Thursday, October 28, 2010

Sex Wars - What I'm Reading

Sex Wars: A Novel of Gilded Age New YorkIt's post-Civil War New York. So what's the first thing you'd think of? A woman President, of course!  Based on the first real-life woman to ever run for the Presidency, this book is a rich tapestry of the Who's-Who of late Victorian NY. First we have Victoria Woodhull, a real life woman who starts out as a spiritualist medium attempting to get in the graces of millionaire Cornelius Vanderbilt who is seeking to make contact with his dead son, then becomes the first woman stockbroker and later aspires to the highest post in the land. Through Victoria we meet suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her friend Susan B. Anthony. as well as orator and statesman Frederick Douglass, Horace Greely and a host of other historical characters.

Contrasting the scheming and glamorous Victoria, we have a second fictional protagonist, Russian Jewish immigrant Freydeh Leibowitz, living in a tenement and who makes her living manufacturing and selling condoms.

Enemy to both, is Anthony Comstock, a moralist crusader who founded the New York Society for the Supression of Vice, and worked to make illegal the delivery or transportation of "obscene, lewd or lascivious" material or anything related to birth control. Playwright George Bernard Shaw worked to make a mockery of him, coining the word "comstockery," as "censorship because of perceived obscenity or immorality," but at the moment, he's thwarting both Victoria's rise to power and Freydah's livelihood.

Victoria Woodhull
Rich in history, intrigue, politics and betrayal, Sex Wars by Marge Piercy is brilliantly researched (Did you know that a married woman couldn't sign legal documents?) brutally honest and seething with sensuality as Freydah and Victoria battle the gender wars of their time.

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