Sara Dowse

Reflections on Wonder Woman - by Sara Dowse

Sara Dowse, award-winning author of 'As The Lonely Fly', reflects on 'The Secret History of Wonder Woman' by Jill Lepore. the-secret-history-of-wonder-womanIt would be no exaggeration to say that books have made my life. Through them I’ve travelled to foreign lands and met a wide range of people of different backgrounds and experiences.  And long ago, because of what Aldous Huxley once wrote about the need to give back to literature some small measure of what the wealth of literature has contributed, I began writing articles and reviews and stories and eventually published books of my own.  A drop in the ocean, yes, but it’s interesting to me how one thing leads to another, and then to another and yet another, especially in the world of books.

Back in 1987 Arthur Miller, the distinguished American playwright, published his autobiography, Timebends.  Miller was of my parents’ generation, and shared many of their experiences. Though exempted from military service owing to an injured kneecap, he worked in the navy shipyards during the second world war.  But his best friend Joe was killed during the war, and this had a profound impact on him.  Surprisingly, it also had a connection with me.  Reading Timebends, I learned that Joe’s parents owned the drugstore on 97th and Madison in Manhattan, and after Joe’s death Miller often visited them there.

timebendsIt so happens that this was the very drugstore that my best friend Susie Shechter and I frequented as often as we could.   It’s even possible that we went when Miller was there, though how could we have known?  We went there because that particular drugstore had the largest selection of comic books in the neighbourhood, and Susie and I were crazy about comics.

Susie’s father was a public defender and so, like Miller, was also exempted from the draft.  He and his wife and daughter lived in a very modest yet modern one-room apartment which was divided into sections by four white floor-to-ceiling columns.  There was no privacy to speak of, but Susie and I lived in a world of our own.  Propped against the column that marked out her space – her bed, a wardrobe and a small wooden desk – were neat stacks of comic books almost as high as we were.  These were Susie’s treasures, which she eagerly shared with me.  We especially loved the Archie comics; Sheena, Queen of the Jungle; and, most prized of all, Wonder Woman.  Every weekend and after school we sat cross-legged on her parents’ polished floor and devoured every one we could find in the pile.

There were no Wonder Woman movies then, or television shows.  There were only her comics and the regular newspaper strip that appeared in ‘the funnies’ on Sundays.  She first appeared in 1942, the year before my friendship with Susie blossomed in the kindergarten class at P.S. No. 6 in Manhattan.  By that time the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor and America was in the war. Looking back on that idyllic comic heaven, I came to believe that Wonder Woman was somehow connected with the war effort.

Well, she was, and she wasn’t.

If it’s hardly surprising that a generation of little girls like Susie Shechter and me grew up as feminism’s so-called ‘second wave’, it’s odd that Wonder Woman’s creator was a man.  I did learn that she was the brainchild of a male psychologist with undoubted feminist sympathies, but not much was else was known about him.  Then in 2016, Jill Lepore, an historian of note and New Yorker staff writer, published her fascinating study, The Secret History of Wonder Woman.  The book, with its many illustrations from the comic, takes us through Wonder Woman’s complex genealogy to her birth in 1942.  According to Lepore, Wonder Woman’s origins are clearly embedded in the suffragist movement, but again, paradoxically, the focus of her history is a man.  So who was this liberated father of Wonder Woman – who, in effect, was her modern Zeus?

William Moulton Marston was born in New England with the proverbial silver spoon in his mouth.  His father had inherited the large faux-ancestral home called Moulton Castle, and the family’s wealth came from manufacturing fine woollen cloth for men’s suits. In a household of sisters, Marston was his mother’s cherished only son, and his feminism can be attributed in part to that.  He never stopped loving women, or believing that once they were released from their patriarchal chains the world could only improve.  He was one of those men whom today we call ‘champions’, a David Morrison of his time.  But unlike our champions, who appear to seep respectability from every pore (Morrison is a retired Australian Army chief), Marston was a true maverick – libertarian, bohemian, polymath and eccentric all rolled into one.

In America of the early 1900s, psychology was new and influential.  At Harvard, where Marston got his undergraduate degree, psychology was an offshoot of the philosophy department, where it had gained prominence under the aegis of Henry James’s older brother William.  At first Marston was an indifferent student, a campus playboy, but psychology lit a spark in him and soon became his passion.  Even before graduating he perfected what is credited as the world’s first lie detector test, which traced telling fluctuations in a subject’s systolic blood pressure.  More of this to come.

Marston’s wife, Sadie Elizabeth Holloway, later known as Betty Marston, was a feminist and a suffragist – a New Woman, as some called it, and a friend of hers was the niece of the birth control campaigner Margaret Sanger.  But as Lepore explains:

New Women like Sadie Holloway held every expectation of

political equality with men.  They expected to control their

fertility, to forge relations of equality with the men they

married, if they chose to marry, and to rise to the top of

their professions, whether or not they also chose to have

children. Quite how all this could be accomplished was

less clear; apparently, equality with men required servants,

equality for the few.’

 

As Lepore unravels his feminist connections, it soon becomes obvious that Marston’s relations with women were not all strictly platonic.  At some stage in his married life, his home became a menage à trois, which was one solution to Betty’s predicament, but may have been problematic for the woman who did the dusting.  More so perhaps for one of his children, who grew up unaware that the man he knew as Bill was actually his father.  For all this, the arrangement seems to have been a successful one, if for many years a tightly held secret.

William Marston was energetic and ambitious, but his professional life faltered as he overextended himself.  Ructions in the Harvard philosophy faculty and his arguably ill-judged involvement in a landmark legal case led to his arrest for fraud and, despite his qualifications, the loss of permanent work.  For the rest of his life what living he made was patchy. His enthusiasms were varied; his resourcefulness was a marvel. While still a student at Harvard, he churned out scripts for the burgeoning movie industry.  After the war, with the proliferation of police departments and investigative agencies came a growing interest in lie detection.  But while Marston held great hopes for his invention, these were dashed when a newer and more sophisticated machine was adopted widely instead.  Then, in the thirties, as the world sped towards yet another war and Superman and Batman appeared on the scene to save us, Marston saw his chance.  Wonder Woman was born.

For a while, as she grew in popularity, up there with Superman and Batman in the comic stratosphere, she was Marston’s bread and butter, contributing to the maintenance of his burgeoning household.  But after the war, when women lost their wartime roles and found themselves restricted again to ‘home duties’, feminist superheroes went out of fashion and that source of cash went too. Fortunately Betty had never stopped working and was the main support for him and the children and at least one of his de facto partners until he died, aged fifty-three.

Jill Lepore has given us a thoughtful and compelling biography, and like the best biographies, the story goes beyond that of an extraordinary individual.  She shines a light onto a hidden facet of American life, and traces the way in which popular culture expresses, if simplistically or distortedly, its more serious social preoccupations and developments.  It took only a quarter of a century for Wonder Woman to make her comeback - when feminism itself burst out of the shadows in the 1970s.  If social forces set back the movement and the struggle for women’s rights lay dormant for a while, it never was entirely moribund.  Susie Schecter and I saw each other only once after I left New York and she came to visit me in California, years before I left again for Australia, and I have no idea what’s happened to her. But I haven’t the slightest doubt that she too became a lifelong feminist, riding the crest of that second wave, though I could never bring myself to watch Wonder Woman her on television, or a Wonder Woman movie.  Wonder Woman was my comic book inspiration, and that’s what she’ll always be for me.

Check out Sara's critically acclaimed masterpiece 'As The Lonely Fly'

 

The best holiday reads for Christmas, 2017

‘Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is a few days of peace and quiet and a pile of books….’  If you’re looking for the perfect gift, or a tender ‘treat yourself’ package for a few days of self-care, this list is designed as a Literate Lazy Susan for your biblio palette - or someone else’s.

first-personFor A Gorgeous Fictional Read - Richard Flanagan’s ‘First Person’ This is Tasmanian favourite Richard Flanagan’s return to fiction after his Mann Booker Prize Winner ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North’ in 2014. If you’ve never been treated to Flanagan’s prose you’re missing out on a delight, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint in First Person: compelling, comic and chilling.

A young writer is tasked with ghost writing the memoir of a con man, but the relationship between the two men morphs in surprising ways. It’s has the heft of a finely tuned literary work, while also being a stay-up-past-me-bed-time page-turner. It’s all the more thrilling for the allusions to Flanagan’s real-life early literary career.

 

 

lincoln-in-the-bardoFor An Audio Experience Like No Other - George Saunder’s ‘Lincoln In The Bardo’ The Mann Booker Prize for this year went to George Saunders’ Lincoln In The Bardo. A deserving win from a beautiful writer, Lincoln In The Bardo focuses on the sudden death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son, whose ghost is desperate to find a way home. It’s a funny, devastating and beautiful story, told from multiple points of view. At times, the book reads like a screenplay, as multiple character voices fight for themselves to be heard (or read).

This makes the audiobook a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, and may even be my preferred method of digesting this work. The all-star cast features Nick Offerman, David Sedaris, Megan Mullally, George Saunders himself, Lena Dunham, Miranda July and Carrie Brownstein. If you’re not a regular audiobook listener, this is the perfect title to get you hooked. (And it will prep you for all of the For Pity Sake titles that are about to be released.)

 

For A Self-Help Lover - Mark Manson’s ‘The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck’

the-subtle-art-of-not-giving-a-f-ckI’m hesitant to suggest a self-help book at Christmas time. It can be a perfect opportunity to pause, reflect and do some self-work, but it can also come across as a slightly insulting Christmas gift. (Hands up if you got The Magic Art of Tidying Up in your stocking last year. What were they trying to tell you, hmmm?) Worse, some self-help books come with enough homework and ‘programs’ that you end up in a navel-gazing existential crisis that’s only worsened by having to hang with your blood relatives during the festive season.

The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck is a refreshing change. Direct, readable, and filled with common sense, this book will remind you of the things really worth worrying about, making that awkward Christmas lunch a breeze. It’s also a great way to start a new year, and will make your resolutions more achievable and focused.

 

 

For the History Nut - Sara Dowse’s ‘As The Lonely Fly’

Yes, okay, admitted bias here. As The Lonely Fly is a For Pity Sake published title. But Sara Dowse’s new master work is something to behold. One reviewer described it as ‘writing of international importance’.

The book starts and ends in 1967 just after the Six Day War. This is significant because 2017 is the 50th anniversary of that war and the centennial of the Balfour Declaration in which Britain promised a national home to the Jewish people in Palestine.  The complex political background to the formation of Israel is instantly humanised by Dowse’s deft approach to the characterisation of three remarkable Russian Jewish women – a fearless revolutionary, an American immgrant and a devoted Zionist. It will keep you turning the pages.

 

For the Crime Lover - Dorothy Johnston’s ‘The Swan Island Connection’ Another For Pity Sake’s author, Dorothy Johnston, released the second in her ‘sea-change mystery’ series in 2017. The Swan Island Connection expands on the tales of Senior Constable Chris Blackie and his deputy, Constable Anthea Merritt, in her darkly charming crime novels set in the idyllic Victorian coast town of Queenscliff.

Local residents are disturbed by a shocking murder, but this is far from an open and shut case. Chris and Anthea uncover a long trail of deception linked to nearby Swan Island which houses a secret military training base. This is an intriguing novel with an artfully rendered sense of place, that will keep you guessing. Although it’s the second in the series, The Swan Island Connection is easily read as a stand-alone, or in partnership with its predecessor Through a Camel’s Eye. Both would make the perfect gift for the crime fiction fan.

 

 

illuminaeFor A Fun Space Trip - Amie Kauffman and Jay Kristoff’s ‘Illuminae’ Series

Okay, the two books in this series weren’t released this year, but the third, concluding part is to be released in 2018, and I can’t wait. This is, strictly speaking, a young adult series, but the genius behind this blockbuster means it has reach across all ages.

The space wars story that would be at home in a blockbuster film is told through e-mails, computer logs and other documents. The internal graphic design of these books is worth the price of admission alone, and elevate the work to a beautiful experience as much as a compelling one. Buy it for the non-reading teenager in your life, and grab a copy for yourself. You won’t be sorry.

Sara Dowse on the Inspiration Behind 'As the Lonely Fly'

It was a winter’s night in Canberra, 1974.  My American mother had come from sunny LA to help look after my kids, but she found Australia’s capital less than hospitable.   It was too cold and I was too busy.  The Whitlam government had just been re-elected after Gough had called a double dissolution.  It took two weeks to learn whether they were still in office or not.

I was the bureaucratic back-up to Elizabeth Reid, Whitlam’s women’s adviser, and we had a lot of work to do.  We were working to get a child care program up, finding funding for refuges and plans were afoot for the International Women’s Year program the following year.  We had done our best to make my mother feel welcome, but she was bored in the company of women.  We were going to change the world, but my mother had been around and had her doubts.  Would Australia become a feminist paradise?  She didn’t think so.  I did arrange for her to have dinner with Moss Cass, Whitlam’s environment minister, and she was happy with that, but she remained highly sceptical.  She was an actor, and had been blacklisted in the McCarthy years.  She was exasperated with our seeming naivete.

The kids had gone to bed, and we were trying to get warm in front of the house’s one oil heater.  (This was Canberra in the 70s.)  Suddenly my mother blurted out, ‘You women think you’re such hot shots.  You had an aunt who was a member of the Soviet Politburo!’

What?  I had never heard of this woman, but it turned out that she was one my grandfather’s sisters.  I had known the other two, but not this Lisa.  That was her name – Lisa Fich.  It also turned out that my mother had all her facts wrong.  Yet when I eventually did learn the story, I found it far more compelling than anything my mother had said.  Of course, her aunt had never been on the Politburo – no woman had.  And though my mother had said she was some kind of high-ranking apparatchik, that wasn’t true either.  What Lisa Fich was was a dedicated Zionist who went to Palestine after the first world war, changed her name from Lisa to Leah, and joined the G’dud Ha’Avodah, or Labour Battalion.   Even before the Battalion split into factions, she and some of her colleagues had joined the Communist party and in 1929 were sent back to Russia, where they set up a kolkhoz, Voya Nova, in the Crimea.

My dream was to write a biography of her, and I began by learning Russian, and saturating myself in Russian and Zionist history.  In my search for her story, I interviewed many people, including one who knew her when she was still alive.  But I was stymied on a couple of occasions – once, when I got to Israel and found that the Central Zionist Archives were closed for renovations; another time, in Moscow, when I was given a wrong lead and lost an opportunity to look for her in the recently opened Soviet archives. And because of changes in my personal life, I wasn’t able to travel anymore, so I finally decided to abandon my idea of a biography and write another novel.  This is As the Lonely Fly – my sixth.  The shorthand is that it took 25 years of research and writing, but there were many interruptions, including two other novels in the meantime.

Only last year, as this latest novel went to the printers, an Israeli friend found a mention of my great aunt.  She was listed as the G’dud’s delegate to the Histadrut conference sometime in the 1920s.  This would have been before the G’dud was ostracised by the Labor Zionists – Ben Gurion’s crowd.  I would like to follow this up, but it was clear almost from the beginning of my research that she and her comrades were dissidents who came to renounce the idea of a Jewish state.  Their reasons were partly ideological – they subscribed to Trotsky’s permanent revolution, to which they gave priority over nationalism – but the catalyst for their breaking with Political Zionism was what they saw what was happening to Arab labour.  With the advance of Jewish settlement, idealistic as it was, many Arabs lost their jobs, and they were as well excluded from the Histadrut.  For the first time in my life, I began to see, through this story, that the path that Herzl laid out for us was a very dangerous one indeed.  It was sobering to realise that there were many, including my grandfather’s sister, who saw that right from the beginning.

Now, some say, we have the fact on the ground - Israel is a nation, a Jewish state, and it’s far too late to question the wisdom of its creation.  But my answer to this is that knowing that there were paths not taken can help us find a way out of the very grave situation the Jewish-privileged state is in.  I have come to believe that we in the Diaspora have a very important role to play in this; we need to probe our consciences and recognise our responsibilities.  There is, in my opinion, no escaping this.

As the Lonely Fly is a novel, not a polemic.  The characters throw light on the complexity of the situation and, through them, various perspectives are explored, each of them with sympathy and understanding.  The story is the story, and it’s a big one – bigger than you or me – but the Jewish tradition that I was raised in was, above all, a tradition of justice, and I’m very proud of that.   But I have had to ask myself, where does justice lie now?


 

 

Sara Dowse's As the Lonely Fly is available for sale from our website today.

'As the Lonely Fly' - Audio Teaser!

Sara Dowse’s new blockbuster, historical saga As The Lonely Fly, has been enjoying rave reviews. We’re thrilled to announce that As The Lonely Fly will be one of many titles coming to For Pity Sake’s line of audio books very soon. Read by our very own CEO and founder, Jennifer McDonald, As The Lonely Fly tells the breath-taking story of three sisters separated by the surge of history’s tide. Listen to the first chapter below for free! And if you can’t wait to hear the rest, you can buy the paperback right now!

[audio mp3="http://forpitysake.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Chapter-One_ATLF.mp3"][/audio]

'As the Lonely Fly' - Book Launch

On the 24th of June, For Pity Sake Publishing was proud to launch the latest Sara Dowse's latest novel, As the Lonely FlyLaunched at Gleebooks by Australian Historian and Academic, Lyndall Ryan. The launch date for As the Lonely Fly coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six Day War and the subsequent occupation of Palestinian territories.This novel tells the story of three remarkable women – an American immigrant, an ardent Israeli and a fearless revolutionary – delineating their separately evolving views on the creation of the Jewish state and its impact on the Arab inhabitants.

In conjunction with Tin Cat Productions, For Pity Sake Publishing has put together a video of the launch of this exciting work of political and historical fiction:

[embed]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E9uAaUeMwU8[/embed]

For Pity Sake Publishing and the author of As the Lonely Fly, Sara Dowse, would like to extend out thanks to everyone who came to the launch and made this day such a success! You can purchase your own copy of this powerful work of fiction from our website today.

Praise for 'As the Lonely Fly'

For Pity Sake’s latest title, As the Lonely Fly by Sara Dowse, is set to be released in June 2017. Review copies of this phenomenal work were sent to a distinguished list late last year and recently we’ve received several, very positive responses. Robert Hefner, Literary Editor of the Canberra Times (1988-2000) had this to say: 

"Twenty-five years in the making, As the Lonely Fly represents the distillation of Sara Dowse’s talent. It is a work that unfolds with beauty and depth, magnificently imagined, sweeping in its scope and scale, like a classic Russian novel. This is writing of international importance, never sentimental, always in control, even in the passages that reveal evil at its basest and most banal. A poignant insight into the lives of three women whose personal lives are entwined in the creation of the modern Israeli state, As the Lonely Fly is, above all, an impassioned cry for humanity to heed the call of those still being displaced from their homelands."

 As the Lonely Fly is now available for pre-release purchase from our store. Order your copy now to ensure you're one of the first to receive this astonishing novel hot off the press this June.