Arts Reviews: Feminism's Wars Teach Vital Lessons, but There's Little to Learn Here ; THE MONDAY BOOK SEX WARS by Marge Piercy PIATKUS, Pounds 18.99. ORDER FOR Pounds 17.99 (FREE P&P) FROM 0870 079 8897
Kaveney, Roz, The Independent (London, England)
We need to sympathise with mistakes of the past to recognise and avoid making them in the future. Yet to cast your argument as fiction is to risk losing the point in incident, or to produce something schematic. If Marge Piercy's new novel is disappointing from a woman with such polemical fictions as Vida and Body of Glass to her name, it is perhaps because she feels her points to be of unusual urgency.
The defeat of "first-wave" feminism in America in the late 19th century is her subject. It had many causes, and Piercy sees modern versions of all of them threatening the feminism of our own day.
Responsible 19th-century upper-class activists such as Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B Anthony never felt the urgency of the struggle for sexual freedom, and carped at the rackety behaviour that was the downside of suffragette Victoria Woodhull's charisma. Social purity movements such as those spearheaded by Anthony Comstock were aimed at the heart of feminism as much as at particular freedoms like abortion and contraception.
Piercy dramatises all this by takingus into the lives of Susan, Elizabeth and Victoria, and that of a working-class immigrant woman, Freydah, who goes to jail for making condoms. …