THE SECRET HISTORY OF WONDER WOMAN (Knopf, 2014) wasn’t what I expected. Historian and New Yorker contributor Jill Lepore’s wry prose peers into the smarmy life of Harvard grad, out-of-work psychologist, William Moulton Marston, before he invents his true masterwork. Often duly dumbfounded, Lepore finds Marston esteems the feminist might of strong, smart women, and yet seduces them, ties them up, and straps them to his first invention, the lie-detector—which he briefly and publicly dubs the “Love Meter”—in order to quiz them on sexual arousal. Meet the creator of Wonder Woman.
Great Hera! What?
As Marston excels in his position of failed psychologist, his bread-winning wife, Elizabeth Holloway, supports him financially, along with (and under the same roof as) Marston's boyish girlfriend, Olive Byrne (whose signature bracelets look oddly familiar). Byrne, a writer who serves as Marston’s secretary and poses as the family’s nanny, happens to be the niece of Margaret Sanger, founder of Planned Parenthood. Also living under Marston’s roof? All four of the threesome's children. When Byrne names a son Byrne and tells her two of Marston’s children that their (imaginary) father, "William K. Richard," is dead, I found myself nodding to know that Planned Parenthood and birth control were fought for fiercely within and so close to this family.
A disturbing logic emerges from Lepore's fascinating historical biography as the reader realizes the inventor of the lie detector and his polyamorous, bondage-friendly exaltation of women as Lovers, Mothers, and Caretakers (of him and his progeny) also invented the quintessentially American female super-heroine. Posing as secretary Diana Prince, Marston’s busty, raven-haired Wonder Woman fights for justice with her truth-telling lasso while—Suffering Sappho!—often finding herself, too, tied up in brightly colored hot-pants, deflecting, uh, bullets with her bracelets.
Read this bizarre, bawdy book! This is #AmericanHistory.