Journalist Patricia Miller tells the story of Madeline Pollard, an unlikely nineteenth-century women’s rights crusader. After an affair with a prominent politician left her 'ruined,' Pollard brought the man―and the hypocrisy of America’s control of women’s sexuality―to trial. And, surprisingly, she won.
Miller follows the twists and turns of the case, giving a blow-by-blow account of the trial that initially has the pace of a TV procedural before crawling through a thicket of detail. Mostly, though, her book is a lucid guide to a story that became far more consequential than the titillation supplied by its salacious bits ... What Miller depicts so well are the larger cultural changes that bore down on the case, even if whatever emancipation was set in motion remains unfinished still.
Miller’s compelling account is both shockingly relevant and a grim reminder that, when it comes to double standards, we haven’t advanced all that far since the Victorian era ... Miller documents the trial vividly, pulling details from stories that dominated nearly every newspaper in the country for weeks ... It’s an empowering tale, and Miller makes a convincing case that Pollard’s cultural contribution was significant and lasting, helping pave the way toward gender equality. Obviously it didn’t get us all the way there. But reading her story now could bring us closer.
... tantalizing and beautifully researched ... Miller spends a significant amount of time providing historical and societal context, relaying fascinating anecdotes that illuminate the evolution of the sexual double standard and the difficulty of Pollard’s endeavor ... A diverse and intriguing cast of characters rounds out Pollard’s saga, and Miller does an admirable job bringing them to vivid life ... Miller deftly sorts through [the he-said-she-said allegations], but one wishes she had re-created the more cinematic events as they happened, giving the narrative a Rashomon-like quality that highlighted the drama while examining the often subjective nature of truth.