UPDATE – February 4 2011.
There is something not right in this post. It has, I notice, been generating a number of views and it is only justified if I update my view. Yes, Gill can be classified as having committed incest. Yes, he also had bestial sex. As such he would be condemned in our world. And, indeed, had it been known what he was doing to his own children in the 1920s I don’t think any right minded person would have given him comfort, me certainly. I don’t give him comfort now. Let me make that clear. I do not bypass these events and say, “well, he was a fine typographer, a good stone carver, a passable sculptor so let it be”. Do we give him the benefit, do we, like Catholics, which he was, pass this by? No. So we have to acknowledge the fact and respond in our own way. I would much appreciate comment on this: what do you think?
This is the text of the original post – please read in light of above.
I’ve been mulling this question over for some weeks now in my mind since an earlier post. Clearly Gill had sex with his own daughters – it is well documented. Does this make him, in the terms of the British tabloid press, ‘a monster’?
I finally came across what I had been searching for today – the obituary for Petra Tegetmeir. She died on January 1, 1999, age 92. By the accounts written she lived a full, happy and rich life. This is by Patrick Nuttgens from the Guardian. (Nuttgens a stained glass craftsman lived near Gill in Pigotts.)
“Gill introduced Betty [older sister] and Petra to the mysteries of sex and recorded the occasions in his diaries. A remarkable aspect of those liaisons with Petra is that she seems not only to have been undamaged by the experience, but to have become the most calm, reflective and straightforward wife and mother. When I asked her about it shortly before her 90th birthday, she assured me that she was not at all embarrassed – ‘We just took it for granted’. She agreed that had she gone to school [the children were taught at home by their father] she might have learned how unconventional her father’s behaviour was. He had, she explained, ‘endless curiosity about sex’. His bed companions were not only family but domestic helpers and even (to my astonishment when I heard about it) the teacher who ran the school at Pigotts.”
“When Fiona MacCarthy’s biography Eric Gill (1989) revealed from the evidence of Gill’s diaries, his sexual relations with his two eldest daughters Petra remained unflappable in the face of media furore. She made it clear that her own attitude to sex had not been harmed. The sisters had never been made to feel shame.”
[The illustrations are: top-Gill portrait of Petra, 1922; Gill study of Petra in a bath, 1923; and a photo taken at Ditchling with Gill, centre, and Petra to his left.)