The Secret History of Wonder Woman

The Secret History of Wonder Woman

eBook - 2014
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A riveting work of historical detection revealing that the origin of Wonder Woman, one of the world's most iconic superheroes, hides within it a fascinating family story—and a crucial history of twentieth-century feminism
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.

This edition includes a new afterword with fresh revelations based on never before seen letters and photographs from the Marston family's papers.
With 161 illustrations and 16 pages in full color

Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

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sandyc99
Nov 14, 2017

The book is written at a middle school literacy level which I find not engaging. But more disturbing is that when I look up some of the facts she relates, they are not supported. For example she wrote someone committed suicide, but when I looked it up, the closest to suicide is "mysterious cause," when the majority says it was a hiking accident. Nowhere was suicide mentioned. I then become dubious of the "facts" she relates in the book: how much of it is real, and how much is it sensationalized?

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Eosos
Feb 01, 2017

What a fascinating story.

Wonder Woman and her creator have deep roots in the early feminist/suffragette movement. Marston was either brilliant or demented, I'm not sure what. He was an obsessive personality, keen to make his lie detector test mainstream but coming across as a crank to those he tried to convince, including Hoover.
His personal life was even more bizarre, and I'm not sure how the women in his life put up with him, his antics or each other. But somehow, it seems to have functioned in an unconventional kind of way. Though, the children all have different opinions on how well it really turned out.
Still, his vision of what and who Wonder Woman would be, how she would behave and react, the basis for much of her straight from the feminist agenda, and his own dreams of success. Ever notice how often the lie detector test is in the Wonder Woman stories??
I like how he purposely kept her single, and happily single I might add, it's not actually that common in any kind of literature. Choosing to be single with a career certainly wasn't the accepted practice at the time and it's still not quite as accepted as it should be now, though I imagine it's better than it was.
His personal life could either be considered the most anti-feminist thing going or the epitome of the perfect feminist life, I suppose it depends on your own personal views. I'm more in the rather anti-feminist camp with this one but at the same time, it was a challenge to the mainstream, even if not advertised, out the box thinking can be just as important to a movement, if just to get anyone to realize that everyone doesn't have to act, be or think the same to be acceptable.

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abcDena
Mar 31, 2016

A spectacular, well-researched book on Wonder Woman.

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zoegong
Jun 29, 2015

Excellent book that is meticulously researched and documented. Somehow Lepore manages to document the history of Wonder Woman and her creator professionally and accurately while constructing a fascinating and interesting book. Both enjoyable and educational.

FindingJane Feb 01, 2015

History is the right title for this book. Eschewing the popular myths, lies or omissions various historical personae have put into print about this comic book figure, Ms. Lepore outlines the more or less linear path about the story behind the Amazon princess.

The brainchild of William Moulton Marston, Wonder Woman came to signify many things to many people. Thus it would have been easy to let the book dissolve into a series of painful articles featuring talking heads about what this fictional daughter of a goddess REALLY means to them. But Ms. Lepore sticks to the facts and what emerges is a fascinating peek into a bygone era.

Mr. Marston was a firm believer in the moral superiority of women, in their ability to be better rulers of the world than men. But he was deeply flawed; his happy bigamy, self-delusions, hucksterism, dashed hopes for grandeur and unapologetic unique living style are shown here in near-painful detail. Ms. Lepore manages to give us his excesses, increasingly violent temper, bizarre fixation on female bondage scenes in his comics (and his specious attempts to justify them) and self-serving lifestyle without flinching. She removes herself completely from the story so you don’t get a whiff of judgment—just as any proper historian should do.

Yet there is more to this book than Mr. Marston’s contribution to comic fandom. “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” turns out to be a secret history of women, as you would expect for something that rose up during the struggle for equal rights. There were a slew of women who had something to do with Wonder Woman from Marston’s first wife Elizabeth Holloway to his second wife Olive Byrne. Neither would take full credit for WW’s creation but they had more than their share in rendering her image one recognizable by millions of modern fans.

She has no praise or censure for Wonder Woman herself, limiting herself to setting down the various transmutations the Amazonian princess has undergone as the decades wore on (bondage queen, helpless damsel in distress, hapless stay-at-home secretary, mentor for the young and even the terrible Diana Prince era when she ignored her superpowers entirely) with almost bland rigidity. Even the four-year television series gets only a brief mention. (Lynda Carter’s past as a beauty queen pageant winner is mentioned; her acting ability in the role as Wonder Woman is not.) If you are looking for an in-depth look at the iconic comic book creation, this isn’t the book for you. But, as a mesmerizing look into a period that featured some truly radical individuals who championed or condemned feminism, this tome is a grand read and very easy to absorb.

ChristchurchLib Jan 12, 2015

Deeply researched and offering an engaging story, this cultural history of enduring icon Wonder Woman deviates from standard comic book history by concentrating on the rather unusual circumstances of her creation -- especially the unorthodox living situation of her creator, and the controversy Wonder Woman's appearance inspired. Drawing on both interviews and archival research to unveil the role of feminism in shaping Wonder Woman's existence, historian Jill Lepore's study offers a different yet tantalising perspective. Popular Culture January 2015 newsletter.

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hgibbins
Dec 30, 2014

When I first heard about this book I was expecting more of a history of the comic itself, but a good portion of it is a historical look at the women's suffrage movement in the US. Now while this was very important, it would have been nice to know this in advance rather than think it's strictly about the comic. All that aside, it was a very interesting read, and well worth getting.

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