Eva Flynn is here today to tell us about her new historical novel, The Renegade Queen.
Welcome, Eva. Let’s get started.
Tell us about your novel.
EF: The Renegade Queen explores the life of Victoria Woodhull; the first woman presidential candidate; the first woman to testify to Congress; the first female stockbroker; and the first American to publish The Communist Manifesto. Victoria sacrificed everything for female equality but her rivalry with moderate Susan B. Anthony and her fights with religious leader Henry Ward Beecher nearly destroyed her.
An unconventional love story between Victoria and her second husband, Civil War hero James Blood is also woven throughout the story.
What prompted you to write about this historical event?
EF:I was initially intrigued because I could not find Victoria Woodhull in the history books despite all that she accomplished; first woman presidential candidate; first woman to testify to Congress; first female stockbroker; and first American to publish The Communist Manifesto.
I am an only child and I was always pestering my parents to entertain me. One day they bought me a set of World Book Encyclopedias. You may not remember hardbound encyclopedias, but these were divided up alphabetically, so the “M” for example would have two big books. The subjects that begin with WXYZ were all in one slim volume. My parents told me to entertain myself by perusing these books. I picked up the “WXYZ” volume and I turned to the two paragraphs about Victoria Woodhull. I was amazed as I had never heard of her, and this is as a child of a political science professor (father) and a staunch feminist (mother). I took these paragraphs to both of my parents and they had never heard of her either. From that point on I have been fascinated not only with Victoria Woodhull but about those who the history books leave out.
And then I majored in political science myself and became fascinated by the political process and those who are live on the fringes of the political process. I admire anyone who has the courage to stand up for their beliefs (whether I agree with them or not), and my admiration for Victoria only grew as I realized how difficult life for women was during Reconstruction.
And in the intervening years between hardbound encyclopedias and now, a wealth of resources from the 1870s have been placed on the Internet which makes research so much easier and less time consuming then it used to be. For example, one can find several issues of her newspaper online. Additionally, the Library of Congress has digitized thousands of newspapers from the era. Not everything I’d want is online, but enough of it that I don’t feel the need to travel to remote archives.
How closely did you stick to the historical facts? If you used them loosely, how did you decide whether to deviate from them?
EF: Not all of Victoria’s biographers agree on what the facts are because there are periods of her life where we have little more than her reminisces and she sometimes contradicted herself in the various retellings of her story. But I did devote a lot of time to research and nearly everything in the book is either accurate or represents one particular memory of Victoria that she may have contradicted later. I deviated in how Victoria met James for dramatic effect and how long they lived together. To go through years of cohabitation before the events would have slowed the dramatic pace too much. There are differing opinions on the true nature of Victoria’s relationship with Commodore Vanderbilt. I used research from the testimony in the fight over his will as the basis for the story, but some scholars believe that his children lied in court.
And then there are people that I left out because I believe that a novel can have too many characters. Victoria’s siblings, for example, caused her problems throughout her life but I did not discuss them. And Victoria had a newspaper editor (Stephen Pearl Andrews) that she was close to and I did not put him in the novel.
Also, there were a few men who claimed they had affairs with Victoria but Victoria and those close to her denied these claims. These men were also paid for their story. I did not add these men to her life, I think it would have even complicated the story more and I’m not sure the men were in her life.
What research did you do for this book?
EF: In addition to the excellent biographies of Victoria Woodhull, Commodore Vanderbilt, Karl Marx, Susan B. Anthony, Benjamin Butler, and Henry Ward Beecher that I read, I also read primary sources; newspapers from the time period, Victoria’s speeches, Victoria’s newspaper articles that she wrote, and Tennessee’s speeches. I also consulted court transcripts of various proceedings that involved Victoria. In addition, I read interviews with Elizabeth Cady Stanton and other contemporaries of Victoria.
Do you use a mixture of historic figures and invented characters in the novel. Which is more difficult to write? Which to you prefer to write and why?
EF: I actually only invented three-four minor characters, the rest of them are historical figures. If one has done enough research then it is easier to write historical figures, but I also like the freedom of invented characters. I enjoy writing both equally.
In an historical novel you must vividly re-create a place and people in a bygone era. How did you bring the place and people you are writing about to life?
EF: I conducted research on what life was like in the major cities during Victoria’s lifetime, not only in terms of the attitudes towards women, but also the voting patterns, the ethnic makeup, and the prominent occupations. In addition, I research the landmarks in the city. For example, the bar in the “tenderloin” district was a real bar then and the sign did really say, “Ale, Raw Onions, and No Ladies.” The bar is still there today. I also read a traveler’s guide to New York brothels which was hysterical.
Probably the best thing that I did to get across that time period was excerpting real newspapers and historical documents throughout. These are all presented in italics and they give the reader a sense for the times and the language.
I also frequently consulted an etymological dictionary to ensure that I was not using a word that was not used back then. For example, the word “sex” was not used then to refer to intercourse.
There often seems to be more scope in historical novels for male characters than female characters. Do you prefer to write one sex or the other. And, if so, why?
EF: I prefer to write about strong women because we all need more positive female role models. The main characters in The Renegade Queen, Susan B. Anthony and Victoria Woodhull are multi-dimensional and complex and I also think it is important to show that women, just like men, have mixed motivations.
Thank you for such comprehensive answers to my questions, Eva. I’m also a great fan of strong women, real and fictional, so I’m happy to wish you success with The Renegade Queen.
About Eva Flynn: Eva was raised on bedtime stories of feminists (the tooth fairy even brought Susan B. Anthony dollars) and daytime lessons on American politics. On one fateful day years ago when knowledge was found on bound paper, she discovered two paragraphs about Victoria Woodhull in the WXYZ volume of the World Book Encyclopedia. When she realized that neither of her brilliant parents (a conservative political science professor and a liberal feminist) had never heard of her, it was the beginning of a lifelong fascination not only with Victoria Woodhull but in discovering the stories that the history books do not tell. Brave battles fought, new worlds sought, loves lost all in the name of some future glory have led her to spend years researching the period of Reconstruction. Her first book, The Renegade Queen, explores the forgotten trailblazer Victoria Woodhull and her rivalry with Susan B. Anthony.
Eva was born and raised in Tennessee, earned her B.A. in Political Science from DePauw in Greencastle, Indiana and still lives in Indiana. Eva enjoys reading, classic movies, and travelling.