Every so often, the question of a writer’s life versus their work comes up – specifically, whether the value of the work mitigates, or even has any legitimate connection with, the wrongs they committed, endorsed, or sympathized with in their life. For instance, does Pablo Neruda‘s position as a poet of the people excuse his apologetics for Stalinism? Does The Faerie Queene excuse Edmund Spenser‘s plans to exterminate the Irish? Should William Burroughs have been jailed for shooting his wife? Conversely, should Ezra Pound‘s contribution to world literature have spared him incarceration for his collaborationist antics during World War 2? And there are dozens of examples, from every shade of the ideological spectrum, or every kind of crime. Knowing what they did, can you still read unswayed what they wrote? Will your judgment of the words on the page or screen be influenced by what you know about them?
Well, for those who argue that the biography or rap sheet doesn’t matter, and that literature is indifferent to the actions and morality of the creator, here’s a test for you. Marion Zimmer Bradley, celebrated science fiction and fantasy author, recipient of the, cofounder of the Society for Creative Anachronism, posthumous recipient of the World Fantasy Award for lifetime achievement, has just been revealed by her own daughter Moira Greyland as a repeat child molester, who not only countenanced her sometime husband Walter Breen‘s relationship with an underage boy, but also violated her own daughter, and other children, of both sexes, repeatedly, over many years.
I apologize to anyone this offends, but this is already public information and I am simply repeating it. Walter Breen’s convictions are a matter of public record, and reinforced by Bradley’s own public statements on the subject. This goes far beyond any notion of Fifties homophobia. And also, I apologize to Moira Greyland if sharing this upsets her further, but her statement is already being shared elsewhere, and I’m just adding a little more exposure on top of what’s already going on – with some good purpose, I hope. And I apologize if this article title for one moment appears to call into question what she said, but I’m adding it in case TeleRead needs a fallback position and I’ve been wrong all along. But so far it looks like anything but.
Here’s what Moira Greyland actually says about what her mother did:
The first time she molested me, I was three. The last time, I was twelve, and able to walk away. I put Walter in jail for molesting one boy. I had tried to intervene when I was 13 by telling Mother and Lisa, and they just moved him into his own apartment. I had been living partially on couches since I was ten years old because of the out of control drugs, orgies, and constant flow of people in and out of our family ‘home.’ None of this should be news. Walter was a serial rapist with many, many, many victims (I named 22 to the cops) but Marion was far, far worse. She was cruel and violent, as well as completely out of her mind sexually. I am not her only victim, nor were her only victims girls.
I hope no one thinks that Moira Greyland is making this all up. All the evidence, including actual legal evidence in Breen’s case, points against it. The context for this was a blog post by Deirdre Saoirse Moen in response to a birthday piece on Tor.com about Bradley. Tor later took the piece down, and Moira Greyland responded to Deirdre with her email. There is no substantiation at present beyond the links and quotes I’ve included here, but these come from solid sources, and more and more validating comments are coming up on Facebook and elsewhere almost by the minute.
And is there any point beyond pure prurience in repeating all this stuff? One at least, I hope. I can cite the case of British artist and typographer Eric Gill, who according to his own diaries had incestuous relationships with two of his daughters, and used them as models for some of his nudes. I may be wrong in this, but I remember accounts of his life involving defenders of his actions, including one Roman Catholic priest, who excused and mitigated them on the grounds of his spiritual and artistic gifts. “Gill is too good an artist, too ferocious and intrepid a controversialist, to be protected and glossed over. We need to see him whole,” argues Gill’s biographer Fiona MacCarthy.
Is anyone out there who knows an Eric Gill or Marion Zimmer Bradley-type creative figure making the same excuses for them right now? Well actually, they are, and they didn’t waste time any about it. You can already read very lengthy (and anonymous) defenses of Bradley in the comments section of Deirdre Saoirse Moen’s blog post, saying how Bradley shouldn’t be blamed because her acts took place in the context of “multiple personal, biological and otherwise ‘material’, as well as legal and political forces,” and because her work was “TREMENDOUS”. So there you are. The apologetics, mitigations, and excuses have already started. Hell really does lie in the comments section.
So should the SCA and the World Fantasy Awards disavow Bradley? Will you have a problem reading a single word she wrote again? I know I will. How do you all feel about it?