Feminist Victoria Woodhull is one of the irresistible historical personages for me. She was the first woman to run a brokerage on Wall Street as well as being the first woman to run for President. Tara and I joint reviewed Seance in Sepia, a book that contained Woodhull as a side character, on this blog here. I admit to not having been enthusiastic about the last book I reviewed by Nicole Evalina, Daughter of Destiny . Yet all the aspects of Victoria Woodhull's life that got short shrift in Seance in Sepia are fully realized in Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evalina. I obtained this book for free from the author in return for this honest review.
We find out about Victoria's childhood as the daughter of Buck Claflin, an abusive and self-destructive con man. Earlier this year, I read a mystery called The Saints of the Lost and Found in which the central character came from a family very much like Victoria's. I wouldn't be surprised if the author loosely based her protagonist's childhood on Victoria's because her parents were so outrageous that they'd be more believable as fictional characters.
In Madame Presidentess we get the full story about Victoria's spiritualism including her visions and how they impacted her life. For Evalina's Victoria, spiritualism was not the widely promoted fakery of her day. It was a deeply felt religious practice. She was absolutely convinced that the ancient Greek historical personage Demosthenes was guiding her life. I am not so convinced. There is no indication that Demosthenes ever advocated for women's rights during his lifetime. The playwright Euripides would have been a more believable spirit ally from the ancient Greek world. Euripides wrote powerful plays that centered on women. He might conceivably have encouraged Victoria in her feminist political activity. I am willing to believe that Victoria was a sincere practitioner who was duped by a spirit pretending to be Demosthenes for unknown purposes.
Yet Victoria wasn't always above pretending to receive messages from the spirits. I suspect that she was deceiving herself about having escaped completely from her family's influence. Evalina depicted Victoria as capable of being a grifter like her father, and a blackmailer like her mother. These tendencies eventually wrecked her Wall Street career, and her campaign for President. In Madame Presidentess Victoria thought that her family betrayed her, but she also made some poor choices from an ethical perspective. My conclusion is that Victoria was largely responsible for her own downfall. Like many male Wall Streeters and the overwhelming majority of politicians, she probably felt that the ends justified the means. Her more idealistic allies in the suffrage and labor movements probably felt that she had used them.
Victoria Woodhull is shown to be a complex individual in Madame Presidentess. Whether Victoria inspired me or disappointed me, she always engaged me as a character even when I didn't agree with her choices. I liked the thoroughness of this biographical novel and particularly appreciated the spiritualist content.