A couple of notes on Robert Heinlein


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After listening to a podcast on poly and science fiction in which Robert Heinlein was the lead topic of the discussion, I wrote the following email to the presenters - as I did not feel they were fully versed on his works or his life.

I thought that I would share it here as well - given that he is often discussed in the poly community. Four of his novels discuss "poly type" marriages in some depth - most infamously, "Stranger in a Strange Land".

Also, in an interesting connection, the Ravenhearts (Oberon and Morning Glory) named their particular pagan group "The Church of All Worlds", specifically after the fictional "church" presented in Heinlein's "Stranger" (complete with water sharing ceremonies) - and then later, Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart, coined the term "polyamorous".


I decided to drop you a note after listening to your recent podcast on poly and science fiction. I have been an enthusiastic Heinlein fan since reading my first Heinlein novel at age 12 - "Stranger in a Strange Land". And to this day, "Stranger" remains my favorite work of fiction. It would even be fair to say that "Stranger" planted the seeds that ultimately led to my leaving Evangelical Fundamentalist Christianity behind and to a life long passion for alternative philosophical thought.

While I went on to read all of Heinlein's published works, including at least four novels that prominently featured polyamorous-style marriages - Stranger, The Moon in a Harsh Mistress, Time Enough for Love, and Friday - and despite Heinlein's writings having influenced me so profoundly philosophically, I always thought of these marriage arrangements as "part of the fiction", so to speak - even though I would have had no moral objections to those who did practice "open marriages". Sometimes it seems somewhat ironic that almost 50 years after first reading Stranger, I should very unexpectedly find myself self identifying as poly.

I recently read the (authorized and reasonably definitive) two volume Heinlein biography by William Patterson (2010) - which was interesting but which would probably only appeal to scholars and die-hard Heinlein fans. So, from what I learned in those books, as what I have picked up elsewhere over the years - a couple of notes in regard to your broadcast.

All three of Heinlein's marriages were "open" - according to the authorized biography, which included extensive input from Heinlein's third wife, Ginny (or Virginia, more formally) His first marriage to Elinor Curry lasted just over a year, but they had agreed on a "companionate" marriage (a form of open marriage popular in certain circles in the early Twentieth Century). His second marriage was to Leslyn MacDonald - and they were apparently quite actively open. That marriage ended after about 15 years due to Leslyn's alcoholism. His third wife, Ginny, actually came into the picture before he and Leslyn broke up. Ginny lived with Robert and Leslyn prior to their divorce for a while. Robert and Ginny also had an "open" marriage but it was less actively open than the previous marriage with Leslyn. They were married until Heinlein's passing in 1988.

Also - just to comment on those aspects of "Stranger" that some would find objectionable in today's society. Yes, as you pointed out in the podcast, it was published in 1962 when societal views were significantly different. However, while the podcast stated it was written in 1961, it is more accurate to say that it was finished in 1961 - but was written in starts and stops over more than a decade, with the initial plotting laid out around 1947.

One of the issues would be, of course, his casual dismissal of the inclusion of homosexuals in the "Nest or Water Brotherhood". This was primarily just a reflection of the times, but shortly after publication he stated that he was actually embarrassed by that casual dismissal, but did it as a plot device to avoid the larger argument that would ensue as to how that would relate to his praise of "the wonderful joy of male-femaleness" that the Martians who raised him did not enjoy. Heinlein, himself, was by no means anti-gay. An excellent discussion of this topic may be found on the Heinlein Society's Website FAQ.

Did Heinlein change his views on homosexuality over the years?

Another frequent criticism is what some view as a chauvinistic or even misogynistic view of women - in "Stranger" and elsewhere. Again, this is somewhat a reflection of the times. Actually, Heinlein viewed women as generally superior to men - this is quite apparent throughout his entire body of work. Above and beyond that, however, he most certainly believed in "women and children" first - from a pragmatic view. They represent the future - women can have babies and perpetuate the species, therefore they should be protected first. This is somewhat analogous to his philosophy of the "pragmatics of patriotism".


I too thought the open parts of Stranger etc were only fantasy - that said I *also* read Stranger when I was, oh, 12 or so and I do think that it and all the other Heinlein I read shaped a lot of my attitudes, though I'd like to think I've grown past the libertarianism / individualism that was the other thing I got from it for a while.

The casual sexism, though... I just can't entirely get past it. Sure, he put women on a pedestal - but that's *also* a form of benevolent sexism and the "all the women want all the babies" thing is... tedious.

What was the podcast?


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What was the podcast?

Multiamory.com - several months back.

And I do get that many people object to Heinlein's "benevolent sexism", despite his good intentions - it was reflective of this time and place in large part, I am certain - and that particular aspect of his stories has not aged very well in the decades that followed, not to say, though, that he didn't create some really interesting women characters. :)



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Thanks for posting this thread Al; these are things I did not know about Heinlein. In particular I did not realize he was in open marriages. It's an encouraging realization.


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Also an avid nudist. :)


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After listening to a podcast on poly and science fiction in which Robert Heinlein was the lead topic of the discussion, I wrote the following email to the presenters - as I did not feel they were fully versed on his works or his life ...
Excellent post :cool: