SCANDALOUS LADY: The Life and Times of Madame Restell, New York's Most Notorious Abortionist by Allan Keller

SCANDALOUS LADY: The Life and Times of Madame Restell, New York's Most Notorious Abortionist

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KIRKUS REVIEW

A book that should have been a chapter: Keller (Life Along The Hudson, etc.) pads out the sketchy life-history of mid-19th-century abortionist Madame Restell with blandly recycled social history, repetitious speculations, and superficial analysis. Born Anna Trow in 1812 England, she married, emigrated, was widowed, married again, and by the late 1830s was advertising as ""Madame Restell, female physician"" (with a mail-order sideline in ""infallible French female pills""). Business thrived--with both rich and poor clients; Madame Restell's knowledge of secret scandals protected her; she was tried and convicted once, in 1847 (the proceedings are excessively detailed here); but after that ""greed drove her to continue,"" and she did so for about 30 more years. . . until reformer Anthony Comstock stalked her--resulting in her grisly suicide. Unfortunately, nothing in Keller's thin portrait of Madame R. prepares us for this melodramatic finale. (His insights are on the level of: ""a psychiatrist trying to create her character might ask if she had not been led to serve the poor out of a sense of fairness."") And neither the limp comments on Society's culpability nor the historical digressions (N.Y. vice, the over-familiar Woodhull/Beecher saga) disguise the paucity of substance. A few curious particulars for fanciers of period shadiness, then, but essentially negligible.

Pub Date: Sept. 30th, 1981
Publisher: Atheneum