Naked Truth, or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit is based on real life sisters Victoria Claflin Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin Cook. They were spiritualists, activists and opportunists. Researching another project, I stumbled across them, quite by accident. They were the central characters in a mighty biography by Barbara Goldsmith, entitled Other Powers. I found them exhilarating and heartbreaking and wiley and unknowable.
Their indomitable spirits captured my heart and I have been in their thrall ever since. These were flawed, real women who were delusional and filled with hubris one moment only to have charm and charisma in abundance the next. Reading about them, I recognized their attributes instantly, for they were qualities I grew up around. My mother, like Victoria and Tennessee as well as so many American women, was a survivor and completely self-invented.
Usually considered footnotes in history, Victoria and Tennessee achieved notoriety in the 1870’s as stockbrokers, newspaper publishers and political activists, culminating with Victoria’s candidacy for President of the United States in 1872. What is remarkable is that this was 50 years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment, at a time when a woman could not vote nor hold elective office. She could not establish credit in her own name, have access to birth control, nor could she prosecute her husband for domestic abuse. Upon marriage, she was his property and expected to humbly submit to all his demands. But Victoria and Tennessee were American mavericks, and they rejected those laws.
In her 1871 speech on the Principles of Social Freedom, Victoria uttered the words, "Yes, I am a free lover. I have an inalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love everyday if I please, and with that right, neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere."
Wow. That's pretty strong stuff, coming WAAAAY Before Virginia Slims, or Gloria Steinem or Cosmopolitan Magazine. It strikes a chord, deep inside, that is exquisitely carved into women's DNA. Just consider for a moment, how almost every other story about the female experience concerns a woman who leaves her role as nurturer/ helpmate/ subordinate to claim her wild, untameable autonomous self. It is the hero's journey for a female protagonist. Will she step into her power, or won't she?
Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Claflin exploded onto the scene in 1869. They were famous for being famous, not unlike the Kardashians today. Beautiful, female and really rich. But that was only at first glance. One comes across journal entries of those who met the sisters at the time, and really didn't take to them, or else those who were caught, under their spell and dazzled by their charisma. In those days, it was acceptable for a woman's name to appear in print on three occasions. When she was born, when she was married and when she died.
But Victoria and Tennessee networked with a proficiency only imaginable by today's PR standards. They knew everyone and went everywhere and were in the newspaper, all the time.
Then, things began to go horribly wrong. And the demise of Victoria's presence on the national stage was swift and irrevocable. It involved adultery, it involved the press, it involved dark family secrets.
After everything was undone, Susan B Anthony ensured that Victoria (and her sister Tennessee) were all but removed from the story of the American feminist movement.
Learning about them, I came to understand that some of their narrative is actually about how women would prefer to devour their own (ie other women), rather than be exposed by one of their kind who is not deemed respectable(or acceptable or presentable). Another part of it has to do with the progressive socialist movement of that time, as it pushed against the accepted cruelties of the early nineteenth century. I mean, how many of us know that the idea that children should work only 8 hours a day, and not seven days a week, was considered radical, if not subversive? Think about that. Victoria also subscribed to the view held by Warren Buffet, Bill Gates and other profoundly wealthy people today, that inherited wealth was not a good thing.
Ultimately- the sisters become metaphors for what is possible and what is a pipedream. I wrote the book with the hope of breathing new life into their story and to inspire its readers, if only a tiny bit, to take chances and to attempt incredible things. After all, at the end of the day, it doesn't matter whether one's efforts go unheralded. Incredible things are still worth doing.
After 1877, Victoria and Tennessee spent the rest of their lives in Britain. Loving them as I do, I will be giving them a sequel. Victoria assumed some views which are now considered reprehensible, and I struggle with how I'll take a closer look. But both of them followed a path which closely aligns itself with the formula of the romance novel. And honestly, who doesn't love a good romance? Much thanks to NN Light for featuring Naked Truth!
Title Naked Truth or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit
Author Carrie Hayes
Genre Historical Fiction
Publisher HTPH Press
Following the Civil War, from Washington Heights to Washington DC, comes a true American Herstory. Filled with Intrigue, Lust and Betrayal, this is the fight for sexual rights.
“Divisiveness. Chutzpah. Seduction. Politics. Oppression. Spirituality. Gender relations. Betrayal. Healers -vs- scam artists. Fortitude. Dismay. Against-all-odds battles. Fighting the good fight. Just like the plight of humanity today, the historical and excellently well-crafted novel, NAKED TRUTH: OR EQUALITY THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Carrie Hayes has it all. ***** Indie Reader
Hyde Park, January 1869
Floor to ceiling books run the length of the room and are accessible by means of a ladder. Two winged chairs face the fireplace, their backs to the rest of the library, in the center of which is a round table with a large bowl of oranges. Whistling under her breath, Tennessee begins to search the Roosevelt collection and climbs a few rungs up the ladder.
“Ah, Miss Claflin, fancy you’re being a reader.” He does have the same voice as the Commodore. She turns to face William Vanderbilt. If she descends the ladder, he will loom over and put her at a disadvantage. She descends two rungs and puts herself at his eye level.
“Yes, I always strive to learn things should the opportunity lend itself.”
“Really, to what end, pray?”
“Well, if I learn enough, perhaps I might become a writer.”
At this, he throws back his head and laughs. With some dismay, she observes it’s very much like his father’s laugh.
Wiping at his eyes and nose with his handkerchief, he answers. “Miss Claflin, are you familiar with psychology?”
“Please, enlighten me.” Tennessee smiles, noting how Cornelius Vanderbilt’s jaw is chiseled and strong, while his son William has lambchop sideburns to augment a weak chin.
“It’s a science concerned with one’s character. Once you’ve acquainted yourself with psychology, you’ll discover that the nature of your association with my father indicates you have a licentious susceptibility. Whilst you may refrain from the expression thereof, it is nevertheless in your character and is immutable, making you forever enslaved thereof as well. A very unfortunate position from which a woman, such as yourself, might struggle to be a writer, Miss Claflin.”
“I so wish you’d call me Tennie, as your father has insisted that I do call you Billy.”
His nonsense is impossible to follow, so she says again, “Billy.”
Does he recognize her from the street outside the apothecary?
“Ah yes, Tennie.” He clears his throat. “So, as to your becoming a writer and whether my father might support you in such endeavors, I have it on good authority, he doesn’t give much thought to you doing anything other than seeing to his comfort. That’s certainly the consensus of my sisters.”
She waits for him to leave, but he makes no sign of moving, so she says, “I must continue in my search for a book. Heaven forbid someone mistake me for being an illiterate from Red Light Lizzie’s.”
She catches the faint glimmer of recognition on William Vanderbilt’s face. “Perhaps I’ll read something to do with psychology. Billy.”
Tennessee turns to face the bookcase and climbs a few rungs so her bustle will be at his eye level. She moves her backside just so, wiggling it for good measure. She looks over her shoulder at him. “Oh! Excuse me, I thought you were gone.”
Having been caught in the act, the scarlet William Vanderbilt beats a hasty retreat.
“HA!” Another male voice laughs. Oh, no, she realizes someone else had been in the room. Slowly, she turns around. The ginger-haired man from the balloon stands up from the winged chair. “He is such a horse’s ass!” he exclaims.
Unnerved, Tennessee wonders why her heart seems to be fluttering. The ginger haired man had not been present at lunch nor the previous day. He adds, “Well, I’ll say this. There’s nothing worse than the repressed lust of a God-fearing bully, what.”
“That’s quite true.” Tennessee descends the ladder.
“You want to write?” He hands her a large magazine. “Give this a gander.”
“I am afraid I do not know—”
“James Gordon Bennett.” He bows. Now her heart is hammering. She can sense that his is, too. She says nothing.
James Gordon Bennett straightens himself up and adds softly, “Junior.” He helps himself to an orange, then bites into it through the skin. He says, “If you want to make someone like Billy Vanderbilt feel it in the balls, just write about him. That’s how you get them.”
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I’m one of the authors participating in the Spooky Halloween Bookish Giveaway and you can win a print copy of Naked Truth by Carrie Hayes (US only).
Runs October 1 - 31 and is open internationally for most prizes.
Winners will be drawn on November 2, 2020.
Over the years, Carrie has tried a lot of things. She’s sold vacuum cleaners, annuities and sofas. She’s lived at the beach and she lived in Europe. She’s taught school and worked in film. For a while, she was an aspiring librarian, but she fell in love and threw her life away instead. Back in the States, she started over, and met an architect who said, “Why don’t you become a kitchen designer?” So, she did. Eventually she designed interiors, too. And all that time, she was reading. What mattered was having something to read. Slowly, she realized her craving for books sprang from her need to know how things would turn out. Because in real life, you don’t know how things will turn out. But if you write it, you do. Naked Truth or Equality the Forbidden Fruit is her first book.