About the book, Terrible Virtue
• Hardcover: 272 pages
• Publisher: Harper (March 22, 2016)
In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.
The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.
This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.
With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.
Buy, read, and discuss this book
Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of five previous novels, including Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, and Next to Love. She lives in New York City.
For more information on Ellen and her work, please visit her website, www.ellenfeldman.com.
There is no more appropriate time for this novel, Terrible Virtue, which was released two days ago, to be available. Ellen Feldman’s fictionalization of the life of Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger is brutally honest and beautifully poignant, letting us see the life that formed her person and her convictions, but not shying away from showing her flaws. It’s an excellent reminder that our icons are, in fact, real people, just like us.
As the feminist daughter of a feminist mother, I was raised on Our Bodies Ourselves and Ms. Magazine. The name “Margaret Sanger” has always been a part of my cultural vocabulary, but the deeper truth of her story – that she was one of thirteen children, that she watched her mother becoming ever more exhausted and depleted as she gave birth to baby after baby – was new to me. This first person account of what Sanger’s life was like gave me a deeper context, and turned her from a mere name, an abstract symbol, into a whole person.
Ellen Feldman, of course, is not new to writing well-researched novels about real historical figures. Personally, her 2005 “what if” novel, The Boy Who Loved Anne Frank is one of my favorite such reads. In Terrible Virtue, however, she isn’t challenging us with the question of “what if?” Rather, she is asking, “what was likely?”
And her presentation – giving us the bulk of the story from Margaret’s own point of view where we see her as a fully dimensional young (and then older) woman, but also providing counterpoint in the form of people who disagreed with, not her fierce support that birth control was necessary and and required in order for women to be truly free, but also her other opinions – really puts us, the readers, in the middle of history.
Her story, her struggles with her own loves and marriages, her ongoing battle with tuberculosis, and her impoverished beginnings, not only gives us a picture of a woman with a mission, it puts that mission into a deeper context.
The one quote that everyone is sharing is the one that really defines the heart of this novel, “No woman can call herself free until she can choose when and how often she will become a mother,” is absolutely the core of Sanger’s own life, as well. It’s a truth we sometimes take for granted, and one we must remember, especially in our “modern” age.
We are in the middle of an election year that is growing ever more toxic, and we are seeing our rights as women, as people, being constantly eroded by (mostly) white, male politicians who believe their religious leanings should govern all of us. TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers) are becoming more and more widespread, and more and more vindictive. Where is the Margaret Sanger for our age? And how will history treat her?
This book may not answer that question, but it’s a worthwhile read, and I can’t recommend it enough.
Goes well with strong coffee, dark chocolate, and an upraised fist.
Tour Stops for Ellen Feldman’s Terrible Virtue
Tuesday, March 22nd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, March 23rd: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 24th: Bibliotica
Friday, March 25th: Books on the Table
Monday, March 28th: A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, March 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Thursday, March 31st: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 4th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, April 5th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, April 7th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, April 11th: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, April 12th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 13th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, April 14th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, April 14th: Literary Feline