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Other Moral ‘Pearls’ of Eric Gill

Patrick Odou

My last article on Eric Gill raised a lot of discussion (click for the articlethe discussion). Until then the moral perversions of Gill that I presented were mostly unknown within the traditionalist milieu. A surprised and indignant reaction came from that precise segment of the public that is being offered Distributism as a social alternative to Capitalism and Communism. The vivacity of these reactions revealed to me that, regarding Gill, this segment of the public was being misled.

Gill was being presented as a pure idealist who lived Distributism in the communities he helped to found, as a kind of prophet who should be followed. The fans of Gill did not tell their audience the entire story. In my readings I found quite a different man: a sexual maniac, an incestuous brother, a pedophile father, and a pornographic and blasphemous artist. The exposition of this material caused surprise. I am glad to have contributed, in a small way, to the prevention of some well-intentioned Catholics from falling into a trap. But the surprise produced by my exposition raises a few questions:
• Why were the promoters of Distributism hiding Gill’s vices?

• Didn’t they know that the man was a blasphemous and pornographic artist, an   incestuous brother and pedophile father?

• If they knew, why didn’t they warn their audience about those vices? Was it because   they were complacent with such vices?

• If they didn’t know, as I hope, it seems that according to Catholic Morals, they should   now repent, publicly apologize and erase Gill from the list of writers they promote.
Given this precedent, I feel obliged to add other moral “pearls” – or selected texts – regarding Gill’s behavior to complete his profile.

I will quote from Eric Gill’s Diaries, the well-documented Eric Gill, by Fiona MacCarthy, and Gill’s Autobiography. Mary Gill (Eric’s wife) sold her husband’s Diaries to the University of California, Los Angeles, shortly after his death. I visited UCLA and searched through these Diaries. These are the actual, small hard-bound books that Gill carried with him throughout his life (he started keeping a diary at the age of fifteen). I checked many of Fiona MacCarthy’s quotes, especially the most shocking entries, and I ordered photocopies of those pages from the UCLA Library. One of these photocopies I will reproduce here for my reader. The quotes were accurate both in content and location. I found exactly what she said I would find, where she said I would find it. I am saying this to silence some objectors who might contest the honesty of MacCarthy’s research. With regard to Gill’s Diaries I found her to be completely accurate.

As I did last time before entering the topic, I must apologize to my reader. I am deeply sorry that I have to describe the disgusting sexual paranoia of Gill, but I think it is necessary to go through such a description in order to warn Catholics about who this man really is.

In my last article I gave a general picture of Gill’s vices. Now I will present details of his moral behavior providing my readers with relevant quotes.

I will use a sort of code to avoid directly employing the morally inconvenient words Gill uses in his Diaries. I don't see any need to repeat these words for my readers. The code is as follows:
p **** - is used as a noun to refer to the male sexual organ

f *** - is an obscene street term used as a verb to refer to the practice of the sexual act

a *** - is used as a noun related to the posterior opening of the human body
In the quoted texts the explanations between parenthesis ( ) are from Gill or Fiona MacCarthy; the ones between brackets [ ] are mine.

1. The phallic obsession of Eric Gill

It is worth noting the fascination Gill had for the male sexual organ; either his own organ or those of the models who posed for him. Such a sinister obsession can be observed in the following description:

Gill wearing his loose cassock

Gill wearing his loose 'cassock' that allowed his genitalia to be exposed
“At Capel-y-ffin there was no apparent dalliance with maids. There was no occasion for it: Mary and the girls between them managed all the housework. But Elizabeth Bill, Gill’s secretary there from mid-1925 onwards, had some unconventional duties: ‘Talked to Eliz. B. re size and shape of p ****. She measured mine with a footrule – down and up.’ The behavior of his organ, the oddness which had dawned so wonderfully upon him in his boyhood, went on fascinating Gill, still more so as he grew older. His Studies of Parts, now kept strictly locked away in the safe of the British Museum, include dozens of these quasi-scientific p **** studies, accurately drawn and annotated carefully.” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.205)
One may wonder whether he repeated similar bizarre measurements with his male models, since he drew precise reproductions of them. It is what one may induce from the following report:
“He needed to domesticate eroticism. A sheet showing a set of four drawings of male organs (which Douglas Cleverdon produced for the perusal of the author [Fiona MacCarthy] one tea-time in Islington in 1986) has that fusion of the sexual and cozy. Each item is affectionately labeled ‘self’, ‘Douglas’, ‘Joseph’, ‘Leslie’. ‘Douglas’ is Cleverdon, one of Gill’s favorite male models until Cleverdon’s possessive mistress put a stop to it. ‘Joseph’ is Joseph Cribb, for whom nude posing had become, over the years, almost a way of life. ‘Leslie’ is Leslie French, the actor, Gill’s model for Ariel on his BBC carving of Prospero and Ariel. The drawings are precise ….: the genitalia of Eric Gill and friends.” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.192)
2. Homosexuality

The June 22 1927 diary entry reveal's Gill's diary

The June 22, 1927 entry of Gill's diary reveals his homosexuality
Gill’s homosexuality, already insinuated in the last excerpt, becomes clear in this passage of his diary:
“A man’s p **** and balls are very beautiful things and the power to see this beauty is not confined to the opposite sex. The shape of the head of a man’s erect p **** is very excellent in the mouth. There is no doubt about this. I have often wondered – now I know” (Diaries, June 22, 1927, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.191).
3. Sodomy with his daughters

Besides Gill’s sexual abuse of his daughters, he also sodomized them. This perfidy is referred to in a slightly codified way in the following text:
“Gill records how one afternoon while Mary and Joan [his wife and youngest daughter] were in Chichester he made her [Betty, his sixteen-year-old daughter] ‘come,’ and she him, to watch the effect on the a ***: ‘Why should it’, he queries, ‘contract during the orgasm, and why should a woman’s do the same as a man’s?’” (Diaries, July 15, 1921, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p. 156)
Sodomy in the following text is indisputably clear:
“There is a clear anxiety in his diary description of visiting one of the younger daughter’s bedrooms: ‘stayed ½ hour – put p **** in her a *** ’” (Diaries January 12, 1920, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p. 156).
4. Incest and pedophile sexual abuse

He had habitual sexual relation with his sister Gladys. The following text, for example, shows Gladys moving to be closer to her brother, allowing Gill to develop his incestuous perversities:
“In the months before the breakdown [Gill suffered a mental breakdown in 1930] the diary shows, for instance, that he resumed the old relationship with Gladys. His sister was now thirty-nine, remarried and divorced since the first of her husbands, Ernest Laughton, had been killed in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme. Gladys now lived on her own with her small daughter in a coastguard’s cottage at West Wittering close to her father’s parish. Here Gill sometimes went to visit her. ‘Bath and slept with Gladys’” (Diaries, November 1, 1929, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.239).
The practice of sex was always present in Gladys and Eric Gill’s relationship. From the time of her first husband, she would pose for her brother while having sexual relations. One may assume that this posing, which normally takes a great deal of time, might require having sexual relations over many sessions. Also, the title chosen by Gill for this work reveals the ambience of incestuous debauchery that existed in that family. The following text is significant:
Gill liked to depict people in obscene positions

Gill often reproduced his relatives and friends in obscene positions
“The models were his sister Gladys and her husband Ernest Laughton for the carving which Gill entitled F *** ing. The pair of lovers standing now re-titled Ecstacy …” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.104).
Again, incest comes to mind when one considers that Gill used his youngest sister to pose nude for his “works of art.” Fiona MacCarthy describes it:
“Gill’s youngest sister Angela modeled for this giant kneeling torso of a woman which was first known as Humanity then renamed Mankind” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.220).
One can ask if pedophile incest was not involved when one considers that Gill also induced his teenage daughter to pose nude for him as a model. His daughter Petra posed for the famous nude sketches, Girl in Bath and Hair Combing.

Often his nude daughters and/or other nude children were photographed by Gill. In London and Ditchling in 1910, for example:
"[Gill did]much photographing of nude adults and nude children. It is an interesting sidelight on the view of things taken by the censor of Gill’s diaries that the reference to nude adults was deleted (inefficiently); only the nude children were permitted to remain” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.103).
Gill also had the morbid obsession of exposing his sexual organ to anyone. He used to wear a kind of large cassock without any undergarments, which allowed his genitalia to be exposed when he assumed various positions. This habitual and indecent behavior is referred to in the following text:
“There is also the suggestion that Gill’s once-so-shocking sexiness – the
‘p **** treatment’ visitors to Pigotts came to call it – was by this time verging on the boring, the banal. Indeed the sight of Gill’s male member, all too obviously visible to his young niece seeing him from floor level as he sprawled in his chair in the sitting room at Pigotts, put her off the whole idea of marriage” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.271).
5. Bestiality

Gill’s sexual perversions didn’t stop there. He also had a strange attraction to his dog that included sexual experiments. The specifics of these experiments are anyone’s guess since the missing parts of the description have been obliterated. Note the following text:
“‘Bath and slept with Gladys,’ runs one entry in the diary. Such Gill family intimacies seem routine, a habit. A few weeks later there are more surprising entries; ‘Expt. [experiment] with dog in eve’ (the rest has been obliterated). Then, five days later, ‘Bath. Continued experiment with dog after and discovered that a dog will join with a man’” (Diaries, November 1, 1929, December 8, 1929, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.239).
6. Promiscuous sexual relations

Sometimes Gill’s diaries report sexual relations with not just one partner, but multiple; a small orgy. Other times he registers several sexual relations on the same day with different women. In parallel, it seems worth noting that such promiscuity reflects an ambiance of free-love in the communities where Gill lived. In fact, some of those multiple sexual relations included married couples, others were with his wife and one or two other women within a short period of time.

The following is a description of a small orgy with some friends of Gill:
“Accounts in the Diary of visits to the Gibbingses [Robert and Moira Gibbings, husband and wife] record cheerfully nude drawing, kissing, fondling. One night in late November 1925: ‘Bath after supper and dancing (nude). R & M f *** ing one another after, M. holding me the while’” (Diaries, November 30, 1925, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.190).
On the same day, or night, Gill would have sexual relations with his wife and other women, without any registered complaint from his wife, who obviously knew about his actions. Mary was Gill’s wife; May Reeves was a kind of live-in mistress.
“His own need for, or at least his enjoyment of, two women on the premises, sometimes both in the same day or night, comes over graphically in his diary entries with their sexual sign language: one x for Mary, xx for May” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.256).
Incidentally, it seems that Mary had a long history of immorality. She was called Ethel before her conversion. On February 4, 1911 Gill was:
“back at home in Ditchling where, in the workshop, Eric took a Turkish bath with Ethel and her brother-in-law Ernest …. There is a passage in He and She describing how Ethel had been influenced by her husband’s [Gill’s] relations with his sisters, and ‘out of a sort of idea of keeping him company’ once allowed her brother-in-law to ‘play with her body’ in bed” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.108).
At the third community that Gill established, Pigotts, he had a small harem at his disposal.
There was a “quadruple relationship, with Gill’s two middle-aged-to-elderly dependants (May was in her forties, Mary now over sixty) competing with Daisy [a twenty year old youth] for his sexual attentions” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.286).
The following text is indicative of the atmosphere of anarchy and free-love that surrounded Gill’s life in the communities where he lived:
“And we bathed naked (he tells us in his memoirs) all together in the mountain pools and under the waterfalls. And we had heavenly picnics by the Nant-y-buch in little sunny secluded paradises, or climbed the green mountains and smelt the smell of a world untouched by men of business” (Autobiography, p.229, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.200).
Gill’s disputable conversion to Catholicism

I have heard that the conversion of Gill completely changed his life. Regarding his sexual paranoia, I did not find in his Diaries or any other book, sufficient evidence to reach this conclusion. On the contrary, he seems to have continued along the same path, only now with the blessing of some members of the clergy.

I will let the texts speak for themselves, rather than give my own interpretations. During the time he was being prepared to enter the Catholic Church, his obsession with the male sexual organ continued. About this MacCarthy reports:
“In the months while Eric was receiving his instruction he was working on the carving of a life-size marble phallus. It was his own, a perfect copy with dimensions meticulously taken and relayed to his acquaintances with satisfaction” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.115).
That is, it seems that the persons who were instructing Gill about the Catholic Faith did not demand a change regarding his sexual perversions. Why? I do not have the necessary elements to give an objective opinion.

I can say, however, that Fr. John O’Connor, his confessor and mentor after he became Catholic, indulged Gill’s perversities. MacCarthy comments:
“John O’Connor was always, to Gill, a good confidant, sympathetic, robust. He once said Gill saw things and persons in the nude, and it was a tendency he shared” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p. 160).
A blasphemous depiction of two saints having sexual relations

The Divine Lovers is a blasphemous carving that represents two saints having sexual relations
Fr. O’Connor ordered from Gill a drawing of a couple having sexual relations. Gill reports it in his diary:
“‘Began drawing of f *** ing for Fr. J.O’C,’ runs one diary entry; then, five days later, ‘Finished f *** ing drawings and diagrams for Fr. O’C’” (Diaries, August 18, August 23, 1922, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p. 160).
In his workshop, Gill would sometimes carve with nude models present (this was the case with his daughters), and sometimes he worked based on sketches of the models he had drawn elsewhere. At times the nude models would be performing the sexual act, other times they were standing alone. It would be interesting to know which procedure was used in the making of Divine Lovers. I found nothing to sufficiently clarify this. The answer to this question would reveal the degree of complicity that Fr. O’Connor had with Gill’s immorality. For Fr. O’Connor was very often in Gill’s workshop while he was carving Divine Lovers. MacCarthy reports the frequent presence of Fr. O’Connor:
“He [Gill] had certainly not lost his capacity for doing several things simultaneously. Another of the sharpest of the scenes of this same period …. has Father O’Connor in Gill’s workshop at Ditchling translating the book Art et Scolastique, Gill wielding the dictionary and carving Divine Lovers as the translation progresses” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.161).
In any case, Fr. O’Connor always protected Gill’s eroticism:
“Amongst the priests, the only one who really understood Gill’s attitude to sex was Fr. John O’Connor, the ‘unique parish priest’ of St. Cuthbert’s church in Bradford. In real life he had that same quirky imperturbability which made him one of this century’s most popular fictional heroes; he had inspired the Father Brown of G.K. Chesterton” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.213).
MacCarthy gives more details on Fr. O’Connor’s continuous defense of Gill’s scandalous works:
Fr. John O'Connor

Fr. John O'Connor approved the artist's pornographic and blasphemous works
“He understood the way Gill’s mind worked, and defended it incessantly. At the time of the scandal over The Song of Songs he allowed it to be said that the engravings were approved by ‘a responsible priest’: this was Fr. O’Connor, who had also edited (with his own amendments) the text for the Golden Cockerel edition. O’Connor maintained stalwartly that the reactions of the church to Gill’s eroticism had an innate hypocrisy. He had his answer for the ‘so-called pious persons’. This was the somewhat brutal argument that people who cultivate the sheltered life are not entitled to pronounce on nudity. …. More than many ‘pious persons’ he could see the thing as Gill did. He had the highest admiration for Eric Gill’s precision, for his longing to be certain” (Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.213).
Probably Fr. O’Connor shared the following pornographic outlook of Gill regarding the relationship between Our Lord Jesus Christ and the soul of each member of the faithful:
Gill's depiction of Christ having sexual relations on the cross

Gill depicted Our Lord Jesus Christ having sexual relations on the Cross in his work titled Nuptials of God
“I wish I could get you to see the point about Christianity – e.g. when we ‘Marry’ we don’t say to a girl: Madam you realize what we are the embodiment of an idea (or do you?). We say: darling, we two persons are now one flesh – or words to that effect. It’s a love affair first and last. Joining the Church is not like joining the I.L.P. or the 3rd International. It’s like getting married and, speaking analogically, we are f *** ed by Christ, and bear children to him – or we don’t. The Church is the whole body of Christians – the bride. Economic implications follow and are very numerous, but they follow. They are implications not explications” (Letter from Eric Gill to Reyner Heppenstall, September 12, 1934, Eric Gill, MacCarthy, p.162).
Therefore, it seems that Eric Gill through his own fault and/or the fault of his spiritual advisers, did not change his sexual paranoia to become a good Catholic. Instead, his vices and morbid tendencies were “blessed” by at least one priest and Gill started to distort Catholic doctrine to fit his debauchery.

This is the man that some traditionalists and conservatives are presenting as a model to be followed.

Posted on June 18, 2005

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