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Publisher's Summary

In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the 20th 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.
The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued freethinker and a mother worn down by 13 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.
©2016 Ellen Feldman (P)2016 HarperCollins Publishers
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful
3 out of 5 stars
By Cariola on 05-06-17

I Want to Read a Good Biography

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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