Review: The Secret History of Wonder Woman – Jill Lepore.

Thanks to a ‘feminist books you really have to read’ type list from 2014, I finally decided to buy this after humming and hawing for a while. The Secret History of Wonder Woman details not only the origins of Wonder Woman and her journey through the years, but more importantly, the man behind her creation.

William Marston grew up surrounded by those involved in the suffrage movement, and believed that women would rule the earth. More so, he’s also the creator of the lie detector (it’s noted later in the book that those who run in comics circles wouldn’t necessarily know the lie detector fact, and vice versa), and all these pieces of his past are shown to play at least some part in the formation and continuation of Wonder Woman’s story.

Jill Lepore has put together an incredibly researched book from never-before-seen private papers and other research to show how Marston was influenced by feminists throughout his life, before embarking on a very unconventional family set-up, which in itself is an intriguing tale.

More so, he’s dedicated his life to psychology and used this throughout his entire life to win people over and justify what people wanted, and what his work would do for them. Following one complaint regarding the themes of bondage, Marston dismisses her concerns by saying he’s dedicated his life to studying this, so what does she know about women and submission? There can be some irony to his approach in supporting female liberation, but that doesn’t make the entire journey any less interesting.

Margaret Sanger

Margaret Sanger

The problem is Wonder Woman feels almost forgotten at some points. So detailed is an off-slant into some part of someone remotely relevant’s life that the only note for a good chunk is a snippet of a comic book that shows Marston relayed real life into the plot. It can take a long time to really get to her and then it can take a while to return to her once its deviated. Once she’s in print, it’s whizzed through.

Having said that, it’s a given that Wonder Woman is tied to feminism but the links to those real life women is quite incredible. Margaret Sanger’s crusade for birth control is one that stands out, leading her to be one name synonymous with moving forward rights for women.

It’s just a surprising book (I guess that comes with the title of The Secret History…). Marston is larger than life, the odd family dynamic is unexpected, the women he’s surrounded with were astounding and the journey that brought him to Wonder Woman is a long, gradual build up that makes sense when you see much of his work.

Such an interesting book on feminism of that era, over wartime and to the present day, plus an interesting book for fans of Wonder Woman.

December 2014 | Scribe UK

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