Harvard’s Jill Lepore is surprised to find herself the author of a book on Wonder Woman.Historians in the News
tags: Jill Lepore, Wonder Woman
Jill Lepore is surprised to find herself the author of a book on Wonder Woman. “I’m not a fan, I don’t have a Wonder Woman obsession,” the Harvard history professor and staff writer for The New Yorker says over the phone. “I completely backed into this project.”
To be fair, The Secret History of Wonder Woman is hardly about Diana Prince and her magic lasso at all; instead, Lepore mostly investigates the deep and unlikely background of Wonder Woman through examining her progenitor, a conflicted male misandrist, inventor, and, perhaps, charlatan named William Moulton Marston.
“I was giving a series of lectures at the NY Public Library on the history of privacy, and, unrelated to that, I was writing a talk for the Yale Law School on the history of evidence,” Lepore explains when I ask her why Wonder Woman. “For both of these lectures, I kept bumping into the name William Moulton Marston.”
Had he not written the first scripts for Wonder Woman in the early 1940s — he sold the idea for the strip to Max Gaines at EC comics as a corrective to the “bloodcurdling masculinity” of most comics available then — Marston would be known primarily for the work he did in the 1910s, as the inventor of the lie-detector test. “Which is a really interesting development in the history of privacy — the relationship between privacy and technology was on a pivot right then,” Lepore says.
Because Marston was both a lawyer and a psychologist (in the relatively early days of the latter discipline, no less!) his experiments with deception tie in to what Lepore describes as previously “missing pieces of 20th-century American political history.” Add to that his unlikely connection to Margaret Sanger and Ethel Byrne, the radical feminist sisters who founded Planned Parenthood, and you’ve got perhaps one of the juiciest works of social history in recent memory...
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