Thursday, April 14, 2016

Review: Terrible Virtue

Terrible Virtue
by Ellen Feldman

Why I chose this book? I was interested in learning more about Margaret Sanger
When I read this book? April 2016
Who should read this book? readers interested in women’s history
Source: TLC Book Tours
Here is a synopsis of Terrible Virtue from Goodreads

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 twentieth 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 free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen 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.

My Review

I picked this one up because I’d heard of Margaret Sanger and wanted to know more about her. Her works is especially relevant with the headlines about Planned Parenthood in the news recently. I also liked the cover; I could sit and stare at it for a long time. The book was a quick read and I learned quite a bit about the history of contraception freedom. It is difficult to fathom that a person could be charged with a federal crime and imprisoned for many years simply because she sent a pamphlet explaining how to avoid pregnancy through the U.S. mail! It is even harder to realize how relatively recently this all took place.  Having read this book, I can really appreciate the work that Margaret Sanger did on behalf of women.

Having said that, I really didn’t like Margaret Sanger the person very much at all. In this book she came across as self-centered and somewhat oblivious to the feelings of other people — notably her husband and children. While her dedication to her cause was admirable, a lot of people were left hurt in her wake. She was tireless in her work for her cause, but it may have been better had she opted out of marriage and children rather than left her family neglected. However, I truly don’t think Margaret was aware enough of the feelings of those close to her to realize she was neglecting them.

One thing that would have enhanced my experience with this book would have been an ‘author’s notes’ section explaining the author’s inspiration for writing about various events in the story that separated fact from fiction. The book paints Margaret in a very bad light at times, with letters from her sister, children, husbands and lovers, explaining how her actions hurt them and I’m not sure how much of this is based on fact. Either way, I’m glad that the author has chosen to give recognition to Margaret Sanger and the work she did to benefit women. Read this one; it’s a story young women today need to know.

About Ellen Feldman

Ellen Feldman, a 2009 Guggenheim Fellow, is the author of five previous novels, including Scottsboro, which was shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, andNext to Love. She lives in New York City.

For more information on Ellen and her work, please visit her website,

My Rating:   ✰✰✰     3 Stars

This book review is included in a tour by TLC Book Tours. I was provided a copy for review purposes.

Ellen’s Tour Stops
Tuesday, March 22nd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, March 23rd: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 24th: Bibliotica
Friday, March 25th: Books on the Table
Monday, March 28th: A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, March 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Thursday, March 31st: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 4th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, April 5th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, April 7th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, April 11th: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, April 12th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 13th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, April 14th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, April 14th: Literary Feline

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  1. It is always interesting to me to learn about the private side of people who have made an impact on the world ... that private side isn't always what I expect.

    Thanks for being a part of the tour!

  2. I really enjoyed learning from this book too :) I can't remember where Margaret Sanger's husband was, but I do wonder why he didn't do more taking care of the children. I agree she probably shouldn't have gotten married, since it seems she and her husband expected far different things from marriage, but in retrospect I'm not sure this book wasn't a bit too hard her on her over her daughter's death when her husband could have done more for their children too.