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.
This became a problem for me when I was editing the SFWA Grand Masters series of anthologies for Tor. My plan was to include for each of these giants a selection of their most important work. I knew exactly what I wanted, too. In The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, the opening part of the story is told in a sort of modestly Russian-Latino English-language dialect, by its central character. I desperately wanted to reprint those opening scenes, in which the narrator tricks a giant computer into revealing that it has become a person. Ginny would have none of that.
When I first told her my plan, she said she’d have to think about it, and when she had thought she said, well, no, she didn’t want to include anything from that book because she had discussed it with some friends and they agreed that it was, well, a bit … “vulgar,” I think was the word she used. And she was unswayable.
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.
Pity. It is good that Heinlein’s novels are now going to be reissued as he wrote them, without the alterations of editors like me. It would also be good if a similar job could be done on his letters.