William Mayne update)

minnow at belfry.org.uk minnow at belfry.org.uk
Sat Mar 27 15:49:28 EST 2004


Ika wrote:

>I think T H White is an interesting compare-and-contrast here, because
>there's a degree of parallel between the sexual cross-generational
>relationship(s) in his life and the non-sexual cross-gen relationships in
>his work, which doesn't seem to be the case with William Mayne or Michael
>Dorris. So that makes it a little harder to distinguish between the book
>and the writer, if you see what I mean.

I'd read THW as being very involved in Lancelot's unfortunate relationship
with the Queen, which started because he was nasty to her and then had to
be nicer than he wanted to in order to make up for having been a beast --
that bit reads from-the-heart, to me.  (And I always thought that *The
Master* was a rather horrible self-portrait.)  Did he see himself as
Merlin, or did he see himself as Wart?  The book is a lot more Wart's PoV
than it is Merlin's, I think.

>Anyway, when THW got together with a much younger boyfriend,* he wrote to
>some friends that "I have found my Wart". So the Merlin/Wart relationship
>in the books could be taken as a model for a romantic relationship - at
>least by the author of the books. (There's a wicked essay on this, but I
>can't find my copy of it, I'm afraid. I also can't remember whether it
>said exactly how old THW's partner was.)

Perhaps when he referred to "my Wart" in this context, he was thinking of a
non-romantic element in his relationship with the younger man.  He might
have had ideas about teaching the poor fellow as well as loving him.  Or
perhaps he was trying to pull the wool over the friends' eyes by suggesting
that the reason for the relationship was not romantic but tutorial?  People
do some funny things to avoid prosecution, persecution and potential
lynching, which was presumably what would have followed had he been found
to be in such a relationship at that time.  Or now, if the other party were
a boy under the age of consent, of course.

>*I don't think there's been any suggestion that this was anything other
>than a loving and consensual relationship, by the way: in fact I remember
>reading that THW quit teaching at prep schools because he was specifically
>attracted to boys of his students' age, which I thought was admirable.

I too had come across that, and also that since he knew there was an
element of sadism in him which he found frightening, he tried to make sure
he wasn't ever in a position actually to hurt anyone for his pleasure.  I'd
think that admirable too.  What I was told was, that was why he wanted to
keep hawks rather than dogs at first (though he did have at least one
much-loved dog later in life): because you *can't* be cruel to a hawk the
way you can a dog, it just flies off, or dies, rather than staying around
and taking it.

>Like Otter says:
>
>> As Pat Califia-Rice once pointed out [these are not his exact words],
>> you are not responsible for [and should not be blamed for] what turns
>> you on, but you are responsible for what you do about it.

Yes, indeed!   Contrast this with a comment I once heard made about a
rather nasty man who'd been in the news for brutalising his own children,
getting sent to prison for it, coming out and repeating the whole thing
only this time he actually killed his new girlfriend's son: a woman
discussing the case in my hearing said, "Oh, well, of course, he couldn't
really help it, poor man: after all, he is a sadist."  Luckily, words
failed me.  Even more luckily, I didn't happen to have a blunt instrument
to hand, so I didn't have the means to kill her whilst shouting "I can't
help doing this!  I'm a sadist!!" and jumping up and down...  There ought
to be limits to "sympathetic understanding", I feel.

>So, again, the information doesn't adversely affect the way I read the
>books. But I've always been slightly surprised that the information [that
>the author thought the adult-child relationship could be read as romantic,
>and took it as a model for his own crossgenerational relationship] hasn't
>affected the *popularity* of THW's books: so maybe Mayne's books will
>surprise me by going on being read and collected and canonized, too. (The
>name's familiar, but I can't remember whether I've read any, so I don't
>know what I think about his case myself.)

Perhaps it's that most people don't know anything much about T.H.White's
personal life, which certainly hasn't been in the news much in the past
fifty years or so, that has meant that his books haven't been made
unpopular on account of his personal sexuality.  That  this will be true of
Mayne's seems less likely, if he's going to be "news" for a bit.  Has the
story surfaced anywhere but The Guardian, and a two-sentence filler in The
Independent short-news column?  If it isn't made into a "story" to any
great extent, it may well go equally unnoticed by most people.

Minnow


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