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3 min

For the love of coins, past lives and boys

For the love of coins, past lives and boys

Who hasn’t wondered at some pairings? In Hindsight certainly has. Not so much at the oddity of some-handsome and homely, faithful and sluttish, sane or not-but at their capacity to endure, even when both parties appear heartily tired of each other.

These and similar thoughts occupied us as we read an article on Walter H Breen by Donald Mader. Walter Breen was an early and influential American exponent of man-boy love, which he claimed was the true tradition of homosexuality rather than androphilia (love between adults). He was also a leading numismatic authority, authoring the standard reference work, Walter Breen’s Complete Encyclopedia of US and Colonial Coins, though he dismissed his expertise with “I don’t collect coins myself. That’s only for rich people."

A foundling who grew up in institutions in Depression-era Texas, he developed a belief in reincarnation that provided him with past lives in Atlantis, Greece, and Arthurian and Elizabethan England. Breen claimed that a past life as a disciple of Socrates was the source of his interest in pederasty.

In 1964 he wrote Greek Love, the first scholarly work of its kind to appear in America. The following year, Breen co-launched the International Journal of Greek Love. One of the contributors to the first edition of the Journal was Marion Zimmer Bradley with an article on feminine equivalents to Greek love in modern fiction.

Bradley, for readers of a certain age, gender and political belief, needs no introduction. For the rest of you, she was a prolific genre writer, best known for her best-selling 1983 novel, The Mists of Avalon. But to her core fans, she was the creator of Darkover, a lost space colony of Earth whose patriarchal culture gave her full rein to develop a feminist storyline that she characterized as “a strong woman overcomes an anti-feminist culture."

This theme was to be elaborated upon, endlessly and inventively, in her other novels and by other writers in the annual Sword and Sorceresses anthologies Bradley edited for years, providing a pop culture outlet for feminist thought and theory. Although called the mother of feminist science fiction, Bradley never considered herself a feminist.

Breen and Bradley were married in 1964. She knew about Breen’s penchant for boys before their marriage, and that he was having an affair with a 14-year-old boy.

"It was quite shocking to me. [Walter] told me that he and [the boy] were sleeping together. And I said that I had believed that was an intellectual position. He told me it was not."

She quickly made peace with the situation, even defending her husband from accusations of paedophilia because the 14-year-old “did not impress me as a minor child… I think he would have been old enough to be married in this state legally, so I figured what he did sexually was his own business."

After 15 years of marriage and two children, they separated in 1979, according to Bradley, over oral sex. Yet Breen continued to live down the street from her, and she remained his primary employer until she divorced him in 1990 in response to her discovery that Breen had been charged with molesting a 12-year-old boy.

According to Elizabeth Waters, Bradley’s secretary, “Marion found out about this in October 1989 (I was the one who told her…she was extremely upset.) She immediately divorced him, and she cooperated with the police investigation."

Breen died in 1993 in the hospital ward of the state prison at Chino, California. Three years later, the boy’s parents (science fiction author Stephen Goldin and Mary Mason) brought suit against Bradley, accusing her of negligence. An out-of-court settlement was reached with Bradley’s insurance company after her death in 1999.

Pictures of Breen and Bradley during their marriage show them to have been a portly hippie couple, fond of fancy dress (Bradley was a cofounder of the Society for Creative Anachronism).

Could her interest in homosexuality have been the basis of their union? Early in her career, Bradley had written lesbian pulp with titles like I Am a Lesbian, and later the gay novel The Catch Trap. Homoerotic themes figure prominently in much of her other writing. She admitted her erotic interest in other women and is said to have been Elizabeth Waters’ lover. Or did she require a male mentor? She once wrote, “…some women discover their own strength trough the support of some man-nearly all women my age did.” Perhaps the brilliant, charismatic Breen who wrote the Darkover Concordance: A Reader’s Guide simply captured her heart, as her reply to a lawyer’s question about the exact nature of her relationship with husband makes clear: “I think the only answer I can make to that is that it’s quite obvious that you have never been in love."