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The Secret History Of Wonder Woman PDF Free Download

The Secret History Of Wonder Woman Pdf Free Download Free

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He had arrived, however, remarkably late, or at least his mother thought so; for years, she had been under considerable pressure to produce him. She was one of five sisters; her only brother had died in 1861, after which her grieving father had built a turreted medieval manor north of Boston, where he’d closeted himself in a Gothic library in the tallest of its crenellated towers to write a treatise titled Moulton Annals, in which he traced his family back to the Battle of Hastings, in 1066. One Moulton had signed the Magna Carta; another—“thin-flanked, broad-chested, long-armed, deep-breathed, and strong-limbed”—had tramped through the pages of Sir Walter Scott’s Tales of the Crusaders. Measured against the valiance of such men, the annalist, a fainthearted veteran of the American Civil War, could hardly fail to find his own derring and doing a disappointment. (“Capt. Moulton’s enterprise was made evident by his attempt to establish a large carriage manufacturing business,” he wrote about himself, feebly.) The further his researches progressed, the more he despaired of his descendants: girls who glided idly over the parquet floors of Moulton Castle in lacy, wasp-waisted gowns, their hair twisted on the tops of their heads in tottering piles. Susan and Alice never married; Claribel and Molly bided their time. That left Annie, a spinster schoolteacher. In 1887, she married Frederick William Marston, a merchant of quality woolens for gentlemen’s suits; he was, it was whispered, beneath her. And so it came to pass that, upon this unpromising match, Captain Moulton staked the succession of a lineage that dated back to the Norman Conquest. At last, in 1893, at the late age of thirty-four, Annie Moulton Marston gave birth to a baby, a boy. They named him William. The conqueror.1

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It might be said, then, that it was at once a betrayal and rather in the spirit of these romantic beginnings that in the winter of 1911, eighteen-year-old William Moulton Marston, a student at Harvard College, procured from a chemist in Cambridge a vial of hydrocyanic acid, with which he prepared to end his life.

He had been born in a three-story Victorian house on Avon Street, in Cliftondale, Massachusetts. He was cherished; he was adored. His mother and alike his aunts, having no need to divide their attentions, lavished them upon him, tucking him into their laps. He ate Sunday dinner at Moulton Castle. He liked to gauge the distance between the genuine and the fake; he collected stuffed birds. He won his first school prize when he was seven years old. He held literary ambitions: he wrote poems and stories and plays.2 His mother detected signs of genius.

His boyhood philosophy of suicide is what happens when pragmatism, fed by observation, finds a nest in the home of a very clever child, unquestioned by his parents. On Avon Street, a neighbor of the Marstons’ one day looked in the bathroom mirror, said, “What the hell,” and slit his throat.3 Boy Marston turned this over in his mind. “From the age of twelve to my late twenties,” he later explained, “I believed firmly in suicide.” If success could be achieved with ease, he reasoned, life was worth living; if not, “the only sensible thing to do was to sign off.” 4

He was not, early on, tempted to sign off: he triumphed at everything he attempted. He grew tall and devilishly handsome, even if his ears poked out. His hair was dark and curly, his chin broad and dimpled. He grew from cub to lion. In eighth grade, at Felton Grammar School, he fell in love with a sharp, spindly girl named Sadie Elizabeth Holloway. She was whip-smart. She’d come to New England from the Isle of Man; she was a Manx. The next year, he was elected class president and she class secretary; no other outcome had been, to eitherof them, imaginable.5 Maybe it was then that he told her that they would name their first son Moulton.

At Malden High School, Marston was elected class historian, president of the Literary Society, and editor in chief of the student literary magazine the Oracle. He wrote a class history in the form of a conversation with Clio, the goddess of history, “she, first of all the nymphs who sprung from Zeus.” He presided over a debate about woman suffrage. He played football: a six-foot, 184-pound left guard. During his senior year, his team won the state championship. When Charles W. Eliot, the emeritus president of Harvard, came to speak to the senior class, Marston decided where his destiny lay. “The effect of Harvard upon the after life of a man cannot be estimated,” he wrote in the Oracle.6 On his college application, in the blank marked “Intended Occupation,” he wrote one word: “Law.”7 His mind was unclouded by any doubt of his admission.

He moved to Cambridge in September 1911, lugging a trunk stuffed with suits and books into a cramped room in a boardinghouse on the corner of Hancock Street and Broadway, east of Harvard Yard. And then he met, for the first time, an obstacle.

“I had to take a lot of courses that I hated,” he explained. English A: Rhetoric and Composition was a required course for freshmen. “I wanted to write and English A, at Harvard, wouldn’t let you write,” he complained. “It made you spell and punctuate. If you wrote anything you felt like writing, enjoyed writing, your paper was marked flunk in red pencil.”8

“During my Freshman year,” he wrote, “I decided that the time had come to die.”9 English A had crushed him. But the course that convinced him to kill himself was History 1: Medieval History, taught by Charles Homer Haskins.10 Haskins, who wore a waxed, handlebar mustache, was dean of the graduate school. His interest was medieval scholasticism, the subject of his monograph The Rise of Universities. Later, he founded the American Council of Learned Societies. Professor Haskins’s Middle Ages weren’t half as swashbuckling as Captain Moulton’s Annals: Haskins loved scholars better than knights.

History raises questions about the nature of truth. In a lecture Haskins delivered to freshmen, he distinguished the study of the past from the investigation of nature. “The biologist observes plants and animals; the chemist or physicist conducts experiments in his laboratory under conditions which he can control,” Haskins said. “The historian, on the contrary, cannot experiment and can rarely observe.” Instead, the historian has got to collect his own evidence, knowing, all the while, that some of it is useless and much of it is unreliable.11 Haskins loved pawing through the cluttered junk drawer of the past and finding the gemstones among the shards of broken glass. To Marston, everything in that drawer looked like rubbish.

“I didn’t care who had married Charlemagne’s great-grandmother’s sister, nor where Philip had breakfast the day he wrote a letter to the Pope,” Marston explained. “I’m not saying such facts are unimportant, only that they didn’t interest me and that I had to learn them. So I made arrangements to procure some hydro-cyanic acid from a chemist friend.”12

What checked Marston’s hand as he held the vial was the study of existence itself. There was one course he loved: Philosophy A: Ancient Philosophy. It was taught by George Herbert Palmer, the frail, weak-eyed, sixty-nine-year-old Alford Professor of Philosophy and chairman of Harvard’s Philosophy Department. Palmer had thin, long white hair, bushy black eyebrows, blue eyes, and a walrus mustache. He lived at 11 Quincy Street, where he pined for his wife, Alice Freeman Palmer, who had been president of Wellesley College, an advocate for female education, and a suffragist. She’d died in 1902. He refused to stop mourning her. “To leave the dead wholly dead is rude,” he pointed out, quite reasonably.14

The key to teaching, Palmer believed, is moral imagination, “the ability to put myself in another’s place, think his thoughts, and state strongly his convictions even when they are not my own.” He “lectured in blank verse and made Greek hedonism a vital, living thing,” Marston said.16

In the fall of 1911, Philosophy A began with a history of philosophy itself. “According to Aristotle,” Palmer told his class, as Marston sat, rapt, “the rise of philosophy has three influential causes: freedom, leisure, and wonder.” For weeks, he raved about the Greeks: they, to Palmer, were geniuses of dialectics and rhetoric. After Thanksgiving, he lectured on Plato’s Republic; by December, he was expounding on how man was “a rational being in a sensuous physical body,” underscoring, as he often did, that by “man,” he meant men and women both. He eyed his class of Harvard men sternly. “Girls are also human beings,” he told them, “a point often overlooked!!”17

The equality of women was chief among Palmer’s intellectual and political commitments, and it was a way, too, that he remembered his wife. George Herbert Palmer, who saved Marston’s life, was faculty sponsor of the Harvard Men’s League for Woman Suffrage.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, American suffragists grew militant. They’d been inspired by the British suffragist Emmeline Pankhurst. In 1903, Pankhurst founded the Women’s Social and Political Union. Its motto was “Deeds, not words.” Pankhurst went to prison for trying to deliver a petition to the House of Commons. Suffragists shackled themselves to the iron fence outside 10 Downing Street. “The condition of our sex is so deplorable that it is our duty to break the law in order to call attention to the reasons why we do what we do,” Pankhurst insisted.19 “The incident of the Suffragettes who chained themselves with iron chains to the railings of Downing Street is a good ironical allegory of most modern martyrdom,” G. K. Chesterton observed, predicting that the tactic would fail.20 He was wrong.

The Harvard Men’s League for Woman Suffrage was formed in the spring of 1910 by John Reed, then a senior, and by a Harvard Law School student who’d been converted to the cause by Max Eastman, a philosophy graduate student at Columbia University who’d helped found a Men’s League for Woman Suffrage in New York. In the fall of 1911, the Harvard Men’s League for Woman Suffrage announced a lecture series. The first lecture, to be held on October 31, was to be given by Florence Kelley, who’d fought for a minimum wage, an eight-hour workday, and an end to child labor. The announcement caused a ruckus: women were not allowed to speak at Harvard. Abbott Lawrence Lowell, the university’s president, said he feared “a mob of women trooping around the Yard.” The league submitted a petition to the Harvard Corporation, which ruled that Kelley could speak, but only if the lecture was closed to anyone outside the university.21 The league obliged. In her lecture, Kelley insisted that the conditions of the working poor could not be addressed without granting women the right to vote.22 The corporation, anxious that the university not be seen to be endorsing women’s rights, demanded that the league bring, as its next guest, a speaker opposed to woman suffrage.23 Instead, the league announced that its next guest would be, of all people, Emmeline Pankhurst.

She was slated to speak in Sanders Theatre, the largest and most prestigious hall on campus (it seats one thousand people). Terrified, the corporation issued a ruling barring Pankhurst from speaking anywhere on campus, noting that, its earlier exception for Kelley notwithstanding, “the college halls should not be open to lectures by women.”24

In Cambridge, suffrage was all anyone talked about. “The undergraduate body is split into two camps, the ‘sufs’ and the ‘antis,’ ” the New York Times reported. “In class room, lecture hall, college yard, and Harvard Union, suffrage, and the action of the corporation, is the principal topic of conversation.”26

The corporation had ruled that Pankhurst couldn’t speak on campus; it couldn’t stop her from speaking in Cambridge. The league announced that it had arranged for Pankhurst to speak in Brattle Hall, a dance hall at 40 Brattle Street, just a block from Harvard Yard. The editor of the New York Evening Post, a prominent alumnus, urged as many students as possible to attend “for the double purpose of thus making amends for the University’s lamentable blunder and of hearing one of the ablest orators of the day.” Pankhurst’s lecture, held on the afternoon of December 6, was open only to Harvard and Radcliffe students; admission required a ticket. It was mobbed: fifteen hundred students showed up in a hall designed to hold not more than five hundred. They scrambled up the walls and tried to climb in through the windows.27

Pankhurst proved as severe as ever. “The most ignorant young man, who knows nothing of the needs of women, thinks himself a competent legislator, because he is a man,” Pankhurst told the crowd, eyeing the Harvard men. “This aristocratic attitude is a mistake.”28

Marston took that to heart. He aced the exam. Palmer, who almost never gave A’s, gave one to Marston.31

Eighteen-year-old William Moulton Marston did not, then, swallow that vial of cyanide. But he never forgot it. And he never forgot Emmeline Pankhurst and her shackles, either. Three decades later, when Marston created a female comic-book superhero who fights for women’s rights (“Wonder Woman, Wonder Woman! She’s turning this man’s world topsy-turvy!”), her only weakness is that she loses all her strength if a man binds her in chains. And the first villain she faces is a chemist rumored to be developing a cyanide bomb. His name is Dr. Poison.32