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Gender Equality Warriors, Sisters, and Con Artists - an Editorial Review of "Naked Truth"



Book Blurb:


Sisters. Lovers. Con Artists.

Gender equality warriors.


BASED ON A TRUE STORY. New York City, 1868.


Spiritualist TENNESSEE CLAFLIN is smart, sexy and sometimes clairvoyant.

But it's her sister, VICTORIA WOODHULL who makes history when she becomes the first woman to run for President of the United States.


First comes the seduction of the richest man in America. Next, they'll take New York City and the suffragist movement by storm. They'll rock the Establishment. They'll rock the suffragist elite.

Boldly ambitious, they stop at nothing, using enough chutzpah to make a lady blush. That is, until their backstabbing family takes them to court. Within moments, their carefully spun lives begin to unravel, out in public and in the press.


Told from shifting points of view and using actual news reportage from the era, Naked Truth or Equality is a riveting inside look into the struggle for women's rights after the Civil War.



Author Bio:



Carrie Hayes was born in New York City. She comes to writing as a result of the joy and passion derived from being a lifelong, avid reader. Carrie resides in New Jersey with her family. Naked Truth is her first book.


Editorial Review:


Not long after the Civil War in America, an age of burgeoning enlightenment rose like a beacon borne on the ideals of the Paris Commune during the Belle Epoque – that of radicalism and revolutionary thinking, especially for women. Enter the free-thinking characters of this novel, “Naked Truth: or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit”, Tennessee and Victoria Claflin were born in poverty but rose to wield strong influence with some of the New York elite during the late 1800s.


We do not want flattery. We ask to be taken for exactly what we are good for, as men are.” But everyone knows that will never happen. Women must be one classifiable commodity or another. She wonders why people will not admit that females are still traded as if they were so much chattel. Society ladies merely hawk their wares for a higher sum than those who barter and are paid for by the hour.


This novel not only educates the reader about these two very modern women but immerses one into the very fabric of society. From early on, Tennessee and Victoria are 'promoted' by their father, Buck Claflin, as clairvoyants and healers... after his own stint as a hawker of medicinal cures for cancer... and they end up in New York after running from charges of fraud and possible, murder. This unconventional upbringing lends much to Tennessee and Victoria's mindset and the adoption of living a life of 'Free Love', a scandalous lifestyle that rocks the Victorian establishment to the core. However, while women are looked on as dirt, the elite men of this era are saturated in this type of thinking... drinking, sleeping with whomever they wish, affairs, and so forth, and yet still maintaining their status in society. Both of these women see the injustice in this and stop at nothing to take on this cemented ideal, even joining the ranks of the suffragist movement alongside Susan B. Anthony.


After Tennessee becomes acquainted with none other than Commodore Vanderbilt himself, not only is she suspected of using her feminine wiles to help heal him of his “ailments”, but she uses her mind to learn from him about money matters and even has him invest some the money she makes.


Vanderbilt stands and towers over here. He removes his garments while she touches the impossible softness of his perfect frock coat and his impeccable white shirt. She chooses a small armless chair and gestures for him to sit down. She looks at the Commodore's hands resting on his knees. Grief and loneliness pour off him in waves.


The Commodore smells of tobacco and sandalwood and cloves. And something else she didn't anticipate. He smells of kindness.


Together the two women rise in power, with Victoria even running for President of the United States under the Equality Rights Party in 1872, and with both of them opening the first brokerage firm in New York (backed by Cornelius Vanderbilt) and a newspaper called the Weekly which doled out much of the sister's opinions, as well as the local gossip which led to the infamous Beecher-Tilton trial which exposed Henry Beecher, Harriet Beecher Stowe's brother, as an adulterer. The tirade that follows against both the women, which sometimes led to their incarceration for 'obscene behavior', is a blow not only financially but emotionally, as well.


Uncle Tom's Cabin. She had loved that book. How wise it had been. She writes a favorite observation from it onto her tablet. Of course, in a novel, people's hearts break, and they die, and that is the end of it; and in a story, this is very convenient. But in real life we do not die when all that makes life bright dies to us. Would life have turned out differently had they never met nor offended Mrs. Stowe? She tears the sheet of paper from the tablet and throws it, like her journals, into the flames.

In the midst of all of this, Tennessee, who imagines she might marry Vanderbilt until his family eases her out of his life, takes up a “friendship” with another notorious supposed 'con man' – P. B. Randolph, a member of the Rosicrucian order, and a supposed “healer”, as well the handsome newspaperman and owner of the Herald, James Gordon Bennett, who is another affluent member of the New York elite. While trying to maintain her 'own sovereignty' over her life, mind, and body, and keeping her distance from any actual sexual acts for fear of her 'French disease', she doesn't shirk from enjoying liberties with whomever she pleases but, even more, she doesn't expect to actually fall in love or have someone fall in love with her. The delicate balance played between James and Tennessee reminds the reader of something akin to classic Victorian literature while the author uses cleverly placed actual newspaper articles in developing thestoryline.


For James Gordon Bennett, Tennessee Claflin is beautiful, kind, brilliant, and inappropriate in every way. His world revolves around the very rich, some of whom had dealt his late father a sneer of such contempt that it is impossible to see them and not be reminded of this. And Tennessee is like his father. She has little regard for convention and were she to be on his arm, he fears she would most likely not be received in polite society.


Something about the prose echoed Edith Wharton's voice, in the manner and style of the prose, the vignettes of Tennessee and Victoria's life, the words promising a revelation of a well-told story actuating the reader to push forward even when the confusing narrative chopped along. So often Wharton's descriptions appear incomplete or ambiguous, yet the classic style of writing is quite evident, heavily influenced by her own station in life and marriage. Ms Hayes, remarkably, emulates this device and delves into the societal norms of the day, the conformity of New York society, and the hypocrisy and the undertones of the supposed 'upper crust' while bringing to life these two women's ambitious and sometimes shocking lives.


While the beginning of the novel emerges... struggles, at first,... once a reader gets a grasp on the writing style and the homage to Victorian classic literature, the story opens up and the reader becomes fully engaged in Tennessee and Victoria's desire, pain, love, and hope. The concentration needed for the reader to fully engage is well worth every effort, along with sincere commendation for the author's obvious research and skill to weave a story that could have, very easily, fallen prey to total reliance on the 'naked intimacies' rather than fulling developing her characters. Well done.


The summer smell of New York is at its worst, with the manure and fuel and garbage in the streets. But the carriage's drapes are closed, and no one can see in. When the horses come to a stop, Tennessee pulls her black veil forward and descends. The Commodore's butler leads her up the marble stairs. The years go by in such a flash, and no one knows oneself as irrevocably changed, yet the Commodore's home has remained the same. She imagines her younger self, naked as a blue jay, save for her boots, approaching him and her life transformed forever.


*****


“Naked Truth: or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit” by Carrie Hayes receives 4.8 stars from The Historical Fiction Company


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