This amazingly good debut novel by Eva Flynn stars Victoria Woodhull, a figure so outrageous and improbable that most of Flynn’s readers will be tempted at first to think she’s an invention of the author. And yet, no! Woodhull, publisher, stockbroker, Suffragette, Communist, and the first female presidential candidate in American history (her running mate was Frederick Douglass), was a very real figure and a regular headline-grabber in the 19th-century United States.
Flynn embarks on the story of this remarkable woman with unabashed enthusiasm, giving us her upbringing, her loves, her controversies, and the controversies that attended this figure Flynn calls a “forgotten feminist.”
As the book progresses, readers become acutely aware of the fact that the “forgotten” part was not an accident: in a delightful twist, the villain of the book turns out to be none other than Susan B. Anthony, who seeks for a variety of reasons to blot Woodhull from history.
Flynn’s storytelling is so energetic and her characters so vividly drawn that in addition to being eye-opening on many levels (especially in light of the fact that the United States may well be about to elect its first female President), it is also a page-turner.
A fictional account examines one of the most notorious women in 19th-century America.
In this debut novel, Flynn hews closely to historical facts as she tells the story of Victoria Woodhull, a suffragist and reformer who worked as a fraudulent clairvoyant, opened a Wall Street brokerage with her sister, spent time in jail on obscenity charges, and ran for president in 1872. The book opens with Victoria’s abuse-filled childhood, which she escaped through marrying Canning Woodhull at the age of 14. Canning’s neglect and morphine addiction eventually lead Victoria to divorce him and marry James Blood, a Civil War veteran depicted as the great passion of her life. (Little is known about Blood, and biographies of Woodhull are contradictory; an author’s note addresses the book’s adherence to the historical record.) Victoria and James are as passionate about revolution as they are about each other and advocate for Marxism and women’s rights, though Victoria’s embrace of free love puts her at odds with suffrage leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. Despite their love for each other, Victoria and James learn that moral and policy victories make personal happiness difficult, and Victoria is on her own as she leaves to build a new life in England. Flynn turns a history with no shortage of drama into compelling fiction, with a vivid setting and strong secondary characters, particularly Victoria’s unfiltered younger sister and frequent sidekick, Tennessee: “My sister,” Tennessee says, “prefers martyrdom. As for me, I do not want the nails in my hands. I have beautiful, smooth hands. Want to feel?” Although the dialogue is occasionally unpolished, Flynn’s prose is often insightful, pithily capturing Victoria’s defining sense of mission (“Mediocrity’s foe and the ugly virgin have joined forces to give the woman the right to vote”). The woman known to the tabloids of her era as “Mrs. Satan” is rendered as both driven and flawed, a fully realized character who will keep readers turning the pages.
A multilayered biographical novel that explores the career and scandal of Victoria Woodhull.
Review Posted Online: March 31st, 2016
Reviewed by Ica Iova for Readers' Favorite
Growing up, Victoria Woodhull — the sixth of ten children — knew nothing but abuse at the hands of her father, poverty, and all sorts of dysfunctional family ties. Her first marriage proves even worse than the family she was born into. In spite of being abused, she becomes very vocal about her opinions where women’s rights are concerned. She becomes an advocate of free love, by which she means the freedom to marry, divorce, and bear children without government interference. Then she meets handsome Civil War General James Blood, whose support encourages Victoria to fight for women’s rights. Named after the English monarch, Victoria lives in an era where women belonged in the kitchen, barefoot and pregnant, but her determination earns her a nomination for President of the United States in 1872 before women could even vote. But when Victoria adopts James’s radical ideas, she finds herself facing prejudice and prosecution. Eventually, her perseverance forces her and James to choose between their newly discovered love and their duties to their country.
Set against the backdrop of early America, Renegade Queen by Eva Flynn is one of the best historical novels I’ve had the pleasure to read in years, a page turner of strong characters who stand up for what they think is right, in spite of the costs. Eva Flynn has done her research. She skillfully textures history with engaging dialogue. She doesn't shy away from controversy. Engaging, realistic, historically accurate, it captivates the reader and makes the story memorable. I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was surprised to find out that there was a woman running for president back when women did not have the right to vote. Five stars.
Omega Press is proud to announce that the 2016 IPPY Gold Medal for Adult Fiction has been awarded to The Renegade Queen by Eva Flynn. The Renegade Queen tells the true story of Victoria Woodhull, the first woman to run for President, and her rivalry with Susan B. Anthony.
The "IPPY" Awards, launched in 1996 by Indepedent Publisher, are designed to bring increased recognition to the deserving but often unsung titles published by independent authors and publishers.