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Sex Wars: A Novel of the Turbulent Post-Civil War Periodby Marge Piercy
"Despite [its] flaws, Sex Wars, is an enjoyable book — usually entertaining and, in its best sections, engrossing. In Woodhull and Freydeh, Piercy has created fascinating portraits of women determined to live on their own terms. As the freewheeling Gilded Age gives way to a growing conservatism that traps both women, observant readers will notice obvious parallels to our own time." Yvonne Zipp, Christian Science Monitor (read the entire Christian Science Monitor review)
Synopses & Reviews
Post-Civil War New York City was the battleground of the American dream: an era of vast fortunes and crushing poverty; a time notorious for free love and the emerging rights of women, yet one that saw the rise of brutal sexual repression and the enforcement of prejudice. Though life was hard, the promise of change was in the air. Women were agitating for civil rights, including the vote. Immigrants were pouring into the city, bringing with them a new energy.
Embodying the times is Freydeh, a spirited young Jewish woman from Russia. Living in a tiny tenement flat with eight others, Freydeh juggles numerous jobs to earn passage to New York for her beloved family. Then she learns that her younger sister is adrift somewhere in the city and begins a search that carries her through brothels and prison.
Interwoven with Freydeh's story is a vividly wrought account of such real-life heroines — often at odds with the law as well as societal customs — as Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, and Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for president and an activist for sexual freedom. They were tireless fighters who strove to elevate the position of all women. Depicted as well is the fundamentalist crusader Anthony Comstock, who fought to eliminate sexual expression, pushing for the passage of laws that still haunt our legal system.
In the tradition of her World War II epic Gone to Soldiers, Marge Piercy re-creates a turbulent period in American history witnessed through the lives of its most notorious figures and explores the changing attitudes toward women, minorities, religion, and sexuality in nineteenth-century America, a land of sacrifice, suffering, promise, and reward.
"This rich novel set in post — Civil War New York stars a true-life cast of characters that includes Victoria Woodhull, the spiritualist turned first woman to run for the U.S. presidency; passionate suffragette Elizabeth Cady Stanton; the aged Cornelius Vanderbilt, who sits atop a $100-million fortune as he tries to make contact with his dead son; and Anthony Comstock, a crusading moralist who dedicates his life to outlawing pornography and 'obscene objects made of rubber.' As they each vie for different kinds of sex-based power, the consequences of their actions echo from the halls of Congress to Manhattan's back alleys. Piercy (Gone to Soldiers) powerfully dramatizes the early feminists' zeal and the high stakes of the gender wars it set in motion, and offers a wealth of period detail, including tips on using an outdoor latrine when living in a fifth-floor walk-up and the cost to bathe (fully dressed, no soap) in the East River. Most poignant among the invented characters is Freydeh Leibowitz, a young Russian-Jewish widow, who, far from the scandalous headlines and saloon gossip of the times, makes a living for herself and her adopted children, penny by penny, as a manufacturer of reliable condoms. Stylistically, the narration and dialogue don't wow, but the people, their ways of living and the ways they are marked by sex certainly do. (On sale Nov. 22)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
About the Author
Marge Piercy is the author of the memoir Sleeping with Cats and fifteen novels, including Three Women and Woman on the Edge of Time, as well as sixteen books of poetry, including Colors Passing Through Us, The Art of Blessing the Day, and Circles on the Water. She lives on Cape Cod, with her husband, Ira Wood, the novelist and publisher of Leapfrog Press.
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