THE JILL LEPORE WONDER WOMAN BOOK & THE DAMAGE IT’S DOING
AMBER LOVE 30-DEC-2014 A couple months ago, people started praising and recommending this new exciting book about Wonder Woman, DC Comics’ best known female superhero. Harvard professor Jill Lepore has been on the talk show circuit promoting The Secret History of Wonder Woman. Turns out, it’s so secret that it’s not even about Wonder Woman and what is included is garnished with a bunch of fabrications or exaggerations.
What I’m going to share is not my review, because I have no intention of picking up something that damaged people I care about. Lepore and Random House are not getting my money. Pete Marston is a distant friend and supporter of Comic Fusion, my local comic shop. He and the family have come down to be part of our Wonder Woman Day (now called Superhero Weekend). Pete helped me through a very difficult time when I lived in Pittsburgh far away from my family and friends. I keep in touch with Christie Marston on a Facebook group called Share the Wonder: the Marston Wonder Woman Message Project. The group has over a thousand members and the mission statement is bold:
Our mission – as the [very] long winded name indicates – is to help gather messages from Wonder Woman fans from all over the globe! The WHY of their ‘fandom’! The real meaning of Wonder Woman…
Here’s the actual target landing spot, so that you can see where we’re going: http://wonderwomannetwork.com/ShareTheWonder.html
Why are we doing this? So that we can pass along a huge bunch of these messages – hopefully in the thousands! – to the editorial folk who control how Wonder Woman is presented to the world.
What results do we hope to see? An improved understanding on the part of Wonder Woman’s handlers of why she has survived for 70 years – and why she can and will live forever if the real Wonder Woman is given to the world!
What can you do? Spread the word! Re-post the link! Email it to friends! Get those messages pouring in!
We need to present DC with solid, POSITIVE feedback on who Wonder Woman is, and what she represents. If we can get sufficient volume, our message will be taken at full value. [After all, what giant corporation doesn’t appreciate a free market study?!?]
We can have Wonder Woman as we know and love her, and DC can have a hot product – a win-win situation!
It was in that community that I began seeing Christie Marston and the Wonder Woman fans (that I don’t see on Twitter) rage about this Lepore book. First and foremost, the “secret” in Lepore’s title The Secret History of Wonder Woman, is not about the character. Like all people who think they stumbled around some juicy detail about a celebrity’s private life, the “secret” is about William Moulton Marston’s private relationships. It’s generally all people care about anymore. The salacious details of what it means to be a polyamorous person (here’s a clue: go ask a poly person and they’ll tell you they curl up on the couch with their loved ones and watch TV like the rest of the world) and the misunderstanding that all relationships must be about sex and orgies is a damaging trope believed as truth only by people with an agenda to make “their” way to love be recognized as the only “right” way to love.
Christie Marston told me that she didn’t want to go on record until she finished the book. Now that she has, I’ve copied some of her notes from the public group and present here for the sake of including my own feelings around it. Please go to the group and join us in uniting our love the character that is often neglected and poorly represented by people who would rather talk about the sex life of her creator. Honestly, I don’t see anyone talking about George Perez’s sex life, or Gail Simone’s or Ethan Van Sciver’s or Phil Jimenez’s. Only Marston’s.
About a month ago, I saw Christie post a photo of her copy of the book. It was filled probably a hundred post-it tabs where she planned to address everything that is inaccurate about the so-called research. The primary “research” was Lepore talking to a distant cousin of the Sanger family which was related to the Marston family through marriage and wasn’t even born when these conversations which she quotes, took place. Christie took issue with so much of what Lepore said. She said there’s no way her Gram would have given in to any kind of ultimatum as Lepore claims Elizabeth did regarding Olive Byrne moving in. Plus, there are other errors that Christie posted about on Facebook that aren’t even about Marston but sheer mistakes in the research about the the histories of the comic book publishers where she got dates and names wrong.
This one line alone is one of the reasons people who don’t feel that monogamy is right for them and that they should be allowed to define their own families are frequently targeted as otherly, cultists, strange, deviant and perverse: “Lepore repeatedly seems to confuse ‘love’ and ‘sex’.”
(EHM = Elizabeth Holloway Marston and OBR = Olive Byrne)
Here’s just one of Christie’s posts about Lepore’s presentation which she calls a work of fiction:
Christie Marston: the problem: Lepore’s book is so blatantly [and bizarrely] fictional that I can’t even begin to understand how she got it published under the Harvard historian banner. And why Harvard is allowing her to shame them in this manner. I started to itemize the discrepancies, but came to realize that it was unnecessary…and a total waste of time and aggravation. Instead, I’ll keep it down to just a few basic examples of the writer’s methods and professional ethics [or lack thereof]. Moultons: Lepore starts out with Henry William Moulton, William Moulton Marston’s grandfather. She clearly has no use for the Moultons. And she – just
as clearly – has a creative imagination. [Mind you, Lepore had actual historical papers about HWM and his daughters available to her. She was not interested.]
Lepore writes: “[HWM’s] only son died in 1861, after which grieving [HWM] built a turreted medieval manor…closeted himself in the tallest of its crenellated towers to write…Moulton Annals…”
Lepore writes: “[HWM] fainthearted veteran of the American Civil War, could hardly fail to find his own derring and doing a disappointment”
Reality: After Captain Moulton returned from his Civil War tour, he went on to become a US Marshal in the Territory of Idaho, and later a Commissioner for the State of Illinois from Massachusetts. Travel and action were entirely the norm.
Lepore writes: [HWM] “despaired of his descendants: girls who glided idly over the parquet floors of Moulton Castle in lacy, wasp-waisted gowns, their hair twisted on the tops of their heads in tottering piles.”
Reality: HWM’s daughters were much loved and respected – AND educated and well traveled.
It amazes me that from the very first chapter the disparaging tone is set – and without any attempt whatsoever to pretend that there was a source for what she wrote with such convincing ‘authority’. After all, she’s a Harvard History Professor…it must be true, right?
Moving on to the major players and the major fictions; there are incredibly damning stories put forth by Lepore as fact. There are also some clearly intentional misrepresentations.
WMM was indicted for fraud at a key point in the Frye trial [WMM was attempting to use the lie detector to prove Frye’s innocence].
The WMM fraud case never even went to trial, but it caused the Frye case to be lost & WMM to be fired from American U. On pages 74 – 76, Lepore harps on fraud repeatedly, even though the case was completely dropped. Surely she could not be so foolish as to be missing the point of why the case was filed to begin with? Just for good measure, she throws out the ‘arrested for fraud’ phrase again on page 110. Apparently she forgot that the case was dismissed…
Lepore indicates a sexual relationship between WMM & Marjorie W. Huntley. MWH had absolutely zero use – or tolerance – for men on a sexual level. Lepore quotes MWH: “Zara or Zaz is the name given me by Doctor and Ms. Marston when we became a threesome” to back up her allegations. MWH is not talking about sex! They WERE a threesome. Lepore repeatedly seems to confuse ‘love’ and ‘sex’.
The entire book is written this way. And all presented as a closely held secret which Lepore, through her diligence and brilliance, has finally uncovered. [where’s the lasso of truth when you really need it?!?]
EHM, WMM & OBR:
Lepore has written an entire fictional account of the relationship between WMM, EHM & OBR. She gives great detail, even quotes and details on what people were thinking. Really. All presented as fact.
Lepore writes: [OBR’s graduation in 1926] “Holloway [EHM] came, too. “I’d like you to meet somebody special”, Marston told his wife”
Lepore writes: “Marston had given Holloway a choice. Either Olive Byrne [OBR] could live with them or he would leave her.”
Lepore writes: “Holloway was devastated. She walked out the door and walked, without stopping, for six hours, thinking”
Lepore writes: “[EHM]…made a deal with her husband. Marston could have his mistress. Holloway could have her career. And young Olive Byrne, trained by the science of psychology, would raise the children.”
Reality: There is a bit of a problem here. Lepore’s ‘source’ is Margaret Sanger Marston Lampe. MSML was not even born until 1941. It is simply not possible for her to quote WMM in 1926, or to relate events which
pre-dated her own birth.
Lepore writes: “The older the kids got, the more Marston wanted to tell Donn and Byrne that he wasn’t only their adoptive father but their biological father. Olive Byrne refused. She said she’d kill herself if anyone told them.”
Reality: MSML again. At least she may have been born by then…but was many, many years away from meeting anybody in the family.
Lepore writes: “And Pete once walked into Olive’s bedroom when his father and Olive were having sex. They told him that Daddy was sick and Dotsie was helping him feel better.”
Reality: MSML again. And again talking about a time before she was born. And, to make things even more clear, PETE says that’s a flat out lie. [oddly, Lepore never asked him about it…are you shocked?]
The list continues, but becomes very repetitive. The bottom line is that Lepore has totally trounced EHM and WW for the sake of selling a salacious tale.
Lepore’s main source was removed from the events by a generation, a family, and thousands of miles. She wasn’t born, she did not know them, she wasn’t even on the same coast. THIS is a reliable source?!?
If the author was not selling under the Harvard banner, I might just shrug and walk away. But she is using Harvard to make people believe that what she has written is truth. Lepore is selling fiction as fact.
This is totally unacceptable.
The character of Wonder Woman has evolved from a warrior that was taken to man’s world and then relegated to the role of Justice League secretary to the feminist icon that can physically go head-to-head with Superman. DC has tried putting her in romantic relationships which are seldom handled well and which leave fans disappointed. I have not heard more than two people say they are enjoying the current new 52 Finch run. I personally tried to read Sensation Comics, Wonder Woman’s roots after all, and of the four issues I read, I only liked the story of one and the artwork of another. DC and the creators they have hired seem to think she needs Batman, Superman, Gotham, or simply being absent from a story to be bankable. Honestly, one story, she appeared in, I think it was three or four panels, coming off more like a really great fan fiction one-shot than a Wonder Woman comic.
I’m far from well-read on Wonder Woman because I haven’t read any comics of hers that I think are beyond “okay” or “adequate.” I’ve never read any that were fantastic so I don’t give DC money to go on an epic quest to sift through decades of comics hoping to find one that doesn’t suck. I am the only person that liked Amazons Attack and I’m not sure it’s so maligned.
I do love the Wonder Woman animated movie like the other Timm/Dini/Murakami animated series.
Let’s just say, DC Comics and people like Jill Lepore and her new acolytes make it hard to be a Wonder Woman fan, especially a feminist fan that is willing to live outside the narrow definitions of family that they’ve identified for this character or her creators.