I’ve been reading more Dion Fortune as part of my research. She’s an intriguing author. I want to like her work, I really do. But I can’t.

There’s not a whole lot of magical fiction, and she writes it pretty well. If you really get into the text, she can carry you along in the spirit of a ritual, which is often the point of magical fiction, and is certainly the point of hers. So I want to like it, because it’s good at one of the major things it sets out to do. But I can’t.

It’s not the Christianity; in fact, most of the ritual work in her novels is so thoroughly little-p pagan that it has been shamelessly mined by Pagans since, well, there were big-p Pagans. It’s not even the sexism, although that gave me a pretty hard ride in the latest work I read, The Winged Bull. Admittedly, it is the bad guy who says that a particular woman needs “a sheiking” – meaning abduction and rape – but it is the good guys who talk about how if that woman objects to them manhandling her (for her own good, of course) they will simply spank her in public. That’s hard enough, but they don’t actually do it, so I can sort of tolerate it.

What I can’t tolerate is when she tells me – in the voice of that female character, no less – that “there is no blessing on a marriage when you close the gates of life permanently against incoming souls.” (322-3)

This weird bit seems like a line from her Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage wandered over onto another page and another book entirely, and she decided to wedge it in where it doesn’t really fit. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons – and maybe I’ll think about them, on another day – about why in English society at the time she couldn’t get away from including this last soupcon of morality when concluding a novel. But today, I couldn’t get over her telling me that my own marriage is a sham, or immoral, or at least “unblessed” in some way. And while I certainly don’t need her approval, her insistence on including that last ruler-smack of disapprobrium definitely keeps me from giving her too much of my own approval in return.

What about you? Are there writers (teachers, speakers) that you want to love, but just can’t?

11 thoughts on “Authors you want to love, but can’t

  1. I don’t blame you for being turned off by that last one. I would have been too, but for different reasons. For me, the author that I just can’t get into is Julia Cameron and her “Artist’s Way.” People rave about her, but I just can’t get into it.

  2. I’m sure there’s a lot of reasons – and maybe I’ll think about them, on another day – about why in English society at the time she couldn’t get away from including this last soupcon of morality when concluding a novel.

    This will not make you feel any less disturbed by that statement of Fortune but in context it isn’t really surprising. Birth control at that time was a very controversial subject and tied up, complexly, with issues of race and class. Ironically, since it was clearly practiced by members of the upper class, birth control was seen as something that was more than immoral, it undermined the health of the Empire and “civilization.”

    1. Yes, that makes sense, but it also throws extra light on the racism inherent in her works, and especially this one. Her racism and what we today would call classism are intertwined. I didn’t list that above – my privilege is showing. I was irritated by it in the novel, but it didn’t jump out as much in memory because it’s not so much of a problem for me personally.

  3. Cameron’s one of those authors who can make a massive difference if your way of creating things – your imagination, or your soul, or whatever you want to call it – harmonises with hers. You have to do the things she recommends; it’s kind of like Cognitive Behavioural Therapy in that way, by which I mean that both sound simplistic but are surprisingly effective in practice … but if someone tries her methods and they don’t work out, then they’re just not that kind of artist. I love her stuff – it pulled me out of a truly ghastly block and allowed me to finish my second novel – but I doubt she works for everyone. Large world, contains multitudes, all that.

    Fortune, I haven’t read, so I should probably not run my mouth about her. Would I be right in saying that she mixes her own sexuality in with the philosophy?

    If so … well, that’s an explosive combination. Mixing sexuality with art is one of the basic human activities, but art, at its most vital, depends on a degree of negative capability. Philosophy, on the other hand, is a pretty dangerous element to combine with sex. You start to get rationalisations – and when you’re rationalising something as red in tooth and claw as desire, there’s trouble in store.

    It probably says something about changing eras that my first assumption in reading the Fortune quotation was that ‘incoming souls’ referred to third parties and that she was frowning upon monogamy. Reading it to mean children, though … well, I’m married, we have one child and plan to have another – but I’m really troubled by the idea that this means spiritual superiority. I’m troubled by the idea that it means spiritual anything. Fundamentally, it strikes me as commodifying children – have some, get extra blessings, and that’s why you should do it.

    Well, I don’t think I should use my son to buy myself extra grace.

    Of course, the thing is that every planned child could accuse their parents of commodifying them to some extent. The child was not in existence to participate in the decision, and the parents conceived them because they wanted to have a child, for reasons of their own. The teenager who cries ‘I didn’t ask to be born!’ has an excellent point: it’s not a reason for being unpleasant now you’re here, of course, but ‘I gave you life’ is not a favour that needs to be returned. Assuming a planned child, the parents bore children because they wanted to.

    If one’s taking a moral or religious stance towards children, I think we need to start with the understanding that in the case of chosen pregnancies, we have children to have children – which is to say, we do it for our own sakes. The children are separate souls from ours: we can interact with them in graced or graceless ways (and realistically, if you do the bringing-up you will have plenty of graceless moments), but that’s the same of any other human being. The only difference, really, is that with parents and children, love has to flow down the generations, it has to begin with the parents – and that’s the same of any adult-child relationship: you have to love the child before you can expect them to love you. You have to start the love flowing. But that’s about different relationships of power and understanding, not about biology.

    So yeah – as a parent, I’m rather disturbed by the idea that by having an ‘incoming soul’ around, it gives me extra points. That’s kind of not the point.

    (Too, it strikes me as sentimentalising how children are created. You can call it an ‘incoming soul’ from a distance, but it ain’t the soul that sits between your bladder and your spine for nine months. Conception, pregnancy and birth are massively physical processes, and – from an agnostic point of view – I find it rather graceless and unenlightened to fail to address it in those terms.)

    I’m talking about other people’s disappointing reads because right now I can’t think of any of my own, for which I hope I’ll be forgiven. 🙂

    1. No forgiveness necessary, especially when you chime in with an interesting and needed perspective.

      Yes, Fortune mixes her philosophy/spirituality and her sexuality. Her book on the Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage is entirely about what her metaphysics dictates about sexuality, and she has a whole section in there on reproduction. Her main concern is about discussing how well suited two people are for each other metaphysically (upshot: mismatches in this area lead to a lot of unhappy marriages and problems) and magical partnerships and their implications. It’s not all justifying the current marriage laws on a religious footing, but she also regards it as a sin to break those laws, so…

      She and a lot of her crowd believed that their metaphysics were scientific, so she might not have thought of it as dictating based on religion, but it sure as heck comes across that way to anyone who disagrees. And while her meaning of “blessed” isn’t the usual Christian one, or meaning that things that aren’t blessed are damned, it is very offensively stating that some relationships are better than others.

      1. This is all but impossible to call for sure, so let’s say I’m asking for an impression rather than a conclusion: how much do you get the sense that her metaphysics is dictating her sexual and reproductive choices, and how much do you think her sexual and reproductive preferences are driving her metaphysics? I have to say I’m cynical of anyone who places the metaphysics first…

        1. I’m pretty sure it’s metaphysics first. She does say that she wishes the law were different – I think she would support divorce when people realize that they are not metaphysically well suited to each other. And if I remember correctly, she’s not entirely against abortion on some very narrow grounds. I don’t think she’s exactly trying to say that the law should force her metaphysics on everyone, but she certainly is saying others ought to use it to decide how to live.

          Which, if she’s saying it to people who have chosen to follow her path, is okay, even if I disagree with her. A pirate can tell other Pastafarians how to have their noodly encounters, sure. But she says it with such certainty that it doesn’t seem like she’s aware of that distinction, which, again, probably comes from her idea that she’s got the actual true Truth that applies to everybody.

  4. How then does she square her metaphysics with what sounds like a pretty sadomasochistic view of sex?

  5. I was put off Fortune completely when one of her books I picked up (it might have been the Esoteric Philosophy of Love and Marriage) started talking about essential maleness and essential femaleness and how different they are, and how a relationship can’t “truly” work if it doesn’t contain a “balance” of male and female energies, and *therefore* homosexuality and homosexual relationships are completely and utterly unnatural and in direct opposition to the laws of nature…or something like that.

    I’m not even gay and I found the whole discussion very condescending and offensive. To a lesser extent, I would see this gender essentialism in some Pagan circles, put in terms of a need for male and female energy “balance” and I just…never liked it. Fortune was just particularly over-the-top with it.

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