A gossipy history zooms in on six women who broke society's rules for their own ends.
The choice of subjects by Scott (Coke: The Biography, 2013, etc.) is eclectic at best and puzzling at worst. Disregarding chronology, he bounces freely through history, awarding some of his subjects a couple of chapters and others a single one, seemingly arbitrarily. The volume opens with Victoria Woodhull, a spiritualist and advocate of free love who announced her run for the presidency of the United States in the 19th century, long before women got the vote. The author then jumps back to the 18th century for a couple dozen pages on Mary Wollstonecraft, best known as the author of A Vindication of the Rights of Women. In a chapter entitled “Holy-Rolling in Carmel Love Nest,” Scott moves on to the early-20th-century life of controversial and wildly popular preacher Aimee Semple McPherson. Coco Chanel and Edwina Mountbatten, wife to the last viceroy of India, also come in for scrutiny. Most perplexing is Scott’s inclusion of Margaret Argyll, whose sole claim to fame seems to be that she was at the center of a divorce that kept the British tabloids busy in the 1960s. The author’s technique is to compile the work of earlier biographers into a brisk, conversational survey of each subject's life, with occasional asides on such topics as nymphomania and the women of the French Revolution. He writes with verve; if he doesn't have much new to say, he says it with style, and his fascination with his subjects is infectious. Scott offers neither an introduction nor a conclusion to the volume, so readers are left to draw their own conclusions about what connections he sees between these disparate lives and why he has chosen these six rather than some other set of women.
A scattered, unpretentious introduction to figures readers may be tempted to investigate further.