Alice Munro’s daughter controversy: Inside the accusations rocking the literary world

Alice Munro’s daughter controversy: Inside the accusations rocking the literary world

One of Nobel laureate Alice Munro’s daughters, Andrea Robin Skinner, alleged her stepfather, Munro’s husband Gerald “Gerry” Fremlin, sexually abused her when she was a child, and said her mother stayed with him despite his admissions of abuse.

Skinner came forward and alleged Fremlin sexually assaulted her when she was 9, and that he continued to abuse her until she was a teenager in an essay she wrote for The Toronto Star on July 7.

The Star also published a reported article on Skinner’s allegations against Fremlin on the same day.

Here’s what to know about Munro, Skinner and Fremlin, and how Munro’s literary legacy now hangs in the balance.

What are Andrea Robin Skinner’s allegations?

Skinner, one of James and Alice Munro’s three daughters, grew up in Victoria, British Columbia. James and Alice Munro separated and divorced in the early ‘70s.

Her mother rekindled her friendship with Fremlin, whom she knew in college, shortly after her separation, and the pair married in 1976.

James and Alice Munro agreed to share custody. Skinner spent the school year in Victoria with her father, and summers in Ontario with her mother, according to The Star.

One night in 1976, while her mother was out of town, Skinner said in her essay Fremlin climbed into her bed and sexually assaulted her.

“The next morning, I couldn’t get out of bed. I’d woken up with my first migraine, which developed over the years into a chronic, debilitating condition that continues to this day,” she wrote. “I longed to go home, back to Victoria to be with my father, Jim Munro, my stepmother, Carole, and my stepbrother, Andrew.”

When she returned home at the end of the summer, she told her stepbrother, who encouraged her to tell his mother, The Star reported. Her stepmother then told Skinner’s father, who didn’t confront Munro, and didn’t speak with Skinner, according to The Star. He also asked Skinner’s sisters not to speak to tell their mother.

Still, when Skinner returned to Alice Munro's house the next summer, Skinner’s father asked her sister Sheila to accompany her. Sheila told The Star she was there “to make sure (Andrea) was never alone with Gerry,” per her “father’s wishes.”

Skinner continued to return to Ontario for several summers, where she alleged Fremlin would expose himself and proposition her for sex, until she became a teenager, per her essay.

After years of suffering from bulimia and migraines, Skinner wrote a letter to her mother in 1992 explaining what had happened in her childhood.

“Dear Mom,” the letter read, according to The Star. “Please find a spot alone before you read this … I have been keeping a terrible secret for 16 years, Gerry abused me sexually when I was 9 years old. I have been afraid all my life that you would blame me for what happened.”

Fremlin wrote letters addressed to James and Carole Munro, where he wrote descriptions of the abuse, but blamed Skinner and characterized her as a Lolita, per excerpts included in The Star’s reporting.

“While the scene is degenerate, this is indeed Lolita and Humbert,” he wrote, referring to the Vladimir Nabokov novel. “It is my contention that Andrea invaded my bedroom for sexual adventure.”

He also referred to photos he had taken of Skinner wearing his underwear shorts when she was 11 years old, intending to “go public” if “the worst came to worst.”

What happened to Gerry Fremlin?

In October 2004, The New York Times magazine ran an article about Munro, her writing and her relationship with Fremlin. The interview inspired Skinner to reach out to the Ontario Provincial Police, and she provided the authorities the letters Fremlin had sent her family, Skinner wrote in her essay.

Fremlin was charged with indecent assault at age 80, and the indictment stated, “between the 1st day of July 1976 and the 31st day of August 1976, in the Town of Clinton, in the County of Huron, West region, he did indecently assault Andrea Munro, a female person,” according to The Star.

He pleaded guilty to the charge, and received a suspended sentence and probation for two years, according to The Star. He also was ordered not to contact Skinner, nor could he go to playgrounds or parks.

Fremlin died in 2013, the same year Munro won the Nobel Prize for literature.

Did Alice Munro respond?

Skinner wrote of the fallout, saying her mother “reacted exactly as I had feared she would, as if she had learned of an infidelity.” At first Munro said she was leaving Fremlin, but eventually returned to him. They stayed together until his death in 2013.

“She said that she had been ‘told too late,’ she loved him too much, and that our misogynistic culture was to blame if I expected her to deny her own needs, sacrifice for her children, and make up for the failings of men,” Skinner said of Munro. “She was adamant that whatever had happened was between me and my stepfather. It had nothing to do with her.”

Skinner became estranged from her family of origin, including her mother, with whom she “never reconciled.”

In 2014, her sister Jenny, sister Sheila and stepbrother Andrew reached out after going to the Gatehouse, an organization that helps survivors of childhood sexual abuse, to understand what happened to Skinner, and reached out. Today, they are in each others’ lives, and “the healing continues,” Skinner wrote.

Munro was living with Alzheimer’s disease at the end of her life, and in periods of lucidity, she was worried about Skinner and wanted to do something to repair their relationship, Skinner’s sister Jenny told The Star.

After Munro’s death earlier this year, her family decided to share their stories in hopes that it might create “a more robust understanding of her as a writer,” The Star reported.

How has the literary world responded?

Munro’s Books, a bookstore Munro co-founded, said in a statement it “unequivocally supports” Skinner.

“Learning the details of Andrea’s experience has been heartbreaking for all of us here at Munro’s Books,” the store said.

“While the bookstore is inextricably linked with Jim and Alice Munro, we have been independently owned since 2014,” it added. “As such, we cannot speak on behalf of the Munro family.”

Writers and authors responded to the revelations with shock, with some saying it reframes how they consider Munro’s legacy.

Sharing a link to the article, novelist Brandon Taylor wrote on X, “Personally devastating in that I recognize so much of my own story and history in her experience. When the people who should love and protect you actively choose the monster under your bed over you? No words for what that does to a person.”

Novelist Lydia Kiesling wrote about the juxtaposition between Munro’s literary oeuvre and her alleged actions.

“To raise kids & exist you kind of have to pretend the world is not a place where a woman renowned for her depictions of human life could feel sexually competitive with her own child who was assaulted by her husband at age 9 & choose him over her, but it is,” her tweet read.

Novelist Jess Row called the revelations, in a tweet, “completely and tragically consistent with the world (Munro) evoked in her stories—all those young people betrayed and sabotaged by adults who were supposed to care for them.”

“This is the most awful feeling of recognition,” she continued.

This article was originally published on TODAY.com

Advertisement