I should have stopped reading this book at this sentence: “The plain, practical Puritan and the gin-nipping flapper; robust Rosie the Riveter and waifish, wraith-like Twiggy; the billowing, buxom Gibson Girl and the beaded, barefoot earth mother…..” I’ll just stop there because I’m already angry and my brain hurts.
I DNFed this book after page 100 because I just couldn’t take the alliteration anymore. It was like Dr. Seuss decided to leave children’s books behind and take on feminist non-fiction. Although I think Dr. Seuss could have done it better because he would have kept his opinions of the characters off the page long enough for me to form my own opinion. He also would have footnoted and given an author bio. But I digress….
Wild Women is a compilation of stories depicting the types of women who didn’t fit into the typical Victorian stereotype. Which sounds like it should be amazing, right? WRONG. At its best, this is a coffee table book of funny oddities and historical tid-bits that no one’s sure are hearsay or truth. At its worst, it’s a poorly researched and judgmental homage to the women society likes to push under the rug. The book is broken into chapters that use so much alliteration it hurts the soul: “Flamboyant Flirts and Lascivious Libertines,” “Audacious Artists and Ad Hoc Architects,” Totally Triumphant Travelers.” Maybe the author thought it was cute? Or tongue in cheek? But then you get to the actual stories, and each woman is only given about a page’s worth of space that’s so riddled by adjectives you can’t see the research for the words. Stephens doesn’t give a lot of room to shove in a whole lifetime of living against the grain, and the stories were so colored by her obvious judgement about any of these women’s life choices that it was impossible to interpret who these women actually were.
They don’t read like real people. They read like sensationalized tabloids. She calls Harriet Tubman a personal trainer, Lizzie Borden’s the Hatchet-Job Heiress, and Nellie Cashman is reduced to “A Totally Excellent Babe.” The excerpts are all too short to really give any decent information about each of the women, and for the ones I’d already heard about, the details Stephens chose to harp on for 500 words weren’t actually the most important or telling about the woman’s life and accomplishments.
If you’re interested in reading about fantastic women who didn’t fit the Victorian mold, read The Scarlet Sisters instead.