Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Kate Manning

Kate Manning is the author of Whitegirl, a novel (Dial Press, 2002). A former documentary television producer for public television, she has won two New York Emmy Awards, and also written for the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times Book Review, among others. She has taught creative writing at Bard High School Early College in Manhattan, where she lives with her boisterous family, including a dog named Moon, who walks her regularly.

Her new novel is My Notorious Life. The novel introduces Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages whose story begins on the streets of 1860s New York. The impoverished child of Irish immigrants, she grows up to become one of the wealthiest and most controversial women of her day.

From Manning's Q & A with Carolyn Kellogg for the Los Angeles Times:

Tell me more about the real-life midwife/abortionist Ann Lohman [who partly inspired the creation of Manning's protagonist].

She made a fortune selling euphemistically labeled "lunar tablets for the relief of female complaint." What they really did was cause a miscarriage. Women who were trying to control the size of their families, or if they had an unwanted pregnancy, they were desperate for any sort of services. She made a fortune selling these medicines. If they didn't work — they did sometimes, but they were pretty dangerous — she would perform a termination.

[The newspapers] called her "hag of misery," "evil sorceress." I kept thinking: Was she really that bad? People of her time thought that she actually faked her suicide. That she wasn't really dead; she would come back and tell her story and reveal all of society's secrets. Wealthy people who had used her services — the politicians and power brokers and their wives and daughters and mistresses — she would come and tell their stories. And I thought, "Wow, what if she did!"

What was it like looking into the medical details of the Victorian era?

I researched it a lot. I have old, decaying textbooks like "Doctor Gunning Bedford's Diseases of Women and Children," old medical manuals, advice manuals for women. I've had three children, and I've had about every sort of reproductive issue you can think of. I don't think you can have those experiences without wondering what it was like to have children in the past. There was no anesthesia. There was very little knowledge about what was going on in there. Some of the ideas just astonished me — for example, the notion of the "Milk Leg." It was thought that mothers who were pregnant, if their ankles swelled up, it was mother's milk filling them up, swelling them. I thought...[read on]
Visit Kate Manning's website.

The Page 69 Test: My Notorious Life.

--Marshal Zeringue