the words they wrote just because they wrote them with Bradley.

Bradley’s success came from thousands of people reading her books. Should we condemn their pleasure now? If we find signs of her sexual abuse in her novels, perhaps we need to question our enjoyment of those exact works. We continue to read some works and forget others after authors pass. The author’s moral degeneracy shining through is as valid as any other reason.

As I said last week, we should learn how she hid and those she influenced. For example, did her place in the founding of the SCA make it susceptible to the same things we see in fandom? Our guilt, even as fans who never met her, comes from a sensation of guilt that we should have known and not embraced her.

However what we loved was the art. Some of us love the artist or at least think we do. Unless the artist is in our life that love is a foolish projection of the art on the artist. When the artist’s moral failings break our heart, it is just as much a mistake to project those failings back on the art.


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3 Comments

  1. BobtheRegisterredFool BobtheRegisterredFool

    Well, the SCA is not really the example that would best prove the point to me. I already get the point of needing consistent process and measured proportion in justice. For me, the SCA is something I could be neutral to very hostile on depending on if I’m feeling irritable or not.

    There is fun room to discuss her literary influence on Lackey, and through Lackey’s Vanyel, on a wide swath of fandom.

    I think there is a more general process at play with authors who get warped past the point of enjoyment late in their careers. Fiction we write can take the place of some of the opinion feedback we often get from our peers. So someone who has been writing for a long time, and is in contact with a narrow group of real people can lose quite a bit of contact with the general public. We might be seeing some of this happen with Wen Spencer and Hodgell. Look at Bujold’s Gentlemen Jole, and tell me that compared to the first two books, it couldn’t be a result of trying to keep up with extrapolation of what is currently woke.

    • So someone who has been writing for a long time, and is in contact with a narrow group of real people can lose quite a bit of contact with the general public.

      That is an interesting point I haven’t considered. It certainly meshes well with later Heinlein and his somewhat post-modernist view of fictional worlds.

      Could it be authors get so used to talking to the people they make up they forget real people have thoughts beyound what they can imagine.

      • BobtheRegisterredFool BobtheRegisterredFool

        My ability to analyze the real world may take a huge hit after I figure out writing fiction and have time to get really into it. I’m not happy about the possibility, but my ability to stop myself if I prove capable and can spare the time and energy is probably nil. Though, if the fatal process is only in the worldbuilding, I’ve been doing that for decades, and might only be slowly losing my analytical ability.

        Presuming one credits me with having any in the first place. 🙂

        Could instead be religious leftism, and remaining social circles that heavily sample the religious left.

        On the other hand, I once researched a fic to the point that one’s character’s animus for the modern olympics left me a lasting mild dislike. I was a little bit crazy to begin with, and I really have no right to throw stones.

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