Reader, Writer, Merciless Reviewer and Incurable Romantic
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Disclaimers: I received a free copy of this book when it was first published. At the time I was a reviewer for Kathryn Falk's Rave Reviews magazine. I probably have the text of that review somewhere in my extensive, pack-rat files. My undergraduate degree, earned after the age of 50, is in women's studies; my graduate degree is in sociology with an emphasis on women's and gender issues. I am also a romance novelist (and had published one historical romance prior to reviewing this book).
This was one of the very first books I read about domestic violence, and my reaction at the time was that I felt sorry for Charlotte Fedders, but not too sorry. As the daughter of a very comfortable Catholic family, she received a good education and was working as a nurse when she married John Fedders, who would eventually rise to be the chief enforcing officer (or something like that; I'll look up the precise details later) with the Securities and Exchange Commission. As such, he provided a more than comfortable lifestyle for Charlotte and their children. They had four (or maybe six) boys, all of whom went to private school. The Fedderses belonged to the country club, they had a huge house, and Charlotte had everything she dreamed of.
Except for one flaw: John was violently abusive. He threw her down stairs. He broke her ribs. He caused her to have a miscarriage. It took her years, but she did finally leave him, filed for divorce, and charged him with battery. He was convicted and went to jail, and when she wrote the book and made money off it, he sued her on the grounds that because she had written about their marriage, her proceeds were community property and/or because she couldn't have written it without him. I'll have to look up the details -- I'm writing this review kind of on the fly -- but I don't think he got any money from her. Or maybe only a little.
What the Fedders case brought to light, however, was the fact that abuse and violence happens even in "nice" families, even in wealthy families, even to "good" women. Charlotte Fedders was no Francine Hughes, the hard-drinking, hard-living battered wife who finally ended her abuse by killing her violent husband and became the "heroine" of Faith McNulty's The Burning Bed. And it was because Charlotte had so many advantages that I found her less than sympathetic. Oh, I didn't condone her abuse, and I found her husband John to be a sick, manipulative, malevolent son of a bitch, but it was hard for me to find a lot of sympathy for a woman who didn't leave her abuser because it would mean leaving all the creature comforts as well.
Now, however, 20+ years later, I think it's time to revisit Charlotte's story, and Francine's as well, in light of some of the recent fiction (and non-fiction) that has become prominent in the popular marketplace. Francine's abuse was more physical, and she was, in the public's eye, not as legitimate a victim as upper-middle-class Charlotte, who suffered a great deal of emotional abuse as well. But because of both their stories, more attention was turned on the issues of domestic abuse and domestic violence, so that the extent of victimization became clearer, across the socio-economic spectrum.