Sad and Disgusted over Allegations Against a Once Favorite Author
Two of the threads of reading I did when I was in my late teens and early 20s were Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books, about a lost colony from earth who’d intermarried with a native population on Darkover; and anything having to do with Arthurian legends. I read Mary Stewart’s Merlin series, T.H. White’s Once and Future King , and John Steinbeck The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights.
The summer after my freshman year of college, I read Le Morte d’Arthur in the original syntax. It was all that was available. I can still chuckle over the thought of all those spears “all-to shivering.” The three Grail knight, Galahad, Perceval and Bors were even more amusing as they were all “clean maidens,” except Bors, who was a “clean maiden but once.”
There is a lot of casual brutality in Le Morte d’Arthur and a lot of, well, bed hopping. Ladies cheated on their husbands who then took revenge. Sons took a dim view of their mothers (regardless of their mother’s marital status) keeping company with gentleman friends. I was not too surprised to find out later that the guy who supposed to have collected the various tales, Thomas Mallory, did so while in prison, held on various charges of theft and rape (which didn’t quite have the same meaning it does today. The woman’s consent was secondary.)
Given my love of all things Arthur and all things Marion Zimmer Bradley, I was eagerly looking forward to the latter’s The Mists of Avalon when it came out in 1983. I read every review I could get my grubby paws in those far distant pre-internet days. And what I read disappointed me. Lancelot sleeping with both Guinevere and Arthur? It wasn’t the bisexuality that bothered me so much but oh, brother, what a soap opera! I still haven’t read the book, which has since been followed by a series and is considered Bradley’s single most popular book.
It is only within the past day or two that I’ve read of the conviction and imprisonment of her husband, Walter Breen, on child molestation, and of the allegations made by her own children, Moira and Mark Greyland, of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at Bradley’s own hands. Bradley died in 1999, Breen in prison in 1993. Moira mentions that she was afraid to speak up, even after her mother’s death and her father’s conviction, for fear of the backlash from her mother’s fans. Happily, that hasn’t happened.
Hard to express the disgust I feel for anyone treating their children like this, much less someone who purported to be a feminist and pro-woman. Why was nothing done while their parents were alive and the children could have been protected? I think in part because the world was different then. In part because no one wants to hear these sorts of things, and in part because their parents’ friends were convinced that the “new” religion they practiced was better than anything that had gone before and the enlightened adherents couldn’t possibly do anything so destructive, could they?
The question of separating the art from the artist comes up. Some people have said they will throw out all MZB’s books they have in the house and not buy any more. For myself it’s a non-issue. I haven’t bought any of her books in a long, long time. I may or may not have any left, but I think I gave them away in the times that I have moved since the Darkover books were so important to me. (And they were good books!)
But I wish there was something more that could be done for her children. They’re in middle age now, of course, and a lot of water had passed under the bridge for them. But how horrible it must have been to live in a shadow like that when so many strangers saw your mother as a loving person and you knew her a crazy, violent person. Just… sad.
Source: Wikipedia on Walter Breen :
Wikipedia on Marion Zimmer Bradley :
©2015 Denise Longrie
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