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Reviews 
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Heinlein Biographer

Joined: Thu Apr 10, 2008 1:33 pm
Posts: 1024
Post Re: Reviews
RLetson wrote:
Gary wrote: "what we know of [Leslyn] seems heavily colored by Virginia Heinlein’s own reminiscences–and much of that involves alcoholism, depression, rages, and 'psychotic episodes' leading to an unpleasant divorce and a sad deterioration afterwards." This is a reasonable, if incomplete description of the Leslyn thread of the narrative--and it is prefaced by a reference to the "wood sprite" photo and to her "critical intellect," which suggest a descent from happiness.

The combination of incomplete documentary evidence and the filter of Virginia's recollections--especially in the case of Leslyn--will be noted by any thoughtful reader or reviewer. The posts on Fred Pohl's blog, for example, recount a correspondence with Leslyn ("sad, wistful, lonesome letters") that included memories that he did not share, and which contribute to the proposition that the last part of her life was not quite happy. And his review of the bio points out that Virginia did indeed sanitize some of RAH's correspondence, which supports the proposition that Virginia's recollections, though necessary, may not be sufficient for a complete picture of Heinlein's life.

While the bio's documentation does not dodge this issue, some readers will consider the narrowing of sources as affecting the completeness or even the reliability of the picture of Leslyn. My own reaction is that, given the research challenges, the book offers a sympathetic and convincing portrait of the complex relationship(s) of complex people. And that it is necessarily and inevitably not the last word on the topic.

Well, I respectfully disagree with the first two paragraphs. I have noted where I got what in the citations, and discussed how the documentation affected the interpretation where appropriate. These citations and discussion do NOT logically add up to an excessive influence by Ginny (most of the citations are to Heinlein's letters).

This is an artifact of a reader/reviewer wanting to take the facts where they do not in fact go, of imposing what the reader/reviewer thinks ought to be there but is not actually there. In short, it's wishful thinking on the part of the reader/reviewer.

I actually at one point told Ginny point blank that she was only one of the sources, all of which were weighed together. Ginny's information is privileged at several points (not just wrt Leslyn) on the historiographical grounds that (a) she was a percipient witness or (b) she was told something by Heinlein in a little more or different detail than was found in his letters, and/or (c) she was the only surviving witness. I actually found her 24 hours of taped interviews most useful as an overall guide to the contents of the Archive and how they related to each other, which was not always immediately evident from the documents themselves. She advanced the research phase by about a year, IMO.

As with many another "controversial" figure in the biography, I didn't start out with or reflect an agenda of ANY kind wrt Leslyn -- just recounted the facts with enough inference to account for them. Happens I agree that it's a "tragic" story, but one all too common -- but I didn't deliberately emphasize that, just let Heinlein make the point in his own parole. I could have editorialized on it more than I did, made her out a villain (as there is material for that if you want to take it in that direction).

The "narrowing of the sources" is IMO an artifact of the tragedy of the story, i.e., a historiographical fact as weighty as direct testimony, what is NOT said, the "negative space" of the context -- but in the overall narrative the narrowing of the sources had extremely little impact (as secondary sources were minor wrt Leslyn in the first place).


Fri Jan 07, 2011 9:13 am
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Heinlein Nexus

Joined: Fri Jul 24, 2009 8:05 am
Posts: 375
Post Re: Reviews
Much of the evidence comes from Leslyn's letters herself, which were cited fully in my articles on her.

Bill then cites me, which may be part of the mistaken impression here.


Fri Jan 07, 2011 11:47 am
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