VICKY by M. M. Marberry


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The lady is a constant footnote in the history of post-Civil War America. Two biographies at once are probably one too many for most general collections, especially when both are at the popular level. Marberry assumes more knowledge on the part of the average reader than Johnston does, although the sociographic method Johnston used in Runaway to Heaven: the story of Harriet Beecher Stowe has been modified. Johnston expends more space on V. C. W.'s early years, demented family circle, mentors and millieu than Marberry does. Johnston's is the more sympathetic portrait. Marberry evidently had more difficulty arriving at an attitude toward the subject. From the start, Johnston acknowledges that this was a siren with principles. Marberry condescends, rarely granting V. C. W. a status beyond that of the successful adventuress. (One small but indicative proof of this is the way each author refers to the subject: to Marberry she is occasionally ""Vicky"" and latterly ""The Woodhull""; to Johnston, ""Victoria"" or named in full.) Johnston is the more persuasive, with more cautious assessments of the contemporary partisans and virulent newspaper accounts. Apparently, nobody could be indifferent to Mrs. Woodhull; she was beautiful and she stood on the farther shore of every issue she was involved in. This makes for a strong image during a lifetime and a beartrap for biographers. Mrs. Woodhull started out from Ohio as a girl medium during the craze for spiritualism and this led to Cornelius Vanderbilt eventually. He set her up with her sister as the first lady broker on Wall St. and by 1870 she had started Woodhull and Claflin's Weekly with her equally daring and beautiful sister, Tennessee. She published the first American edition of Marx's Manifesto, ran for President in 1872, ripped the lid off the Hency Ward Beecher adultery scandal, was considered the model for Audacia Danger-eyes in Harriet B. Stowe's satiric novel, My Wife and I, and made it to Congress to plead for woman's suffrage when less well endowed warhorses of the movement had never been invited. Add to all this a most outspoken crusader for sexual freedom and you've got a corking kookie wonder. But something more than a licentious adventuress. A lady to be judged in terms of her times. Johnston seems to do this better, with a fuller explication of the social forces that obtained, the pressures that finally drove her to re-examine orthodox religion and retire into embattled respectability as the wife of a prominent English banker. 1838 to 1927, from lady rip to R.I.P.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1967
Publisher: Funk & Wagnalls