Wonder Woman

by Harry on December 3, 2014

I just finished reading Jill LePore’s amazing book The Secret History of Wonder Woman (which, as you can see, is unlikely to be a #1 bestseller because it lacks the requisite paragraph-length subtitle). I’ve no idea why I wanted to read it—I was a Marvel [1], not a DC, reader as a kid, and before reading LePore’s carefully planted trailers most of what I knew came from the Lynda Carter series which I watched as a kid. So pretty much everything in the book was a revelation.

The book combines a biography of the man who conceived of and wrote Wonder Woman and the two (or three) women he lived with, with a history of the first wave of American feminism, and the story of the early years of comic books and, particularly, of course, Wonder Woman. Some reviews complain that the book focuses too much on William Moulton Marston, WW’s very strange creator and author; but I don’t think so. Wonder Woman was based on one of the women Marston lived with, Oliver Byrne, a former student of his, and also the niece of Margaret Sanger, and the mother of two of his children, neither of whom learned that Marston was their father until sometime after his death, despite having grown up in the same house. The comic books also contain references to his wife (with whom he also lived, and whose children did know he was their father), Elizabeth Holloway; and although Marston may take up more space (as he apparently did in life), LePore is much more interested in, and interesting about, the women. Marston remains enigmatic to me—I can’t tell whether he was someone who never grew up, or a self-absorbed hypocrite, or a combination of both, or something else entirely—whereas the women leap off the page as distinctive, real, and sympathetic; the only puzzles being why they lived with Moulton and why they seem to have been pretty happy with him. The book is all about secrets and lies—Marston was the inventor of the first lie-detector test, and LePore’s book detects the lies by which Marston, Holloway, Byrne, and Sanger all lived. I also learned a lot about Sanger—which I shall not mention because want to avoid spoilers! Most interesting of all to me was learning about the early Wonder Woman comics—the extent and symbolic significance of chains and binding in the stories; the almost-explicit and frequent references to homosexuality; the inclusion of 4-page inserts in every issue with biographies of “Wonder Women of History”, feminist heroines like Susan B. Anthony, Jane Addams, Madame Curie and Sojourner Truth; the support for workers rights; the channeling of the ideas and images from the first wave feminist movement; the anti-fascism (mark you, although my son has a picture of the first issue of Captain America on his bedroom wall, it was only in yesterday’s Times that I learned that issue was published a whole year before the US entered WWII, which made me feel better about having been a Marvel reader), etc…

LePore is evidently a terrific historian as well as a spectacular writer. She self-effacingly says that the people who have been interested in lie-detection, feminism, and comic books, have not intersected, implying modesty about her accomplishment. But on 212-213 she includes juxtaposed images which inadvertently demonstrate her particular skill as a researcher. One if from a suffrage parade in 1913; the other, clearly modeled on it, (or, more likely, on memory of the event, since WW’s artist was an elderly (male) suffragist who would have attended that parade) from a 1942 WW story in Sensation Comics #7 (the story is not about suffrage, but about the evils of monopoly capitalism). She must have read a lot of comics, and gone through a lot of archives of the suffrage movement.

The perfect holiday gift for your comic-book loving, feminist, lie-detecting friends and relatives….

[1] I became a Marvel reader because my parents, quite bizarrely, gave me a Fantastic Four annual one Christmas—I had asked for an Annual, but I meant the Beano or, with luck, Thunder (about ten years ago someone mentioned Adam Eterno on CT, who was my favourite). I’ve never asked them why they chose Fantastic Four—but it is completely out of character for both of them.

{ 108 comments }

1

Main Street Muse 12.03.14 at 11:36 pm

This book looks fantastic! Thanks for the heads up.

(Wonder Woman’s creator sounds like a bit of loon – kind of wondering why he hid his fatherhood identity from the children he created from the various women he lived with.)

2

harry b 12.04.14 at 12:03 am

It seems that Olive Byrne was the one who objected to them knowing who their real father was; he seems to have been ok with them knowing.

But, when you read the book, I think you’ll see the extent to which ‘bit of a loon’ understates things….

3

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 12:16 am

OK, here the thread goes. I predict enthusiasm for the feminism in _Wonder Woman_, combined with condescension and disdain for the “loon” who was pretty much the only person who could have created _Wonder Woman_. Complete with huge helpings of people judging loonitude by how vanilla they are, and “how could they have been happy with him” existing together with the observable that everyone in their family seemingly was pretty happy as an unexplainable puzzle having nothing to do with the observer.

4

clew 12.04.14 at 12:49 am

Is the 1913 picture Inez Mulholland on a horse? That was reused from the beginning. (Understandably.) Even now the silk is tugging at the staff!

5

Anarcissie 12.04.14 at 12:49 am

I ‘m going to get this book; I’m always interested in successful loons, although I’ll be acutely envious too. It’s not easy to carry off loonness in the world successfully.

As a child, I used to wonder why Wonder Woman fought crime in a sort of bathing suit, whereas caped heroes wore tights, and Dick Tracy a suit. I wonder if the book will tell.

In answer to a question above, many children are not fully informed of their parentage or other hot issues precisely because they may inadvertently reveal the same to those who would judge them to be loons, the descendants of loons, or the associates of loons, and therefore people to be rebuked and scorned and severely punished for their loonness, as the world has a way of doing.

6

Main Street Muse 12.04.14 at 12:53 am

Oh Rich Puchalsky @3! I don’t doubt they were all very happy!

I just don’t know how a man has the time to live in two houses, with two sets of children from two different mothers and get all his work done – creating Wonder Woman AND the lie detector test is quite a career.

(And my puzzlement about the living arrangement is not gender-specific – I felt this way about the wife/mother/PTA volunteer/writer who had the affair with Petraeus – how did she find the time to do it all? I can’t even figure out when to get my hair cut… Clearly, in my vanilla life, my scheduling skills are quite lacking.)

And apparently, Olive Byrne was the loon who chose to keep the paternity of her children a secret from them until they could no longer chat with the man they had no idea was their father.

That said, I’m absolutely delighted to learn of Wonder Woman’s link to Margaret Sanger. It’s all very rich!

7

Bloix 12.04.14 at 12:57 am

Lepore is a great writer and popular historian. Her book about Benjamin Franklin’s sister, Jane, is heartbreaking and eye-opening.

If you want a taste of the Wonder Woman book, you can read Lepore’s New Yorker article,
http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/09/22/last-amazon

and the NYRB review
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/2014/nov/20/wonder-woman-weird-true-story/

8

Main Street Muse 12.04.14 at 12:59 am

@Anarcissie “many children are not fully informed of their parentage or other hot issues precisely because they may inadvertently reveal the same to those who would judge them to be loons, the descendants of loons, or the associates of loons, and therefore people to be rebuked and scorned and severely punished for their loonness, as the world has a way of doing.”

Because having no father to claim was such a mark of “normalcy” back in the day, right? Keeping a father’s identity a secret from children (who live in the same house) is a terrible secret to keep. Just saying…

9

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 1:42 am

“I just don’t know how a man has the time to live in two houses”

There was only one house. He, Byrne, and Holloway were a threesome, and Byrne and Holloway continued to be a couple for the rest of their lives after Marston died. You really don’t see why their children would have been protected from inadvertently revealing that they basically had two moms in the 1930s and 1940s?

The feminism in _Wonder Woman_ is pretty inseparable from Marston’s theories about bondage, which look loony now much as harry b’s theories about the family will probably look loony a century from now. To quote Marston second-hand from wiki:

The only hope for peace is to teach people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound… Only when the control of self by others is more pleasant than the unbound assertion of self in human relationships can we hope for a stable, peaceful human society… Giving to others, being controlled by them, submitting to other people cannot possibly be enjoyable without a strong erotic element.

10

harry b 12.04.14 at 2:01 am

Come on Rich, can you tone it down a bit? There’s no need to be insulting. You just sound bitter. Make your point and give reasons for it, and we’ll all listen (well, I will anyway).

11

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 2:14 am

My point: it’s annoying to take an unusual cultural production, or political action, and appreciate it while stigmatizing the necessary characteristics of the person that made it possible. Your post calls Marston “either someone who never grew up, or a self-absorbed hypocrite” as well as giving space to a vague “or something else entirely” and puzzled about why the women lived with him and why they seemed pretty happy with him. So you don’t understand, but you didn’t let this lack of understanding keep you from recycling some very standard sentiments. Marston had an unusual lifestyle and unusual beliefs, and these permitted him to write what was for its life a highly unusual work. If he was a loon, then _Wonder Woman_ was loony, and in a sense of course it was. But its looniness was inseparable from what we now consider to be its good qualities, in a way that judging from this post I think that you’re probably incapable of understanding.

12

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 2:15 am

I think Rich is a bit put off because I didn’t write the post. It’s clearly a Holbo post. So there is, naturally, a certain frustration in not being able to hang a critique of the post from a stock caricature of Holbo. (I kid, I kid. Rich is a good guy, but a bit too up, in a down sort of way.)

13

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 2:25 am

More seriously: I haven’t read the new book but I’ve seen a few critiques suggesting LePore is somewhat guilty of hinting, on the page, that this story hasn’t been told before. Marston’s story, at least, has been told many times. It’s too wild not to have attracted much attention: bondage and threesomes and lie-detectors, oh my! It may be that LePore really has shed a lot of new light on the women of the story, Byrne and Holloway, however. I don’t know.

In fairness, biographers tend to be guilty of writing as if they are telling the story for the first time for the sound stylistic reason that you can’t start every sentence with ‘stop me if you’ve heard this one before’. You have to tell stories like they are interesting, which means you have to tell them like they are new. As a result, people who have read old biographers are too easily annoyed at new biographers who are less than totally revolutionary, but may still be worth reading.

14

Alan White 12.04.14 at 2:29 am

Harry, thanks for this. I should have known you were a Marvel rather than a DC. Me too. Still have an aftermarket book I bought as a kid in the 60s for two cents–remember those; they took them off the shelf when they did not sell and ripped off half the first few pages– a copy of Amazing Adult Fantasy # 15. Had I that in the same remaining condition but the full book? Six figures easy. Oh well!

15

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 3:06 am

“My point: it’s annoying to take an unusual cultural production, or political action, and appreciate it while stigmatizing the necessary characteristics of the person that made it possible.”

What’s wrong with saying that good or distinctive art was produced by a morally flawed or at least highly eccentric person, whose moral flaws and eccentricities plausibly contribute to the goodness of the art?

As to Marston, he really is kind of a hard read as biographical subject. A weird dude, as Harry says. (Not just because of the bondage. That’s not so weird!)

16

harry b 12.04.14 at 3:18 am

Rich — maybe this was too much like a Holbo post then. All I know about Marston is from LePore, and as I say he remains very enigmatic to me. I did not mean to imply that his looniness had anything to do with his unconventional lifestyle, or that his unconventional lifestyle was evidence of him being a loony or of him not having grown up. There’s just a lot else in the book that suggests both to me — specifically that he seems to have been someone with serial and related deep obsessions — the content of those obsessions being irrelevant. (And, yes, although I have known plenty of quite obsessive people, I do understand that my inability to see inside that personality type has more to do with me than with them). But, as I say, whereas I feel I have a pretty good idea what Byrne and Holloway (and actually Sanger) were like as people, he does not come off the page in the same way.

I know its a blog, but one reason I post less than I used to is getting tired of men (and it pretty much always is men) being rude to people (me, and others) in ways they would never dream of being in person. And even after being called out, you chose to be gratuitously insulting in your response. Get a grip.

Alan — I owned hundreds of the UK Marvels (not worth much — except probably my complete set of Captain Britain — I’m not kidding) — and a copy of FF #4. I gave them all to my sister’s best friend’s little brother when I turned 18. He was a lovely kid, and whatever he did with them I feel it was the best possible way of disposing of them…

17

Corey Robin 12.04.14 at 3:21 am

This a fun piece by someone who was also writing a book on Marston and Wonder Woman and got scooped by Jill. This book might be of interest to folks, especially Rich, insofar as it tries to productively relate Marston’s biography to a close reading of the comics themselves via queer and feminist theory.

http://chronicle.com/article/My-Nemesis-Jill-Lepore/150253/

18

Main Street Muse 12.04.14 at 3:21 am

Rich @ 9 “You really don’t see why their children would have been protected from inadvertently revealing that they basically had two moms in the 1930s and 1940s?”

I really don’t understand not revealing to children the identity of their father. EVEN in the 1930s and 1940s. Keeping that identity a secret from the children until after he died is a flawed way to “protect” children from whatever it is they’re supposed to be protected from. And in that they all lived in a house with two women, one man and a bunch of children allegedly “not related” to each other, I’m sure their “secret” was not much of a secret within their neighborhood – and I’ll bet the children picked up on that vibe.

I come from a long line of people who lied about their lives – it’s a horrible legacy to leave.

19

TheSophist 12.04.14 at 4:05 am

Wait, what – Captain Britain worth money???? Noooooo….

(What I seem to remember as being a complete set was tossed when my family migrated to the US in ’77.)

20

Daniel O'Neil 12.04.14 at 4:11 am

There’s also a great book that focuses on the artistic history of the character as DC tried to figure out what to do with her, especially in light of Marsden’s particular sensibilities about dominance and submission. It’s call “A Golden Thread: An unofficial critical History of Wonder Woman” by Philip Sandifer:

http://www.amazon.com/Golden-Thread-Unofficial-Critical-History/dp/1493566725

21

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 4:27 am

No, Rich you are absolutely correct in calling out Harry b’s casual and reflexive misandry. Although he is trying to walk it back in the continuing misandry of comment 16, trying to shift the focus.

Marston looks to me like a pretty neat guy who has done much more good for the world and women than those who treat him a with contempt he doesn’t deserve.

the only puzzles being why they lived with Moulton and why they seem to have been pretty happy with him.

Also apparently, contempt for women slipped through inadvertently.

22

harry b 12.04.14 at 4:40 am

bob– read the book and you’ll see from the descriptions of their family life why it is puzzling. Or not, in which case you have been able to fill in all the gaps in a way that is extremely generous to him, thus eliminating the puzzle. I can’t fill in the gaps at all, which is why it is puzzling (if I fill them very ungenerously it seems they can’t have been happy with him — but the evidence is that they were, and I believe it). But I don’t understand enough about him or perhaps people in general to understand the texture which they (both of whom seem to have been quite remarkable) found satisfying. My main point was that LePore doesn’t give us that.

Is this another thread in which people with apriori knowledge about the content of a book discuss it with people who have a posteriori knowledge about it, determined to demonstrate that the person who read the book is wrong about what is in it, and, incidentally, is incapable of understanding the deep insights that the apriori knowers have to offer?

23

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 4:44 am

“I know its a blog, but one reason I post less than I used to is getting tired of men (and it pretty much always is men) being rude to people (me, and others) in ways they would never dream of being in person. “

I assure you that if someone says to me, in person, “That guy had a successful life-long relationship with his partners, which they continued life-long after his death, and they had 4 kids who all seemed pretty happy, but I don’t see why they lived with that loon or why they were happy with him” then I’m just as rude, hopefully even more rude, in my in-person reply.

I accept that you didn’t mean what you seemed to be saying. But here’s a quote from an article by LePore (the first one linked by Bloix @7):

Byrne at once hid everything about her life and, like Marston, almost compulsively exposed it. But, plainly, she adored him. He was undignified and funny and warm. She found him wonderful: “This noted scientist is the most genuine human being I’ve met. He isn’t fat—that is, in the ordinary way. He’s just enormous all over. We walked through the garden and about the grounds. The doctor asked me about my work and myself, and I told him more in 15 minutes than I’d tell my most intimate friend in a week. He’s the kind of person to whom you confide things about yourself you scarcely realize.”

Why did they live with him, why were they happy with him? It’s a big puzzle.

JH: “What’s wrong with saying that good or distinctive art was produced by a morally flawed or at least highly eccentric person, whose moral flaws and eccentricities plausibly contribute to the goodness of the art?”

I don’t see any understanding of how his moral flaws and eccentricities plausibly contribute to the goodness of his art.

This is giving me flashbacks to the thread in which DeLong was so surprised that Frederick Douglass could have opposed the election of Lincoln. I’ll have to go through some of this again, although I know it’s obvious: people living in past historical eras do not know the future. Since they don’t know the future, they don’t know that e.g. feminism is one day going to be quite respectable. Since it’s not respectable, who is going to support it so ardently in their day? Weird people. Strange “loons”, “obsessives”, etc. People who don’t have a strange theory about how bondage restrains masculine energy and helps to stop war don’t make the first big comic book about a female superhero who helps to stop war. It’s kind of easy to do that later on once feminism is respectable, but who does it the first time?

24

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 4:55 am

I can’t tell whether he was someone who never grew up, or a self-absorbed hypocrite, or a combination of both, or something else entirely

I did not mean to imply that his looniness had anything to do with his unconventional lifestyle, or that his unconventional lifestyle was evidence of him being a loony or of him not having grown up.

It is hard telling anymore what you did mean to imply, but you could help out by explaining why you speculate that Moulton had never “grown up,” what evidence led you to that. Whatever “immaturity” might mean in the case of a guy who looks wildly successful and well and widely loved to me.

Like I said, the misandrist grace-notes have become reflexive and are pretty much to expected around here anymore. They get rewarded.

25

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 5:00 am

22.2:Is this another thread…

You think you’re good at this shifting blame stuff, don’t you?

26

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 5:15 am

“you could help out by explaining why you speculate that Moulton had never “grown up,” what evidence led you to that. Whatever “immaturity” might mean in the case of a guy who looks wildly successful and well and widely loved to me.”

Bob, I’m going to go out on a limb here and speculate that what led Harry to this conclusion was not speculation at all. I think he has read a biography by Jill LePore; likely, it contains information. On this basis, Harry drew conclusions.

As Harry says, this really does seem like a battle between a priori and a posteriori biography. Should you transcendentally deduce facts about William Marston from the allegedly synthetic a priori truth that Harry B is a complete idiot? Or should you, instead, read a book about William Marston, if you have a desire to know such things?

Dear reader, the choice is yours.

27

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 5:21 am

Actually, to be fair, here is a third option. If you are curious why Harry B. thinks something, you could ask. ‘Harry, why do you think Marston was immature?’ I’ll bet you he would be willing to say.

28

DCA 12.04.14 at 5:35 am

“a guy who looks wildly successful”–well (not from reading the book but many reviews) Marston seems to have had a not-successful career in academia, moving (after initial
success) from Professor to Lecturer to not employed. Still, he was (semi-directly) responsible for the long-standard legal test (Frye) for whether something counted as science or not (and the court ruled that Marston was in the not category).

29

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 5:42 am

“I don’t see any understanding of how his moral flaws and eccentricities plausibly contribute to the goodness of his art.”

Nope, Rich, you don’t get off that easy. You said – and I quote – “it’s annoying to take an unusual cultural production, or political action, and appreciate it while stigmatizing the necessary characteristics of the person that made it possible.”

Nothing to do with Marston. Perfectly general claim about all culture and art.

You say you can’t understand how anyone could walk the walk of positive appreciation while at the same time chewing the gum of adverse judgment of an artistic personality. I am pointing out that this is the easiest thing in the world to do. Obviously there is nothing inherently problematic about saying so-and-so was flawed, but from his flaws may have come great art.

30

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 5:57 am

you could ask. ‘Harry, why do you think Marston was immature?’

And I in 24 said ” but you could help out by explaining why you speculate that Moulton had never “grown up,” what evidence led you to that. “

Holbo, why are you lying about a comment two spaces above yours? Do you really think or hope that people will believe you rather than their eyes?

My experience is that saying about any man whatsoever “He hasn’t completely grown up yet” is a very safe casual reflexive misandry that rarely gets any pushback at all from at least half the audience.

Glancing at the Wiki article on Moulton I find “Marston’s wife Elizabeth Holloway Marston is said to have suggested a connection between emotion and blood pressure to William, observing that, “[w]hen she got mad or excited, her blood pressure seemed to climb” (Lamb, 2001). Although Elizabeth is not listed as Marston’s collaborator in his early work, Lamb, Matte (1996), and others refer directly and indirectly to Elizabeth’s own work on her husband’s research. She also appears in a picture taken in his laboratory in the 1920s” and a dead link at the bottom: “Lamb, Marguerite. “Who Was Wonder Woman? Long-ago LAW alumna Elizabeth Marston was the muse who gave us a superheroine.” Boston University, Fall 2001.”

So we can’t give Moulton the credit for the lie detector or Wonder Woman after all? He no longer seems that interesting. Ain’t feminist scholarship amazing.

After this review, no way in hell. I’ll read the Berlatsky Corey linked instead.

31

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 5:58 am

JH: “Obviously there is nothing inherently problematic about saying so-and-so was flawed, but from his flaws may have come great art.”

Except that harry b. has no evident understanding of how from his flaws may have come great art. Note that I referred to *necessary* characteristics. Without Marston’s obsessions, no _Wonder Woman_.

32

Peter King 12.04.14 at 6:01 am

DCA: “[Marston] was (semi-directly) responsible for the long-standard legal test (Frye) for whether something counted as science or not.”

Jill Lepore has, according to her Harvard Web page, an essay titled “On Evidence: Proving Frye as a Matter of Law, Science, and History” scheduled to appear in the current volume (124) of the Yale Law Journal.

33

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 6:04 am

“Whatever “immaturity” might mean in the case of a guy who looks wildly successful and well and widely loved to me.”

Bob, can you really not think of any examples of artists who are, at once, wildly successful in artistic terms, widely loved, and personally sort of child-like or immature? You know of no such model of the artistic personality? The artist is a mature, breadwinner type, by nature?

(This is setting aside DCA’s correct point that, despite inventing Wonder Woman and the lie detector, Marston drifted, career-wise. He counted on Byrne and Holloway to support him a lot of the time. And apparently they loved him, so great! No mystery, really, but a lot of people would have regarded him as a pain in the ass for more than just the spankings.)

34

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 6:16 am

Rich: “Except that harry b. has no evident understanding of how from his flaws may have come great art.”

Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. The fact that Harry mentioned he got a certain impression of Marston from the book, without saying what gave him the impression in the book, is no basis for you to infer that necessarily the impression must be wholly baseless. More probably, Harry just didn’t feel like writing a longer post.

Let’s take it from the top. If you are actually curious why Harry thinks Marston was sort of child-like or immature or hypocritical, just ask him. He has said he is willing to answer.

35

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 6:24 am

33.1:Ahh. As I thought, Marston may be considered an inadequate breadwinner and provider without a stable career. And that somehow makes him immature? We are so liberated from the classic asymmetrical patriarchal roles, aren’t we now?

“Child-like and immature,” especially based on earnings history, are not phrases I ever use, mostly because they have a history of being used against women and minorities. And because, “adulthood” and “maturity” are among the most socially repressive concepts out there. But YMMV.

No mystery, really, but a lot of people would have regarded him as a pain in the ass for more than just the spankings.)

Idle curiosity, was he the bottom, and the one who got spanked and tied up? That’s my guess.

36

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 6:26 am

34: If you are actually curious why Harry thinks Marston was sort of child-like or immature or hypocritical, just ask him.

I did ask him in comment 24. And you continue to lie about it.

And call me McManus. You are not my friend.

37

Meredith 12.04.14 at 6:27 am

Just google Jill LePore. She’s hardly Harry’s discovery (appreciate as I do his response to her). The world is a rich and curious place. Follow her from King Philip’s War, I suggest.

38

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 6:36 am

I usually read Berlatsky at his blog. There’s an interesting post here. It gets at some of the problems I have with Main Street Muse’s comments — this is about being closeted more than it is about paternity secrets. Whatever you think about being closeted, the dangers were greater in the 1930s and 1940s than they are now, and I question apparent anachronisms like “I’ll bet the children picked up on that vibe.”

There’s a number of followup comments that I think are a good discussion.

39

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 6:57 am

“You are not my friend.”

Has it ever occurred to you that maybe the problem is that you just aren’t friendly, Bob? (Sorry, you are just going to have to put up ‘Bob’, Bob. If you truly aren’t willing to have a reasonably polite, informal conversation – hence the first-name basis – you should just quit commenting at CT. Also, it’s doubly silly to be extra rude to people and then whinge that they aren’t being extra polite to you.)

Here is the problem with your comment 24: if you really want to know something, you ask ‘but what about X?’ You don’t ask ‘but what about X, you idiot?’ Not unless you have some basis for attributing idiocy.

“My experience is that saying about any man whatsoever “He hasn’t completely grown up yet” is a very safe casual reflexive misandry that rarely gets any pushback at all from at least half the audience.”

I really don’t know what to make of this. Please explain, if you have any desire to convince me you are correct about this.

40

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 7:41 am

39: You actually have the nerve to put a paraphrase “‘but what about X, you idiot?” in direct quotes as if I had used those exact words? Or that tone, for that matter. And then claim the politeness highground?

And “shifting blame” isn’t quite right, more accurate would be “forcing your interlocutor onto the defensive” is the move harry b tried toward Puchalsky at 9 and toward me at 22.2.

And many people around the world do not understand first-name fake familiarity and aggressive disarming “friendliness” as the default height of social manners. America has become an entire freaking nation of used car dealers.

I really don’t know what to make of this. Please explain, if you have any desire to convince me you are correct about this.

Liar. I have been the subject of your Socratic irony, and I know how you wield it.

41

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 8:30 am

Let me get this straight, Bob.

Per comment 24, you think that Harry is ‘reflexively’ playing “misandrist grace-notes”, for ‘reward’, on the basis of (mere?) ‘speculation’. That is, I take it: you think he is unjustifiably doing harm to Marston, perhaps to men generally, for the sake of basking in the radiant admiration of the CT commentariat? (I take it this is the charge? If not, then the para-musical metaphor/profit model is lost on me.)

But you think it is wrong that I accused you of, in effect, calling Harry an idiot, merely because you say he plays misandrist grace-notes, reflexively, on the basis of (mere?) speculation, for profit?

Do you, personally, think it is non-idiotic to play misandrist grace-notes, reflexively, on the basis of (mere?) speculation, for profit?

I have to say: it doesn’t sound very non-idiotic to me.

“I have been the subject of your Socratic irony, and I know how you wield it.”

Well that’s a relief, anyway.

42

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 9:05 am

“As I thought, Marston may be considered an inadequate breadwinner and provider without a stable career. And that somehow makes him immature?”

Sorry, that wasn’t my idea, Bob. I was just trying to attach some sense to your words. I took you to be arguing that he couldn’t be immature, as Harry hinted, because he was, apparently, a successful comics professional, etc. (A silly argument, it seems to me. But I couldn’t think what else you were saying.) But if that wasn’t your argument, then it wasn’t; you can explain it, or let it remain a mystery.

In answer to your query about top and bottom, my distinct impression was that he liked being top. But now that I think about it, that impression is based entirely on my reading of classic Wonder Woman comics. It’s always the women who are tied up. So I don’t know.

43

bad Jim 12.04.14 at 9:15 am

I have no idea what’s going on, but I’m going to step into it anyway, as has been my lifelong habit. I was once part of a menage-a-trois (one girl, two guys) and found it rather comfortable. Around the same time my father had a girlfriend his own age with whom he spent half his nights at work, in a spacious office with a convertible couch, which made the couple part of the work environment. It was odd, but less disturbing than one might expect.

I got a second mother out of the arrangement, which I needed as much as a spare orifice, which is to say not at all. She’s smart and funny, though now ailing, and in her dotage my mother was polite to her. (Unitarians, what can you say?) My brother’s wife, knowing nearly nothing of them, is furious about the arrangement, which makes me despair of the future of polyamory.

44

bob mcmanus 12.04.14 at 9:23 am

spec·u·late ˈspekyəˌlāt/ verb
verb: speculate; 3rd person present: speculates; past tense: speculated; past participle: speculated; gerund or present participle: speculating

1. form a theory or conjecture about a subject without firm evidence.
“my colleagues speculate about my private life”
synonyms: conjecture, theorize, hypothesize, guess, surmise; More
think, wonder, muse
“they speculated about my private life”

2. invest in stocks, property, or other ventures in the hope of gain but with the risk of loss.

Marston remains enigmatic to me—I can’t tell whether he was someone who never grew up, or a self-absorbed hypocrite, or a combination of both, or something else entirely– …Brighouse, by his own admission, is guessing with inadequate information, even after reading the book.

Grace-note” “an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.”

And I don’t think guessing that Marston might have been “a self-absorbed hypocrite” was all that essential to the thrust of the piece. It is a very small part.

So why?

And “reflexive” in my use by no means connotes “idiocy.” Much of our (not you?) everyday social interaction is ritualized and on the bare edge of consciousness and intentionality, especially in social settings we can command to be controlled and predictable.

45

bad Jim 12.04.14 at 9:23 am

There was also an eponymous cat who was even more problematic but eventually cleaned up her act.

46

Collin Street 12.04.14 at 10:13 am

You actually have the nerve to put a paraphrase “‘but what about X, you idiot?” in direct quotes as if I had used those exact words? Or that tone, for that matter. And then claim the politeness highground?

I think — I’ve mentioned this before — that other people have a better idea of how polite you are in comparison to other others than you yourself do.

Because they see you and other others alike from the outside, making the comparisons easier and less prone to systemic errors in converting your internal experience of your own behaviour to a format comparable with how you experience the behaviour of others.

47

John Holbo 12.04.14 at 10:42 am

Grace-note” “an extra note added as an embellishment and not essential to the harmony or melody.”

‘And “reflexive” in my use by no means connotes “idiocy.”’

So what you are saying, Bob, is that you really thought, all along, that Harry’s ‘speculative misandry’ was a perhaps profitable venture – just so many effortlessly graceful ornaments to the order of the post, as it were? You meant to praise his style, not damn his substance?

You hereby lay claim to the politeness high-ground? Veeery interesting.

Well, on we go. When you wrote that, in Harry’s post, “apparently, contempt for women slipped through inadvertently,” did you also mean that in a positive way? If so, in what positive way?

48

harry b 12.04.14 at 11:54 am

Ok, if we could reset the conversation so it is not about Rich and mcmanus, that’d be great. They know what they are doing.

JH’s point about “tell me if you’ve heard this one before” was helpful to me in explaining (and excusing) why journalists say the same things over and over again in newspapers, as if they assume you have never read a newspaper before. That said, I’d like it if they would sometimes point out, when reporting a government initiative, that this is the third (or fourth) time that it has been rolled out, rather than making it seem like a new initiative every time — I find it a bit eerie hearing the same thing over and over (from the same journalists) as if they have forgotten the government said it 6 months ago (I’m thinking about UK journalists, not US ones).

49

dbk 12.04.14 at 12:15 pm

I’m kind of enjoying this thread, though I don’t now, nor have I ever, read comic books and know Wonder Woman only by reputation (in the interests of full disclosure).

Nonetheless, the OP made a (very) good case for reading the book – the subject of a biography can be pretty fascinating even if you aren’t familiar with their area(s) of expertise. So thanks many for the tip!

The OP stated crystal-clearly that Marston himself doesn’t emerge as fully as a personality as his two or three SOs, and that it remained unclear just exactly what kind of a person he was – maybe he was like X, or maybe like Y, who knows? The book still sounds terrific, and so does LePore as a historian. Many highly creative individuals ultimately elude even the most skilful biographers; creativity is, well, elusive.

What’s going on here? Did all the CT contrarians wake up on the double-left side of their beds this morning or what? This sort of stuff is normally reserved for the, ah, distaff side of CT. It seems kind of weird for the fellows to be going after each other with such gusto. Or is it that the subject of the post is a woman … ?

What was the source of Marston’s attraction for the women in his life, hmm … well, speaking for myself, if a guy saw me as a wonder woman and created a super-heroine in my image, that would go a pretty considerable way towards my overlooking just about all other flaws, whatever these may have been. Just speculating, of course.

50

Z 12.04.14 at 12:56 pm

I had no clue at all about this Wonder Woman backstory and find it quite fascinating. Also, a triviality, but Olive Byrne is indeed named Olive Byrne, and not Oliver Byrne as in the post.

51

Lynne 12.04.14 at 1:31 pm

Harry: “I know its a blog, but one reason I post less than I used to is getting tired of men (and it pretty much always is men) being rude to people (me, and others) in ways they would never dream of being in person. And even after being called out, you chose to be gratuitously insulting in your response.”

I was touched to read this, and sorry to hear you post less because of people being rude. I’ve always thought I must have an exceptionally thin skin because I know I couldn’t blog the way you folks here do, but everyone is human.

Rich, your responses after this are not admirable.

52

Lynne 12.04.14 at 1:33 pm

But about Wonder Woman. My sibs and I consumed comic books voraciously. We read ’em all, even Archie and Veronica when there was nothing else, but we preferred the superheroes. For some reason I never took to Wonder Woman, maybe because as someone says upthread I always wondered about her wearing a bathing suit. The book sounds fascinating.

53

J Thomas 12.04.14 at 1:34 pm

Woo! I commented here, and it posted, and then it suddenly disappeared for no obvious reason! I could probably do it again but maybe there’s some reason not to? I haven’t gotten an email or any communication about it. Maybe it’s just one of those glitches.

54

Ronan(rf) 12.04.14 at 1:42 pm

J Thomas. Did you mean to say ‘wow’ ! ? ; )

55

harry b 12.04.14 at 2:03 pm

I removed it JT, because you got wrong who was being rude to whom and about what, and I didn’t want further derailing.

Lynne — thanks. And about WW — the book explains that too. After WWII, the guy who took over Wonder Woman turned her into a pathetic character, with nothing to redeem the costume — its really surprising that she survived. I can’t really remember the Lynda Carter series, but presumably she was more impressive in that or else how could it have lasted? (Ok, I know, some people are going to say Baywatch, and I never saw that, so maybe I’m wrong).

I think I (wrongly) associated DC with the Batman TV series which I loved (and still do), but was more like the Beano than like the Marvel comics…

56

Rich Puchalsky 12.04.14 at 2:20 pm

harry b: “They know what they are doing.”

I don’t speak for bob mcmanus, but I do know what I’m doing. You wrote an extremely rude original post, one which speculates without knowledge (by your own contention) that perhaps Marston never grew up, that perhaps he was a self-absorbed hypocrite, that it was a mystery why his partners lived with him or were happy with him. Of course you don’t know this, because to you their whole family is a new discovery, but to other people they are not a new discovery. Instead, they are meaningful both to queer and polyamorist subculture and to comics subculture. They are especially meaningful because Marston’s queer theories were essentially what it took to not only create the first really popular comic book superheroine, but what is *still* the most popular comic book superheroine.

Re-read my comment 3 and 9 if you want to re-experience my monstrous rudeness. Then reflect that harry b’s retort was “You just sound bitter” — the age-old cry of the person who has just discovered a subculture and is wondering why people find this silly stuff so meaningful and important when it isn’t important to them and they are clearly the source of all value.

57

MPAVictoria 12.04.14 at 2:39 pm

“I was touched to read this, and sorry to hear you post less because of people being rude. I’ve always thought I must have an exceptionally thin skin because I know I couldn’t blog the way you folks here do, but everyone is human.”

You are not alone. I am routinely appalled by what some people think is appropriate online behavior. I could never put up with it.
/And I do hope you continue to post Harry

58

Colin R 12.04.14 at 2:42 pm

Marston’s distinct vision for Wonder Woman is both what made her successful and probably what has made her difficult for DC and other writers to figure out what to do with. Wonder Woman as a feminist icon would be a worthy tradition, but DC has always been a bit shy about that. Even if they were bold enough to try that, it would probably take a gifted writer to be able to blend Marston’s vision of feminism with something more appropriately modern.

The other problem is that like Captain America she was distinctly a WWII-era hero, but unlike Cap no one ever really came up with a gimmick to transition her from WWII into modern eras. So she has all these vestiges like the patriotic costume that don’t really make any sense out of that context.

59

harry b 12.04.14 at 2:44 pm

Rich. I made it pretty clear in my subsequent comment that my speculation had nothing to do with his polyamory or culture or theories, but other things in the book, which I still take it you haven’t read. If I were you I might accuse you of being incapable of understanding simple English, but I don’t think that is true, and even if I did I would be polite enough to refrain from saying it. (Mark you, if I were as witty as Daniel I’d probably feel ok about saying whatever came into my head).

I don’t know how to block you or mcmanus (if someone else does, go ahead), so from now on I’ll just delete anything you post to this thread whenever I have time in the course of the day.

60

harry b 12.04.14 at 2:48 pm

Lynne and MPAVictoria — people say “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”, but its not true, and if you knew somebody whom words couldn’t hurt you wouldn’t want them as a friend.

61

Main Street Muse 12.04.14 at 2:49 pm

Rich P – “this is about being closeted more than it is about paternity secrets. Whatever you think about being closeted, the dangers were greater in the 1930s and 1940s than they are now, and I question apparent anachronisms like ‘I’ll bet the children picked up on that vibe.'”

Yes Rich, a passel of children who live with two women and a man – in the 1930s and 1940s – are not going to notice that their family is structured differently than their neighbors. Nor will the neighbors notice. No one will talk or whisper about that at all.

Keeping paternity a secret from children is manipulative and dishonest – no matter the reasons. Nothing anachronistic in that. Letting the children know who their father was only after their father died – that was a decision that did nothing to protect the children from that wretched, closed society all around them. But it DID prevent them from knowing their paternity when their father was alive.

62

J Thomas 12.04.14 at 3:00 pm

#55 harry b

I removed it JT, because you got wrong who was being rude to whom and about what, and I didn’t want further derailing.

Oh, OK. I couldn’t have gotten it wrong who was being rude to whom, though, both were being very very rude. Like when JohnH called mcmanus a name he asked not to be called. If you said my name is SugarTits and that’s what you’ll call me, I think it would be reasonable to think you were trying to offend.

63

J Thomas 12.04.14 at 3:08 pm

#60

people say “sticks and stones can break my bones but words can never hurt me”, but its not true, and if you knew somebody whom words couldn’t hurt you wouldn’t want them as a friend.

There’s a lot to that. I say that people were wrong to criticize you for your own personal judgements about Marston.

Back to WW, she was the only really strong female superhero comic I saw. It bothered me a little that her boyfriend seemed weak and incapable a lot of the time.

64

harry b 12.04.14 at 3:20 pm

I found Colin R’s comment quite enlightening, I have to say; partly because I remember warming to Captain America immediately once I learned the origins story. LePore associates WW weakening with women being driven out of the workplace following WWII. She also describes WW’s place in the Justice League: she won a reader’s poll, but then the Justice League was written by someone else (still during WWII), and WW was made the secretary and written out of all the action.
I have to say I hadn’t remembered the boyfriend at all which means either he was an insignificant part of the comics or I read even less of them than I thought I did.

65

Anderson 12.04.14 at 3:27 pm

“You wrote an extremely rude original post”

Sorry to feed the troll, but does ANYONE other than Puchalsky & McManus find the OP “extremely rude“? Anyone at all?

Just trying to check my reality here.

66

Anarcissie 12.04.14 at 3:32 pm

There was simply no question of living in an overtly polygamous arrangement in the United States, at least for middle-class and poor people, before the last few decades. The people who did it would not only have been ostracized, they almost certainly would have been arrested. Small children can easily be bullied or tricked into giving information they should not. Therefore, knowledge of unorthodox arrangements had to be concealed from them, lest they be taken away from their parents, and the parents ridden out of town on a rail, if not sent to prison.

67

Bloix 12.04.14 at 3:35 pm

#61 – Byrne was much younger than Marston and Holloway. She invented a deceased husband as the father of her children and they presented her to the world as a friendly housekeeper-nanny to the busy professional older couple. The neighbors would have thought the arrangement was very nice for everybody and not scandalous at all.

68

Corey Robin 12.04.14 at 3:43 pm

Just because this is driving me crazy: Jill’s last name is Lepore, not LePore.

69

Bloix 12.04.14 at 3:49 pm

Holy Super Heroes! Something that Prof. Robin and I can agree on. (see #7).

70

Noah Berlatsky 12.04.14 at 4:22 pm

Hey; I saw the link here and was reading the comments with interest (not all of them, I’ll admit!)

I just thought I’d say…I think that the discomfort/confusion around Marston that Harry expresses is coming from Lepore’s book pretty directly. She seems puzzled at times by why Elizabeth and Olive stayed with him, and she also at points expresses reservations about the gender politics of their relationship.

I think that is linked to her (at least occasional) discomfort with kink and polyamory, and a vision of feminism which leans towards the second waves mistrust of sexuality, rather than engaging with the third waves’ pro-sex/pro-queer arguments.

There are a couple of places where Marston comes off badly in various ways too (Lepore’s account of how he introduced Byrne into the relationship is very unpleasant; Marston was quite racist.) But I do think that part of the reason the family relationship is hard to parse from the book is that Lepore herself finds it, and presents it as, offputting. Which I think is problematic (though there are lots of things about the book to admire, not least the stunning use of archival sources.)

71

Colin R 12.04.14 at 4:51 pm

I am a bit familiar with Maston, not with Lepore’s book. But I don’t think kink is the main problem some people have with Marston’s legacy; it’s his frankly views on sex and gender. He wasn’t just kinky, he thought that submission was an inherently female trait–and one that made women superior to men. And he considered Wonder Woman a vehicle for this view. I think a lot of people would have a difficult time reconciling this without any squeamishness about kink.

I also think it’s maybe a bit too easy to judge Byrne harshly for her decisions about what she told her children. It seems clear to me that she was taking the biggest risk in this relationship; if it had soured or if it became publicly known, she is probably the person who would have suffered the most. She had a right to protect herself.

72

Colin R 12.04.14 at 4:56 pm

“His frankly essentialist views” is what I meant to say.

73

mattski 12.04.14 at 4:57 pm

@ 65

Warning: Ideology can make you grumpy.

74

CJColucci 12.04.14 at 5:16 pm

As highly as I think of Dr. Lepore, I believe the New Yorker piece and the NYRB review have given me enough that I feel no need to buy the book — though I will follow up some of the links in the comments.
I pass along something from Oliver (Green Arrow) Queen, who once suggested that Wonder Woman makes sparing use of her golden truth-telling lasso because she was tired of hearing men say what they were actually thinking in her presence.

75

mattski 12.04.14 at 5:19 pm

Terry Gross interviews Lepore.

76

mpowell 12.04.14 at 5:31 pm

@ 73, Yeah, but I can also understand why Puchalsky was upset. Blogging is a tough business. It’s why you don’t discuss politics in ‘polite company’. It’s too easy to politely express a view that pisses someone else off. If they respond rudely, is it all that meaningful to discuss who is being polite/rude? I didn’t read the original post as expressing political views, but based on Puchalsky’s later explanations, I can see why he did.

Still, I appreciate the difficulty of being a blogger. Commenters can come and go and be critical or polite as they wish. But for the blogger, this is his/her space. Initiating any conversation while being almost totally blind to the sensitivities of your audience is a brave step.

77

J Thomas 12.04.14 at 6:40 pm

#65 Anderson

Sorry to feed the troll, but does ANYONE other than Puchalsky & McManus find the OP “extremely rude“?

I think somebody who closely identified with polyamory or BDSM etc might reasonably find it rude. To me he expressed disapproval of a dead public figure. No big deal. If I held a great big admiration for JFK I might get upset about people disapproving of his alleged extramarital affairs, and if I had a whole lot of admiration for Bush Jr. I might get upset about people disapproving of his alleged homosexual hijinks. Similarly if I thought nobody should be allowed to criticize marital cheating or homosexuality.

#64

I have to say I hadn’t remembered the boyfriend at all which means either he was an insignificant part of the comics or I read even less of them than I thought I did.

I think his name was Trevor. He may have been an air force officer. I vaguely remember he was wounded, maybe blinded, and Wonder Woman in her secret identity as a military nurse took care of him. Maybe he got captured by spies who tortured him for information until she rescued him, I don’t remember very well. It seemed like he didn’t do much.

78

Hob 12.04.14 at 6:43 pm

@65 I for one didn’t; it was far from clear which of Marston’s qualities led Henry to call him a loon, but knowing a fair amount about Marston I could think of lots of possible reasons, and if I really wanted to know more about Henry’s thinking there I would just ask him— and/or read the goddamn book. The only reason I can think of to respond as RP did would be if I were predisposed to assume the very worst motivation I could think of, and/or if I liked starting fights. (Though if I honestly thought Henry’s motivation was as Rich said, disdain for everyone who’s not “vanilla”, I certainly would take personal offense.)

79

Hob 12.04.14 at 6:47 pm

@77 I hadn’t seen your comment, but please consider my last parenthetical to be a counter-example to your first sentence. Rich does not speak for me, nor for my friends and loved ones who are perfectly capable of understanding that someone could be a bizarre and difficult person in addition to being non-mainstream in ways we like.

80

The Temporary Name 12.04.14 at 6:52 pm

81

bianca steele 12.04.14 at 6:58 pm

Rich’s complaint about attacking necessary conditions of the artist makes sense to me: imagine a biography of E.M. Forster, written before his sexuality was broadly known, which praised, at length, his sane and mature heterosexuality and used him as an object lesson in teaching the pathology so-called of homosexuality. This seems to me to be quite different from, say, criticizing Melville for exploiting and paying too little attention to his family. However, Noah Berlatsky’s criticism to me seems more accurate: historians objectify, that’s what they do. History isn’t literary appreciation and therefore doesn’t “appreciate” its subject. More often the subject is set in a context, different from our own, that explains his or her actions.

82

The Temporary Name 12.04.14 at 7:04 pm

Marston looks to me like a pretty neat guy who has done much more good for the world

Inventing the lie detector??? I hope the good of Wonder Woman outweighs that one.

83

Tyrone Slothrop 12.04.14 at 7:48 pm

Inventing the lie detector?

Are you hiding something, TTN?

84

The Temporary Name 12.04.14 at 7:53 pm

Uh, got an appointment! Later!

85

harry b 12.04.14 at 8:05 pm

As Hob says, there’s plenty in the book about Marston to make it puzzling why they were happy with him, none of which has to do with the fact that he had two (or three) lovers or that he had unconventional views about sexuality (as with lots of people, some of what he believed strikes me as hugely wrong and a great deal as deeply insightful, and for what it is worth, the insightful stuff seems to outweigh the wrong): and since the OP doesn’t say anything that associates the implied conjecture (which most readers saw as tentative, not as a judgment) that he was difficult to live with with his views or the fact that he had two (or three) lovers I was blindsided by the attacks.

She doesn’t say outright that he was a scientific fraud, but he seems to have been dodgy at best as a scientist — but I am sure plenty of dodgy scientists are quite lovable and easy to live with, however much harm they do.

86

MPAVictoria 12.04.14 at 8:40 pm

“Are you hiding something, TTN?”

You know I have often wondered when TTN was going to share with us his/her Permanent name. Something fishy is going on!

87

Bruce Baugh 12.04.14 at 8:49 pm

Harry, thanks for the post; Noah and others, thanks for comments about the book as well. Sounds like something I’ll enjoy, just (duh) not with blind acceptance, but testing it against what I know from other sources. Which is, like, no big surprise, really.

Rich, all I can say is that in this thread, you’ve been much more than usually deserving of enthusiastic support from Bob.

88

Hob 12.04.14 at 8:54 pm

Also, sorry for calling you Henry, Harry. Though if you want to be Henry, that’s cool too.

89

harry b 12.04.14 at 9:36 pm

Hob — that mistake is made all the time, usually to my benefit (in this case, Henry might think it’s to his detriment!). So often that I barely notice it!

90

Noah Berlatsky 12.04.14 at 10:13 pm

Marston’s science is completely preposterous, as science. The lie detector never worked, and still doesn’t. Marston is quite interesting as a feminist and queer theorist, though. His ideas sit uncomfortably with current approaches to feminism — but then in certain ways he was ahead of his time as well (in his approach to kink, for example.)

Marston’s kink isn’t really separable from his theories. His ideas about submission and gender essentialism are his kink, pretty much, and vice versa.

91

Noah Berlatsky 12.04.14 at 10:18 pm

Oh…Marston was totally a carny as well; he appeared in Gilette ads with his lie detector test. Wrote a soft porn novel too, about Julius Caesar (it foreshadows some of the themes in Wonder Woman to some degree.)

92

Bill Benzon 12.04.14 at 10:44 pm

Noah: I sent a link to your piece to Michael Barrier, who had a similar experience w/ his biography of Walt Disney (also w/ a university press). Just before his book came out Neal Gabler came out with a big fat bio in the trade press. It sucked up all the review slots and PR. It even got picked up by all the Disney stores, where Barrier was shut out, despite the fact that Gabler’s bio was rather unfavorable toward uncle Walt while Barrier was sympathetic.

93

Main Street Muse 12.04.14 at 10:44 pm

Bloix – “Byrne was much younger than Marston and Holloway. She invented a deceased husband as the father of her children and they presented her to the world as a friendly housekeeper-nanny to the busy professional older couple. The neighbors would have thought the arrangement was very nice for everybody and not scandalous at all.”

You did not live in my neighborhood; nor did you live in my grandmother’s neighborhood back in the day. I doubt there is ANY neighborhood that would never find this arrangement to be scandalous in some way.

Again, I am from several generations of people who lied to “protect” their lifestyles (or the lifestyle of a spouse) to “protect” the children – it really is not a healthy lifestyle for the children. But hey, sounds like the grown-ups were happy with their “outside-the-box” arrangement…

94

Bloix 12.04.14 at 11:28 pm

#93 – live-in housekeepers were scandalous in your neighborhood?

95

Main Street Muse 12.05.14 at 1:18 am

Bloix – please feel free to indulge in the fantasy that a threesome with children can present as a very ordinary middle class couple with a housekeeper + children. Especially back in the 1930s and 1940s. Doesn’t sound like these people could the areas where “live-in housekeepers” were the norm. In that I come from a family that set tongues wagging, let’s just say I’m skeptical of your vision of their neighborhood. We never move far from the 7th grade lunch table.

And again, how nice that the adults lived out their fantasy at the expense of the children. Not impressed!

96

Bloix 12.05.14 at 1:47 am

I'[m not indulging in a fantasy. I read the book. What is it with this fucking thread? Could all the maggots please go back under their rocks?

97

js. 12.05.14 at 2:08 am

Somehow, I’m not sure references to “maggots” are really going to help this thread.

Anyway, wanted to say: I’m not much of a comic book reader, but I do like Lepore’s writing and this seems quite interesting. So, thanks for the heads up. (And harry b, please continue blogging! I always enjoy reading your posts.)

98

J Thomas 12.05.14 at 12:28 pm

#96 Bloix

I’m not indulging in a fantasy. I read the book. What is it with this fucking thread?

It isn’t really about the book. It’s an argument about values.

Some people strongly believe that polyamory etc are OK, and that it’s bad and discriminatory when people publicly disapprove. So when they see commenters publicly disapprove, or if it looks like there’s disapproval expressed in the book by the author, they respond to that. Perhaps intemperately.

Some other people strongly believe that children deserve a happy, safe environment and that when parents do things that cause social disapproval it is bad for the children. Polyamory etc are bad for people who have children because the children get hurt by people who disapprove of the parents. So when you become a parent you must never do anything that would generate public disapproval, never get involved in a scandal or anything which could be interpreted as scandalous. Having to keep secrets is bad for children and keeping secrets from children is bad for them, so to fulfill your responsibility to your children you must not try to secretly do anything that people would disapprove of. You must *be* blameless and *look* blameless. Marston was wrong to have children by a second woman. There was no possible way he could make that right for the children.

So if the book implies that Marston etc kept secrets that the neighbors would blame them for, or kept secrets from their children, that means he was bad. If the book implies that they got away with it and did in fact keep the secrets, that’s no excuse because if there was anything that *could* have looked scandalous then the neighbors did indeed think it was a scandal and did take it out on the children. Regardless whether you read the book, if the book said that then the book had to be wrong.

It isn’t a lot of people who hold strong views on this, but still it’s easy to say something that sets off one side or another. Imagine you didn’t know much about Israel/Palestine but you read a book that had some bearing on that and then you innocently made comments about the book….

It’s probably just as well that these guys are mostly reacting to innocent third parties and not each other.

99

Anarcissie 12.05.14 at 2:58 pm

There was also the use of the term ‘loon’ seemingly to disparage unconventionality, which might rub some people the wrong way. I rather liked ‘loon’ myself — maybe I’ll choose it for my next pseudonym. ‘Loon’, besides being short for ‘lunatic’, also denotes an admirable bird which has the habit of emitting long, unearthly shrieks and can swim for considerable distances underwater. No life is quite complete without the experience of paddling quietly across an Adirondack lake in a foggy twilight and having one of these birds pop out of nowhere not far off, shriek unconsolably, and vanish without a trace.

100

jake the antisoshul soshulist 12.05.14 at 3:40 pm

I was actually a DC comic person as a kid. I mostly remember Wonder Woman from the Justice League comics. (Green Lantern was my favorite, don’t tell LGM)
I don’t remember thinking she wore a “bathing suit” particularly strange. But, there is a great history of “stripperific” outfits in the popular culture of the time. Enter “pulp magazine covers” in Google Images and see what you get. And I am not counting Margaret Brundage’s BDSM covers for Weird Tales. Old Farnsworth Wright let Brundage push the envelope a lot.

Though I do find the hiding of paternity out of the ordinary, I don’t find Marston, Holloway and Byrne hiding the details of their relationship particularly mystifying.

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Harry 12.05.14 at 3:41 pm

Yeah, I see that ‘loon’ could seem disparaging. I didn’t introduce it, but did use it subsequently. Again, the looniness (and, like you, I do not think of it as a specially negative term — I certainly only refer to or call people whom I know loons if I like them quite a lot, but realize that comes from my culture, and of course its unreasonable to expect readers to be sensitive to the fact that someone from a different culture might use language differently) is not related to his lifestyle but other things that the book reveals about him. In retrospect I wish I’d written more about him as a ‘scientist’, which is one place where the looniness kicks in.

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Yama 12.05.14 at 5:08 pm

Anarcissie 12.05.14 at 2:58 pm

Great description. I can see myself there.

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Tamara 12.05.14 at 5:46 pm

harry b I thought it was a great review and made me want to read the book. The fairly dyspeptic and hostile commentary baffles me. But I share your reluctance to engage anymore in spaces like this because of this kind stuff. Hang in there.

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gocart mozart 12.05.14 at 9:04 pm

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dsquared 12.06.14 at 2:11 am

Way down in this thread, I’ll note that there’s no such thing as a “lie detector”, so this guy didn’t invent it. Presumably he is responsible for the polygraph test, an unscientific, unreliable and generally useless piece of crap which has been wasting taxpayers’ money and creating miscarriages of justice ever since.

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harry b 12.06.14 at 1:40 pm

Yes, absolutely, and Lepore explains that — he’s lying about his “lie detector test” because unless he is a looney (which…. well) he knows quite well that it doesn’t work. But the polygraph was a slightly different, and more successful, rival. Fortunately for his moral standing in history, he was unable to convince many people to use it, so all the damage done by the polygraph is down to whoever invented that version of it. She is pretty good on the way the polygraph wasted taxpayers money — not just by paying for it and its use, but by it leading to the dismissal, eg, of hundreds of competent State Department employees whom it deemed to be lying when they denied being communists.
Thanks Tamara, and others who’ve been encouraging, I really appreciate it.

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Main Street Muse 12.06.14 at 4:05 pm

How very maggoty to think a father should out himself to his children as being their father rather than create an elaborate fiction to prop up his lifestyle…

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Belle Waring 12.08.14 at 2:11 am

Holy shit the trainwreck! I really feel that the fact that the author of the post TOTALLY HAS A PENIS should have been emphasized more so that this unpleasantness could have been mitigated. And would you all please chill out and disagree with one another employing something other than vicious ad hominems? The commenters’ fanatical dedication to driving all the FPP off the blog is going to work sooner or later, and then whom will you have to yell at? I often, very often think, I have something interesting I’d like to talk about; I’ll post on CT! And then I think, no, I don’t feel like having dudes condescendingly tell me I’m both stupid and a poor writer. I perform tragic late-term abortions on 70% of my impending posts.

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