I’ve read a great deal about Wonder Woman’s creation over the years. I consider myself well versed in the facts about William Moulton Marston’s life. So I was a little put off by the title of Jill Lepore’s new book, “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” as I didn’t really think there were any secrets left. Turns out I was wrong, in fact Lepore’s intrepid research and fresh perspective changed my view a great deal on this man, his life and his creation.
Much has been said of Marston’s unique living arrangements with his wife and mistress and their collective raising of their children. Olive is often referred to as the woman who inspired Wonder Woman but it’s not as simple as that. In creating a heroine to show the world the power of women he was aiming to show that women were not inferior and “to inspire young girls to self confidence and achievement in athletics, occupations and professions monopolized by men”. She was “the suffragist as pin-up”.
Lepore doesn’t just stay at the surface level. She was able to get full cooperation from the family and so can paint a far more complete picture. Marston’s seemingly modern lifestyle was far more patriarchal than other books have depicted. With the women supporting him financially and domestically, while he pursued his academic and creative endeavors. The book is really far more about him and his family than Wonder Woman. She doesn’t even show up until the last third of the book, but it is all laying the foundation for her creation and the motivations behind it. There is also far more discussion in this than in other books about the push back the publishing company received about the endless scenes of women in bondage and their negative effect on children. They even received mail from a few self-confessed fans of such bondage, applauding the imagery.
Intriguingly she has more of a clear view of Marston’s take on these scenes and the overall theme of women being bound, “This, my dear friend, is the one truly great contribution of my Wonder Woman strip to moral education of the young. The only hope for peace is to teach young people who are full of pep and unbound force to enjoy being bound-enjoy submission to kind authority, wise authority, not merely tolerate such submission. Wars will only cease when humans enjoy being bound“.
I truly enjoyed this book. The scholarship that went into it made it the most complete portrait of the man who came up with this iconic character I’ve read to date. Lepore digs down to the deepest levels of the family history to explore what made him tick and what motivated him to create the iconic character who is still idolized today by scores of comic readers and non comic readers alike.
I’m giving “The Secret History of Wonder Woman” 5 out of 5 stars. It’s immensely readable and utterly fascinating.