Today’s feature is a book I am just starting to read: Terrible Virtue, by Ellen Feldman, a 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.
Intro: (Chapter One)
Once, on a train going God knows where, to give still another speech, I awakened in the middle of the night nauseated. Oh, no, I thought, pregnant again. It didn’t seem fair. I’d been so careful. Then I calculated the timing. I couldn’t be pregnant. To calm myself, I raised the shade of the window above my berth and looked out. I was just in time to see the sign marking the station fly by. CORNING. Even after all those years, merely passing through the town could make me sick to my stomach.
I can’t remember a time that I didn’t dream of escape. When the neighborhood brats made fun of me, I told myself I’d show them someday. When Miss Graves drove me out of school, I swore I’d never return. How old was I then? Fifteen? Sixteen?
Teaser: As the lights began to go on in the windows across the way and shadows struggled toward another day, I made up my mind. I’d had enough of treating the symptoms of the disease. I was determined to find the cure. (p. 62).
Synopsis: 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.
What do you think? Do the excerpts draw you in? Would you keep reading? I know that I’m enjoying it thoroughly.