July 8, 2014

Virginia Heinlein and posthumous bowdlerization

Filed under: Books, History, Media, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:57

A tweet from the Heinlein Society linked to this excerpt from Fred Pohl’s The Way The Future Blogs, talking about Virginia Heinlein’s role in “neatening up” Robert Heinlein’s literary legacy:

Robert Heinlein’s next, and final, wife was Lt. Virginia Gerstenfeld. She worked with (and outranked) Heinlein at the little wartime research group in Philadelphia that was charged with trying to figure out what a high-altitude (read: space) suit should be like.

Politically, she and I were nowhere near close, but we agreed to disagree and generally talked about something else. That didn’t really matter. Bob had picked her and she was his loyalest fan and ferociousest protector, and as long as he lived that was plenty good enough for me.

But then he died, and Ginny didn’t stop protecting all that was left of him. Specifically his image — or rather her image of him, which I believe was of a chivalrous, well-mannered and quite refined Annapolis man.


Then there was Grumbles from the Grave. Robert had talked about allowing posthumous publication of his real feelings about a lot of things that he didn’t feel comfortable to talk about while he was alive, and indicated that some of his private letters would be a source for the book. Then some posthumous book with that title did come out, and it was a great disappointment. Someone — it could have been only Ginny — had washed his face and combed his hair and turned whatever it was that Robert might have wanted to say into the equivalent of thank-you notes for a respectable English tea.

I know that Robert wrote some much more raunchy letters than any of those, because I myself got one or two. But all the raunch has been edited out. What’s left is actually rather boring and does a great disservice to the real Heinlein, whose physical person may have been embodied as a conventional hard-right conservative but whose writing was — sometimes vulgarly — that of a free-thinking iconoclast.


  1. I am a great fan of Heinlein, and through all of his writing, early and late, I have always perceived him to be very much libertarian rather than conservative, if I was looking for a label. His characters were free thinking and generally didn’t give 2 hoots about what others thought, although they were wise enough not to rub people’s faces in it. They were independent, capable and intelligent. Great stories by a great man. I did find his later books to be a bit off the wall though, with the time travelling back and forth and the very “liberal” sexual themes. Still, they were good reads all.

    Comment by Dwayne — July 8, 2014 @ 18:52

  2. You’re right that Heinlein was much more a libertarian than a conservative … not many life-long nudists are welcome in the Republican party. His post-service political life started out pretty far “left” (the EPIC movement in California), but his interest doesn’t seem to have been the socialism so much as the anti-establishment/anti-corruption philosophy and the support for individual rights. If you look at it that way, his “drift to the libertarian side” makes much more sense.

    Comment by Nicholas — July 9, 2014 @ 06:56

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