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Upon finishing this novel, I wished that I had read a decent biography instead. I didn't know too much about Margaret Sanger, aside that she was a crusader for birth control, but this book made her pretty superficial and unlikable. Driven by the memory of her mother going through 18 pregnancies, Margaret, who started out as a nurse, devoted her life to helping women learn about family planning. Well, that and, if you buy what this novel puts forth, screwing just about every man that she encountered. No sooner do they meet than Margaret is feeling an electric spark and recognizing how attractive she is, and before you know it, she's lifting her skirts wherever she happens to be. (And the writing in these scenes is just awful--repetitive and cliché.) I guess this makes more sense now that I know that she hung around with the socialist/free love crowd in the early part of the century (Jack Reid, Emma Goldman, etc.), but it got tiresome, almost like a Hollywood tell-all namedropping famous lovers. She expresses some guilt about being a "bad mother" to her three children, and on the whole, Terrible Virtue does depict her as one. But of course, motherhood is supposedly one of the sacrifices she made for her cause. She feels especially guilty about her daughter's death; young Peggy came down with pneumonia during one of her speaking tours, and although Margaret made it hope to nurse her in the hospital, she blames herself for not having been there to prevent the illness in the first place. Throughout the book, she sees all the women who come to her for advice as Peggys, and she is haunted by dreams of her dead daughter, with whom she tries to converse through mediums. My guess is that the author intended to portray her as a woman who suffered from the personal sacrifices she made in order to change other women's lives, but she often came across to me as selfish, ambitious, and vain. This novel sparked enough interest in Margaret Sanger to send me off to look for a reputable biography, but I really can't recommend it.
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