Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Read more...
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Wonder Woman, created in 1941, is the most popular female superhero of all time. Aside from Superman and Batman, no superhero has lasted as long or commanded so vast and wildly passionate a following. Like every other superhero, Wonder Woman has a secret identity. Unlike every other superhero, she has also has a secret history.
Harvard historian and New Yorker staff writer Jill Lepore has uncovered an astonishing trove of documents, including the never-before-seen private papers of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman's creator. Beginning in his undergraduate years at Harvard, Marston was influenced by early suffragists and feminists, starting with Emmeline Pankhurst, who was banned from speaking on campus in 1911, when Marston was a freshman. In the 1920s, Marston and his wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, brought into their home Olive Byrne, the niece of Margaret Sanger, one of the most influential feminists of the twentieth century. The Marston family story is a tale of drama, intrigue, and irony. In the 1930s, Marston and Byrne wrote a regular column for Family Circle celebrating conventional family life, even as they themselves pursued lives of extraordinary nonconformity. Marston, internationally known as an expert on truth--he invented the lie detector test--lived a life of secrets, only to spill them on the pages of Wonder Woman.
The Secret History of Wonder Woman is a tour de force of intellectual and cultural history. Wonder Woman, Lepore argues, is the missing link in the history of the struggle for women's rights--a chain of events that begins with the women's suffrage campaigns of the early 1900s and ends with the troubled place of feminism a century later.
- ISBN-13: 9780385354042
- ISBN-10: 0385354045
- Publisher: Alfred a Knopf Inc
- Publish Date: October 2014
- Page Count: 410
- Dimensions: 1.75 x 6.75 x 9.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.85 pounds
America's feminist superhero
A harried reader could get the gist of The Secret History of Wonder Woman by opening it just past dead center and reading through the 16-page comic-book version of the story.
There you would learn, in brief, that William Moulton Marston, inventor of the lie detector test, came up with the idea for Wonder Woman in 1941. Also, that the Wonder Woman character drew on the feminism of Marston’s wife, Elizabeth Holloway, and of Olive Byrne, who joined the Marston household as a “housekeeper” and just happened to be the daughter of Ethel Byrne and niece of Margaret Sanger, two early, firebrand birth control activists. That under Marston, Wonder Woman enjoyed astonishing popular success, surpassed only by Superman and Batman. And that after his death, with the end of World War II and the dawn of the 1950s, Wonder Woman lost her superpowers and, like so many women who had worked in the war effort, was returned to domestic life.
But this barely scratches the surface of the personal and social history that Jill Lepore, a professor of American history at Harvard and staff writer at the New Yorker, relates so well and so playfully. Her fascinating, often brilliant new book is profusely illustrated with photographs and cartoon panels. Marston turns out to be a brilliant, bombastic self-promoter, a terrible businessman but a wonderful father to the children he has with both Elizabeth and Olive (though their true parentage remains a secret to Olive’s children until later in their lives). Marston is a complicated personality whose marital relationships would seem to make him a very unlikely feminist. And yet he was—in ways that will lead readers to ponder political orthodoxies.
Through assiduous research (the endnotes comprise almost a third of the book and are often very interesting reading), Lepore unravels a hidden history, and in so doing links her subjects’ lives to some of the most important social movements of the era. It’s a remarkable, thought-provoking achievement.