Heinlein (off-topic)

Melissa Proffitt Melissa at Proffitt.com
Sat Aug 26 13:15:20 EDT 2000


On Fri, 25 Aug 2000 07:22:58 +0100 (BST), Tanaqui wrote:

>It seems to me that comparing _Glory Road_ to Tennyson's _Ulysses_ is
>inappropriate: there isn't the ever-receding quest after glory, and Our Hero
>in Heinlein has certainly not assimilated his experiences, the boor.

In a more general sense, both _Glory Road_ and "Ulysses" represent a
conflict between domesticity and the adventuring life; Ulysses is for
whatever reason unsuited to staying home and governing his people, in
contrast to Telemachus who is prudent, discerning, and of a temper to fulfil
all those mundane chores that Ulysses can't stand:  "He works his work, I
mine."  And despite our annoying Hero's crassness, he was chosen on the
basis of his fighting ability...so no wonder he's in the same predicament at
the end.  Usually adventure stories end with the Hero getting the girl,
winning the kingdom, defeating his enemies, and so forth.  Both "Ulysses"
and _Glory Road_ take the story a step further: what happens afterward?  Is
a man who is highly successful at killing his enemies and rescuing
princesses really suited to the quiet life?  This is the sense in which I
see a similarity between the two works.  How Tennyson and Heinlein work out
the details is where they diverge, and again, I don't think Heinlein really
saw all the possibilities of exploring this ending.  On the other hand, the
character he had to work with...well, I just didn't much care about him at
the end.  That he wandered off to continue fighting monsters or whatever he
was planning to do was just a continuation of his general unlikeability.
(And Glory was just a sap, certainly not the kind of person I would want to
have as ruler of the universe.)

My point of view on this, by the way, comes from studying Victorian
literature in college with a professor who had a stronger reading of the
poem than the traditional one.  She pointed out that the cult of domesticity
suggested that Victorians would have deplored Ulysses' choice to sail beyond
the sunset rather than tending his garden at home.  That's only one person's
reading, but it allows for Ulysses to be a less heroic character (actually,
she was really quite savage about his character flaws) than he appears.

>I find it impossible to let bald statements pass without qualification and
>argument unless they are utterly in concord with my opinions. That's rare.
>I'm going to end up the sort of sad old mad bird who shouts at the telly.

With your teeth in a glass of water by the sink, no doubt. :)

>+ I appreciate that he respected and admired women 
>
>Ahem. Had an almost religious awe of red-headed wife #2, which informed his
>heroines to an enormous degree? His treatment of wife #1, well... not quite
>so pretty. And how much does he respect and admire women, as opposed to paying
>lip-service to notions of egalitarianism and then condemning the poor feminist
>types who want "equality" - since that's such a silly underestimate of the
>feminine potential. I'd settle for equality, me, rather than some nebulous 
>pedestal-erecting worship of Woman.

Yes, but I think it was the best he was capable of.  He *thought* he was
showing his respect for women by putting them on that pedestal, and much as
I find that distasteful and *not* respectful, I'll give him a little credit
for intention (as far as anyone can know intention).  I know, that's
terribly wishy-washy, but I can afford to be generous because it doesn't
hurt me a bit.  His opinions on this are merely annoying to me.

>I like the fact that women are expected to rassle hogs, solve equations, 
>build and engineer alongside the men, and absolutely loathe the propensity
>of these women to prefer the barefoot'n'pregnant got-a-man existence. 
>
>If a woman is ever seen doing anything practical, she has to beat the men at
>it, but much more preferable is pumping out babies once she's secured one of
>these inferior beings. huh? must be some prime bloodstock eugenics thing. 

>I just don't like the way that not a single one
>of these tough red-headed smart girls questions her manifest biological
>destiny. Even the "unconventional" marriages have to hew to Heinlein's
>sociological rules for success, and that means inherent conservatism.

Well, sorry, but speaking as one of the conservative breeders, it doesn't
seem at all odd to me that a smart capable woman might choose childbearing
after all.  But I also think that choosing to rear children isn't a
diminishing of female potential.  That it's ALL the women...yeah, it's a
little wearing.  But, again, Heinlein wasn't in the business of creating
three-dimensional realistic characters.  As far as I can tell, they exist
for the purpose of making the story exciting and explicating his personal
opinions.  So what?  I can accept that his opinions outrage you; I'm not
convinced that this makes them all utter nonsense.

And Woman wasn't the only thing Heinlein put on a pedestal.  I've never been
really clear as to why he and Virginia never had children--there's a passing
mention in _Tramp Royale_ where Ginny tells some woman in Russia that "they
always wanted children, but it just wasn't possible," but that could mean
that they couldn't fit it into their lives as well as that it wasn't
physically possible.  At any rate, the bearing of children--the fertility of
women, the virility of men--is definitely a major theme, and yet he never
really shows the rearing of those children.  It's just another idealization.
If it was born out of his own thwarted desires, I'm more inclined to pity
than outrage.

On the other hand, _Podkayne of Mars_ is fundamentally an indictment of
parental abdication of responsibility and of institutionalized child care.
I'm not sure which ending is the UK one, but the two aren't very different
except for Poddy's fate; both end with Uncle whats-his-name yelling at his
sister that it might not be too late to save the brother if the parents
learn to give up their addiction to their careers to raise the children they
created.  But I'm hopelessly conservative; I happen to agree with this one.
Not that all women should desire motherhood, but that those who are mothers
should be responsible for the care of their children.  Not that all men
should want to be fathers, but that those who are shouldn't think their kids
need their money more than their time.

What it comes down to is that while I don't accept Heinlein's prescription
for women's happiness as applying universally, I think it's one legitimate
possibility for some women.  Since it's the path I chose for myself, I could
hardly think otherwise.

>Once I started identifying what I hated about Heinlein, I found him easier to
>bear. _Grumbles from the Grave_ had me cackling.

You're both too opinionated to live together, so to speak.  Too bad he's
dead; we could put you both in a room and sell tickets to watch the ensuing
fireworks.  :)

(A side note: I recently learned that many people believe the change in
Heinlein's writing [the early "good" books versus the later "bad" books] was
caused by the stroke he had later in life.  Not that it's exculpatory, but I
had never realized that it was such a widely-help opinion.)

>If any Heinlein heroine had a career as well as kids, that would be cool.
>It's the monomaniacal sprog-dropping that I find wearing.

You're so right.  I should go out and get me one of them careers right now
so I can fulfil my full potential as a woman.  Four kids in six years?  How
very...monomaniacal...of me.  :)

Melissa Proffitt
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