The Mists of Avalon (Avalon, #1) The Mists of Avalon discussion


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How successful was this as a feminist re-interpretation of the Arthurian cycle?

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Old-Barbarossa Finally getting round to this after a bunch of other Arthurian tales.
Is a feminist re-interpretation necessary?
Does it work?
Any thoughts?


message 2: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Nov 26, 2011 04:42AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa As I'm currently reading it please note when spoilers will be discussed...I realise that much may be the same as "the canon" of Arthurian tales, but give me a moment to discover any new twists etc first.


T.L. Rese i read this a long time ago, back in middle school, but i still remember the reading experience, all these years later. i didn't think of it as a "feminist" book at the time, just as an amazing read. she does a great job weaving in and re-imagining all the details of the arthurian myth, and re-telling the legend from the women's point-of-view. that in itself may make the book "feminist", as women's voices have traditionally been lost. this is the best arthurian book that i have read thus far, and certainly the only one that i can think of that is centered on the women's lives. - if there are any other ones, please let me know.


Nikki Necessary -- if we take the reclamation of demonised female characters as necessary, then yes. Just think of Tennyson's Vivienne...

But successful? Not so much. The first hundred or so pages are very sympathetic to Igraine, and the position she was put in, and I thought I was going to enjoy it very much, but then it swings round to being more about other characters and suddenly Igraine was made to look rather pathetic.


message 5: by Oco (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oco What Theresa said. Am wary of 'feminist' labels, because it implies so many different things to so many people. To me, the book simply refused to ignore the women or shift them to one side as supporting characters to the men. The women are sometimes sympathetic, sometimes not, as are the men. They are sometimes pathetic, sometimes ruthless and selfish and make horribly wrong choices. Rather like me. But they are real and they are heard.

I, too, read it young, first, and didn't so much see it as a feminist telling as a complete one, full of characters that were to a one, complex, ambiguous, and fallible. A blunt instrument? Perhaps, though that's a very personal opinion that reflects more on one's reading preferences than on the book itself. I didn't find it so -- I found it nuanced and complex.


message 6: by Chaeya (last edited Nov 26, 2011 09:00PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chaeya I think people have to take in consideration the time period when it was published. I read this back in the late 80s, and just like Anne Rice's Vampire novels, it was refreshing to get a woman's POV, especially one that had been so often villified. I also got the opportunity to read her book, "The Firebrand" (while I was in Cypress of all places), which tells the story of Troy from Cassandra's POV. I enjoyed both books, but I wouldn't call them "feminist" either. The 90s was a period when spiritually, people took an active role in getting in touch with themselves, especially with the number of goddess workshops and retreats available then. But now that the time has passed, while the books are no less great stories, their impact isn't the same, and it can be a little difficult for people to get the true gist of what Marion was bringing forth at that time. Some will, but may won't. I read MOA at a time when I was heavy into Arthuric legend, and I was the type of person who would go up into the forest and read, to fully immerse myself.

I would love to read it again, because it was so long ago. I'm interest to see what impact it would have upon me now, especially now that I've matured more.


Chaeya I think people have to take in consideration the time period when it was published. I read this back in the late 80s, and just like Anne Rice's Vampire novels, it was refreshing to get a woman's POV, especially one that had been so often villified. I also got the opportunity to read her book, "The Firebrand" (while I was in Cypress of all places), which tells the story of Troy from Cassandra's POV. I enjoyed both books, but I wouldn't call them "feminist" either. The 90s was a period when spiritually, people took an active role in getting in touch with themselves, especially with the number of goddess workshops and retreats available then. But now that the time has passed, while the books are no less great stories, their impact isn't the same, and it can be a little difficult for people to get the true gist of what Marion was bringing forth at that time. Some will, but may won't. I read MOA at a time when I was heavy into Arthuric legend, and I was the type of person who would go up into the forest and read, to fully immerse myself.

I would love to read it again, because it was so long ago. I'm interest to see what impact it would have upon me now, especially now that I've matured more.


Old-Barbarossa As I'm just starting this I'm not sure yet if I agree with the feminist label.
Just because it's more balanced in it's portrayal of characters, or focuses a wee bit more on the women...does that make it feminist?
As a man I'm not sure I've ever been conscious of reading a feminist work...probably done so...do: Marina Warner, Angela Carter, Virginia Woolf, or Camille Paglia count?


Nikki Angela Carter definitely does.

In academia, at least, there is no question of whether The Mists of Avalon is feminist or not -- heck, that's the main reason it's on my course. It's considered a part of second wave feminism. The question academically is how successful it is.


Old-Barbarossa What defines a text as feminist then?
It has to be something more complex that a focus on female characters and female issues...or does it?
Does this book meet the definition?
Regarding it's success...how do we measure it? Sales?
Or is it more about the "subversion" of the Arthurian tales?
Does the shift of focus from Arthur to Gawain make a tale more Orkadian (in whatever interpretation of the term you want to use, geographical or as a representation of the exotic other)?
Having read a broad section of Arthurian texts before coming to this I'm struck by the fact that very few have Arthur as the main character, he's mainly in the wings, enabling quests, having feasts etc. So the shift in emphasis away fro Arthur can't be important. The shift to the POV of the many "damosels" rather than the knights...is it that simple?


Sofia I think many novels from that time can be considered feminist. But it's a different feminism than the feminism of nowadays.
These novels - not only the mists of Avalon, but also The Belgariad, for example - like to portrait strong, independent and intelligent women. It's a sort of "calling", because in the time when they were written, women of all the world were assuming a more independent position from men.

Nowadays, feminism is more extreme, in my opinion it's even a form of disintegration of society, and that's why it's very "heavy" to call this novel feminist in our current time. But really, if you think about the time when it was written, it makes sense that Bradley wanted to defend the option of a strong woman as main character.


Old-Barbarossa So far I'm thinking "meh, what's the big deal with this book?" I thought the same about Lord Of The Rings...not comparing them mind.
Maybe it hasn't aged well.
Will stick with it.
Read some reviews and they seem to agree that the 1st 100 pages can be a bit of a chore to get through...so it seems I'm not alone.


message 13: by T.L. (new) - rated it 5 stars

T.L. Rese i asked my friend about this! she studies feminist theory in literature, and she said:

"feminist fiction has a political consciousness. Re-writing a male legend with female characters could be political and subversive - I haven't read that book, but the idea certainly has major feminist potential. By 'political consciousness,' I don't mean the book has to be overtly political. Rewriting male stories with female characters is likely a political act by the writer. (I would assume.)If so, that would make it feminist to me. I just read the description of 'Mists of Avalon' on Wikipedia. I would definitely describe that as a very overtly feminist novel."

maybe that helps! i guess at the end it could be pretty subjective - depends on what you define as "feminist", and if you think the book fits that definition.


Lindsay Nichols I first read The Mists of Avalon back in the mid 90s when I was still in high school. Weirdly enough, I hadn't read any other Arthurian stories. At that time, my only knowledge of King Arthur was Walt Disney's The Sword in the Stone and other assorted tidbits inserted into other novels and stories.

Maybe because I was reading it with no preconceived notions, I found it to be a wonderful tale filled with women who seemed real - there wasn't anyone I truly loved or truly hated. I wasn't comparing anyone to what their canonized ideal was.

I have since read other versions of the Arthur legends, and continue to reread Mists of Avalon. It remains one of my favourite books.

As to whether or not it is a feminist novel, I don't feel that it is. Is Gone With the Wind feminist because Scarlett refuses to conform to the norms of the time? What about The Handmaid's Tale? I don't think that a novel becomes a story about feminism simply because it has a strong, willful female protagonist.


Nikki I agree with Theresa's friend on what makes it a feminist novel. Taking an aspect of the patriarchal literary canon and reinterpreting it to restore the role of women was a feminist act (still is? I don't know).


message 16: by Oco (last edited Nov 29, 2011 08:48PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oco I rather like that notion of 'feminist' as well, would agree on that level, and furthermore, given that 'definition' say that the novel was successful on that front.

Part of the trouble that I have with the question as it is framed is that it feels like a trap (not an intentional one; I'm not passing judgement on the original post, bear with me). I would guess that Bradley had little intention of creating a feminist work. She was a fantasy/scifi author. I suspect she had this great idea for a fantasy novel. She'd retell the Arthurian legends with two major twists: one, she'd tell it from the viewpoint of females (because duh, she was one and had that 'in', and it hadn't been done) and two, she'd tell it by casting the non-Christian pagans in a sympathetic role, as heroes, as opposed to those bad, evil witches that exist in most stories. Morgan a hero? A major protagonist no less. Who'd a thunk it?

This second aspect, to me, was the greatest one. It was what I loved most about the book. The pagans as good, the Christians as black hats (at least insofar as anyone is a true villain in the book). I don't think that's a spoiler...it comes up pretty fast.

I worry when books like this get listed and lifted into the category of 'feminist literature' because then it gets judged by standards the author never reached for. Then we get readers attracted to it who are perhaps expecting a more intellectual/realistic/slice-of-life/serious read, when, my goodness... It's a fantasy adventure. And a great one, if you dig the genre. :) That's it's thoughtful, 'feminist', and provocative in its 'revisionism' is part of that attraction, but at it's core, it's entertainment.

Interesting that Lindsay brings up Margaret Atwood. There was a really fascinating (I thought) discussion of nearly this exact topic in a thread on her "Cat's Eye". My own sense is that Ben's and Guy's early comments (2 and 3) apply to this work as well.

http://www.goodreads.com/topic/show/6...


message 17: by [deleted user] (new)

I'd disagree that Bradley had little intention of creating a feminist work. If you look at her earlier Darkover stories, she had gay and lesbian subplots as well as women who were powerful in ways more typical of male heroes. She liked being transgressive. And she was writing at the same time as LeGuin, who was also a bit coy about crossing gender norms and did it carefully. This was written long after feminism went mainstream, and I think she took advantage of that to pursue ideas that had always interested her.


message 18: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Nov 29, 2011 10:48PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa Eve wrote: "Part of the trouble that I have with the question as it is framed is that it feels like a trap..."

Not meant as a trap in any way.
Here're my cards on the table...
I'm an Arthurian geek and the main things I use to measure success in any tale (Arthurian or not) is "did I enjoy it"...followed in a geeky way by "how close does it stick to my personal view of the tales"...mead, axes, post-Roman, shamanic wyrdness, that kind of thing. Now I know that's very subjective and has little in the way of formal literary criticism involved in the process.
By this yard-stick even some of the canon I found dull (eg: Lancelot of the Lake) and therefore in my book unsuccessful...just 'cause it's old doesn't mean it's good.
The feminist question was posed to see if even if the book was a good take on the cycle did it do anything else as a book.
I'll probably go off on tangents and rant about how it touches on other themes from Arthurian tales as I progress through the book, but I thought the question was a reasonable one to start with considering the "hype" (is that the right word?) round this book.


message 19: by Shanna (last edited Nov 30, 2011 12:30AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Shanna I love this book my first reading of it fell in my teenage years when I was high on my feminist horse and it certainly fit in with my veiws.
I like, now, that it's lead female charcters aren't perfect not perfectly good, evil, strong or weak they are flawed, and multifaceted. Typical arthurian literature women are one dimensional and stereotypical, not people themselves but plot devices for the male leads to react to ie rescue, battle against, be tempted by ect


message 20: by Oco (last edited Nov 30, 2011 05:52PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oco Old-Barbarossa wrote: "Eve wrote: "Part of the trouble that I have with the question as it is framed is that it feels like a trap..."

Not meant as a trap in any way.
Here're my cards on the table...
I'm an Arthurian..."


Whoa, whoa. You quoted me, left off the very next sentence which said, (not an intentional one; I'm not passing judgement on the original post, bear with me) then proceeded to defend yourself against that apparent accusation. Maybe you stopped reading, but you completely misinterpreted me. A trap, not in the sense of you trying to trap us, but a trap in the sense that labels become traps. Labels and accolades are necessary and useful and nice, but they are also traps. See?

In fact, your last sentence makes my point in spades, when you reference questioning "the hype surrounding the book." Exactly. (And yes, that's the right word.) The hype is the trap that can lead people in with expectations that are beyond what the author necessarily intended.

To be clear, I am NOT saying we shouldn't hype books or label them or what have you... I'm just mentioning the downside to that. I enjoyed the book, but I've got no personal investment in people liking it, and your questions are interesting ones.

Kate, without going off on too much of a tangent, I wasn't trying to say that I didn't think Bradley had feminist ideas in mind. In part, the subtle difference I was trying to express is the difference between creating a feminist work vs. wanting to create a Feminist Work (in caps). No doubt Bradley's writing is all feminist. But whereas to me, LeGuin was certainly creating Feminist Works (in the sense that feminism was a major, central theme in the sense that scifi served that, it was the meat, not the gravy), I don't get that impression from reading Bradley, Norton, McCaffrey (who passed away 9 days ago, RIP), or Cherryh, for example, all of whom write powerful women. To me, in their stories, the stories are the center, and themes of feminism (or whatever) are woven in -- in part because how can a woman who is a feminist NOT write feminist fiction in that sense?

In any case, the overall point was about the 'trap'. And frankly...? I have no idea what Bradley really wanted. It's simply the impression I get from reading her, that's all.


Old-Barbarossa Eve wrote: "Old-Barbarossa wrote: "Eve wrote: "Part of the trouble that I have with the question as it is framed is that it feels like a trap..."

Not meant as a trap in any way.
Here're my cards on the table...."


Not trying to be defensive. My tone wasn't meant in such a way.
I get what you're saying.
My post was meant mainly to set out my standpoint on the subject.


Old-Barbarossa The more I'm reading the more I think it is more successful as a neo-pagan manifesto.


message 23: by Oco (last edited Dec 07, 2011 04:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Oco Heh. Not sure I'd have used the term 'manifesto' precisely, but essentially, I agree. Of course, neo-paganism is pretty feminist (matriarchal and all) so separating those two things might be tough. Still, my sense is that Bradley was more centrally interested in the Pict/Christian conflict than the female/male one.

Dunno.

(pls excuse the apparent name-switches: GR keeps dumping my favored nick (Oco) in favor of my 'proper first name').


message 24: by Xdyj (last edited Dec 07, 2011 05:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xdyj Oco wrote: "Still, my sense is that Bradley was more centrally interested in the Pict/Christian conflict than the female/male one..."

But iirc at the end it's like the main character don't care about pegan/Christian conflict anymore b/c both sides have become instruments of patriarchy by then:)

IMHO this book is quite explicitly feminist but can also be read from various other viewpoints, and one thing I like about it is that no character or faction in it is written as a "role model" or can provide the complete answer.


Timothy Darling I'm trying to decide if I care enough about Zimmer Bradley to comment, but I guess I will. I was not so enthralled with it. I found the book rather plodding. Maybe that's just because I'm used to more testosterone in the stories. Feminist, yes, no doubt. The POV alone lends power to the women characters that they do not have in a male oriented rendition of the legend. I agree with the comment above that compares Zimmer Bradley to Rand. More accurately I would compare her to Diamont: empowering the women AND weakening the men (my opinion, nothing more). Rand was not guilty of that, though I don't think of Rand as a feminist in the newer sense of the word. Probably I should keep my fingers still, since it's been over a decade since I read it.


message 26: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Dec 10, 2011 02:58PM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa Oco wrote: "Heh. Not sure I'd have used the term 'manifesto' precisely, but essentially, I agree. Of course, neo-paganism is pretty feminist (matriarchal and all) so separating those two things might be tough...."

Aye, OK...manifesto might have been a bit strong. Went back and read the intro. she seems to have read a bunch of contemporary pagan lit at the time to give a flavour to the rituals etc. Find it a wee bit amusing that she went for the Gardnerian witchcraft in an attempt at authenticity as most of the key rituals were written by Crowley...mind, he probably got the spirit of them right.
And while I get her attempt at authenticity in other areas I think some of it hasn't aged well in light of more recent research...I mean she wrote it in what, the '80s? And she seems to have ref'd Margaret Alice Murray...that was thought flawed even then.


message 27: by Xdyj (last edited Dec 10, 2011 05:13PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xdyj In fact, I'm not sure if it was MZB building her Avalon based on neo-pagan lit or the neo-pagans being influenced by MZB, or both :)


Nikki Neo-pagans were definitely influenced by Marion Zimmer Bradley's work (who was a pagan for a time) -- according to my lecturer, anyway.


message 29: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Dec 14, 2011 09:54AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa Nikki wrote: "The first hundred or so pages are very sympathetic to Igraine..."

Finding her a bit unsympathetic so far. She comes across as a daft wee lassie, and she's the only female character with any onstage presence so far. I know Viv is all sacred feminine and priestess like, a power behind the thrones...but she's out of sight for most of the story so far, only her reach/influence is noted.
Another point regarding the tale which I can't in any honesty say is limited to TMOA...the long "origins" bit...it's the same as any new "re-boot" of a superhero movie...ages on the bit everyone knows at the expense of getting into the meat of the tales.
Also, the story so far is a bit like a crappy romance novel...dreamy Uther etc etc etc. Which I think is a bit odd if this is meant to be a feminist take on the tales.
I will continue with it for the time being though...


message 30: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Dec 17, 2011 07:07AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa Admission of poor use of colloquialism...
I said "daft wee lassie" in a previous post. Not mean to be sexist. Maybe ageist...she comes across as childish and immature, her gender is obviously irrelevant.
I'm sure Arthur will come across as equally (or more so) irritating when he initially appears...speaking of which, this is slower than Lord Of The Rings...100 pages in an very little has been going on so far.


Nikki Hmm. I think I found her sympathetic in the first part of the novel because she has feelings and motivations of her own, which set it apart from pretty much all the older tellings. She seemed like a person for the first time.

I think re: the crappy romance novel influence... Some of it is that I don't think Marion Zimmer Bradley is that great a writer. But I don't think romance novels are necessarily inherently anti-feminist. The celebration of female sexuality, the idea of the female gaze instead of the male gaze, is part of a pushback against patriarchal norms.

Still, it doesn't work for me, either.


Old-Barbarossa Nikki wrote: "Still, it doesn't work for me, either..."

You still reading it? How far you into it?
I'm about p100, but will be picking up the pace a bit in the next few days, have it finished hopefully by Hogmanay, then I think I'll read something more festive...maybe re-read Gawain And The Green Knight...change of pace.


Nikki I haven't made much progress, but I've still got to read it, as I've realised I can't do my essay without this and Tennyson as background (both my most hated texts on the course, naturally).


Old-Barbarossa Nikki wrote: "I haven't made much progress, but I've still got to read it, as I've realised I can't do my essay without this and Tennyson as background (both my most hated texts on the course, naturally)."

Nae luck...


message 35: by Xdyj (last edited Dec 19, 2011 10:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xdyj I don't quite enjoy the beginning part either, maybe because I'm not a fan of Igraine, who is basically a victim here. I don't think the "crappy romance" (I haven't read enough romance to tell if it is crappy though) you mentioned takes a large portion of this book either.

Also I don't think MZB intended to write a feminist utopia in this book. The pagan/avalon side did have its problems.


Nikki I don't think it was intended to be a feminist utopia, Xdyj. I think it was meant to be an exploration of female power, a rewrite of the myth to include women at the heart of it as the movers and shakers of the time. It depicts a struggle against patriarchy from the very beginning (Igraine's struggles against Gorlois, for him to respect her and allow her freedom).


message 37: by Lily (new) - rated it 2 stars

Lily Sofia wrote: "...But it's a different feminism than the feminism of nowadays...."

Sofia -- I suspect I am out of touch and back in the Simone Beauvoir days of identifying feminism. What/whom do you consider representative of "the feminism of nowadays"?


Old-Barbarossa OK, bit off topic here...
Regarding her attempt at authenticity as hinted at in the intro in my edition, I am getting more and more irritated by her referal to the Picts as some kind of pygmy faerie folk.
Pish.
I think Murray tried to link them with pixies and claimed a common etymology, might be wrong on that but it rings a bell, possibly someone else. Anyway, nonsense. Like those that claim Easter and Ishtar have a common origin.
Maybe I know my Hx too well for the period the book portrays...maybe I should relax a bit and try and enjoy it as fantasy...but when presented with the intro she wrote I'm being less forgiving.


Old-Barbarossa On a more positive note, I'm enjoying things more now that everyone's in Avalon and Viv is being cool an mysterious. Liking the way MZB has been merging characters from the cycle (Merlin/Taliesin etc) seems to work for me so far.
2nd 100 pages shaping up much better apart from my above noted gripe.


Cyndi A breathtaking reading experience that, in my estimations, is not a feminist reinterpretation as much as a return to the "old ways" of the pagans. Goddess/matriarchal centric was the way before Christianity.

A haunting yet beautiful tale.


Nikki Interesting statement, Cyndi. Since it was the coming of Christianity which really began the recording of history in the British Isles, what sources -- or archaelogical evidence -- are you aware of that proves that? I don't know much about anything pre-Christian.


Cyndi Nikki I suppose thats more my interpretation of paganism and spirituality before recorded history..good point BTW...let me do a little bit of searching and see if I can come up with a good source or two...thanks for getting my brain juice going...


Nikki Thanks! I'll be interested if you find anything.


message 44: by Old-Barbarossa (last edited Dec 22, 2011 10:27AM) (new) - rated it 1 star

Old-Barbarossa Not aware of any sources that support a religion as portrayed in TMOA. Not aware of any sources that give much in the way of detail on any pre-christian Brit religion. Sure there's the Roman stuff but that's mainly Gaul and Europe...and it doesn't say much regarding the sacred feminine stuff...and should be taken as, at least partly, propaganda.
I think she grafted on the Gardnerian stuff (as she says in the intro) which is a modern construct.
All pre-christian stuff would have been pre-written texts, so in a way it leaves an area open for exploration by an author in any way they think fits the tale.


Cyndi Old Barbarossa: love this answer thanks!! Sometimes I forget that what I practice and feel is just that...nothing written but a free interpretation...just as this author did...the story just fits so many of my beliefs that occasionally proof is lost on me.

Ah well..age is playing its tune now..*smiles*


Old-Barbarossa Cyndi wrote: "...age is playing its tune now..."

I feel your pain sister...


message 47: by Xdyj (last edited Dec 22, 2011 12:14PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Xdyj Nikki wrote: "I don't think it was intended to be a feminist utopia, Xdyj. I think it was meant to be an exploration of female power, a rewrite of the myth to include women at the heart of it as the movers and s..."

Yeah, I completely agree. iirc the "struggle against patriarchy" theme is stated very explicitly by characters from both sides later in the book.


Old-Barbarossa Page 300.
By Daghdha's hairy sack this is slow moving...
So far not very successful as a feminist re-interpretation from my pov.
For starters the only women mentioned are high status and therefore their world will be very different from any other women. Like a tale set in the 21st cent focusing only on the female celebs and claiming to be feminist...there needs to be a broader social viewpoint for it to be feminist I think. Why not use another narrator? A serf? A wetnurse? Someone not born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth.


Nikki I hadn't thought about the social class aspect, but that's true! I think there's one brief point in the book where we see lower class women, and it's not exactly a big part...

I've finally finished reading it, anyway (my mother bet me £10 I couldn't finish it by Christmas Day, so I did). I found it interesting -- and I think a lot of feminist/female-centric tellings since Mists have been influenced by it -- but only in an academic way. I didn't enjoy it for itself.


Old-Barbarossa OK. Finished it. It was a chore.
Thought it was unsucessful as a feminist view for the above reason.
And fairly dull too.


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Books mentioned in this topic

The Mists of Avalon (other topics)
Lancelot of the Lake (other topics)
Women and Arthurian Literature: Seizing the Sword (other topics)
Gods with Thunderbolts: Religion in Roman Britain (other topics)
Pope Joan (other topics)

Authors mentioned in this topic

Virginia Woolf (other topics)
Camille Paglia (other topics)
Angela Carter (other topics)
Marina Warner (other topics)
Margaret Alice Murray (other topics)