Today on Novels Alive, we are really pumped to have Carrie Hayes, author of the much-acclaimed, Naked Truth: Or Equality, The Forbidden Fruit, on our site to answer questions about feminism, the right to vote, and where women are today.
Am thrilled to be here, thank you, Dayna 😊.
The Naked Truth is essentially about two sisters—Tennessee Claflin and Victoria Woodhull—and their fight for women’s equality. But, there is so much more than that with these two gutsy women. If you had to boil down the similarities and differences between these two sisters to a few sentences, what would they be?
Victoria was more cerebral and more of a strategic thinker. She was in fact, a bit of a visionary. Tennessee was the more impulsive, emotional character. From all accounts, Tennessee liked standing out, while Victoria actually, preferred to fit in. Tennessee relished becoming an honorary Colonel of the army regiment known as the Spencer Greys, jumped right in with her short lived campaign for Congress, not to mention whatever was going on in her relationship with Commodore Vanderbilt. Their similarities, were their profoundly keen intellects and enough charm to take in a large swath of the circles that they moved in. They also had a deep loyalty to each other, and even though it was incredibly strained, that same loyalty to their family.
There are so many details about both sisters in the book. How long did it take you to research before you started writing Naked Truth?
Is it the devil or God who is in the details? Probably a little bit of both. What started out as a rather conventional interest in getting as much information as possible, soon turned into a compulsive, sort of obsession! After about the first year or so, it began to dawn on me that much of their narratives were caught up in hype and myth, so that at the end of the day, what one is left with are individuals who might actually be unknowable.
It was at that point that the writing began to happen in tandem with the research.
At the start of the book, the two sisters’ family is knee-deep in grifting the public with what was wildly popular during the mid-1800s—spiritualism. But Tennessee, Tenny, was, in fact, psychic. How did that color her choices later on?
People who actually have that kind of intuition, or 6th sense, or whatever you want to call it are so INTERESTING to me! And I thought for her to have that dimension lent another level of possibility to the story. Particularly if she is incapable of acting on these insights… that in spite of her psychic gifts, she remains caught up in making choices which are just as poor as they would be even if she didn’t have the gift. Sort of damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
You write that the sisters and their family believed in “Free Love,” but that definition, as you write in your “For Book Group Discussions,” at the back of the book, is very different than what we would think of “Free Love” today. Still, that concept was very controversial at the time. Can you explain the difference between what we would consider “Free Love” means now and what Victoria believed “Free Love” meant?
For Victoria, the meaning of free love was that a woman had the right to give her love freely. Not under any coercion or obligation at any time. Either in or outside of marriage. At the time, there was no such thing as marital rape, nor was a woman at liberty to deny her husband anything that he demanded of her. So for Victoria, what she was talking about was a woman’s right to say yes to whomever she wanted to say yes to, but also, more importantly, a woman’s right to say no, most significantly to her husband. Those who were opposed to the notion of free love, defined it along the lines of open marriages, or complex marriages (as practiced by the Oneida community during the nineteenth century)
Susan B. Anthony didn’t address the sexual inequality issues Victoria had hoped she would but instead evaded them altogether. Do you think by not addressing those issues at that time may have hurt women in the long run regarding domestic abuse, rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and other issues still plaguing women today?
I absolutely think that, yes. I think those issues still plague us today, by and large because sexual equality was not addressed at that time, during Reconstruction, even though, to be fair, there were men who did support women’s equality.
British held their aristocracy in ultimate high esteem. But in the United States, we valued money—old money—in particular, separating people into different classes based on how much money people had and their familial connections. Though Tenny and Victoria had later become quite wealthy because of wise investments and other means, because of their family attachments and their questionable pasts, they were never accepted into “society.” How did this impact their drive for true equality for all?
This is a tough one. Many people at the time were newly wealthy. The Vanderbilts, for example, the Carnegies for another. It’s pretty rare to see people who are newly rich renounce, or scale back on their own financial windfalls, too. Victoria and Tennessee were sincere in their enthusiasms for greater equality of the masses, yet they would never have willingly given up their fortunes so that other people would be less poor. These gals liked being wealthy and how they lived the rest of their lives was certainly an indication of such. Both were incredibly generous to those less fortunate than themselves but having been broke on more than one occasion left them anxious to not be poor ever again.
And on top of that was Victoria’s insatiable craving for respectability and acceptance, driven in large part by what happened following her mother’s 1871 lawsuit against Col. Blood.
Because of her mother’s lawsuit, Victoria went from having been received with open arms to being rejected by many of the suffragist movement, which in turn lent her discussions on equality a more militant, histrionic edge.
Has researching and writing Naked Truth altered your views on equality in any way?
It has affirmed my belief in an abundance as opposed to a scarcity approach. There is more than enough for everyone in the world to live without food insecurity, and so on. I don’t understand economics, but this idea that it is ok for some people to amass billions of dollars, while others can barely rub two nickels together, just doesn’t sit well with me.
Reading Naked Truth, I realize how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go in terms of women’s rights. We have made tremendous ground, but what can we as women do to continue our predecessors’ fight?
Women must acknowledge that the attributes we value in men should be the same attributes we value in women, as well as vice-versa. Being ambitious for a start. If we expect women to be good and kind, the same should be required of men. Men are never asked to choose their families over their careers. That is unheard of. The same should be true of women as well. Or else, men should be forced to make that choice just as equally. And if they don’t find a particular female palatable, women must find a way to resist bitch biting them. We can’t lead by example if we continue falling into the traps which are set by those who’d rather see us infighting than making genuine strides.
Can you tell us something about Naked Truth that didn’t make it into the book?
How about this—Vicky’s ex-husband, Canning Woodhull, was in fact a favorite of the Claflins. So that when he joined them in New York, he was welcomed back into the household without equivocation. Which seems, well, pretty unusual to me.
Here’s another one—Utica Claflin, Tennie and Vicky’s more volatile sister, spoke at Cooper Institute (what is now the Cooper Union) in March of 1872, to give a lecture against free love as well as to take down Theodore Tilton. Her lecture was probably masterminded by Buck, who was seen working the door (fifty cents admission) and then leaving with Utica afterwards. This is an anecdote I learned about afterwards, from the fabulous website WoodhullRising.org
I see you have a sequel to Naked Truth entitled A Well-Dressed Lie. Can you tell us a little about that novel?
It will be about the sisters’ adventures in England. It is also about one of the women who had been involved with Edward VII while he was Prince of Wales. Tennessee actually became a good friend of his wife, Princess Alix, and my story is going to follow that path.
Thank you so much for joining us today, Carrie, and thank you for shining a light on two early suffragettes and their intriguing lives!
My goodness, Thank you! It has been an honor. If anyone is inclined, I’ll be speaking with the New York chapter of the Historical Novel Society on November 16th. Here is the link, and everyone is most welcome!
You are so welcome and read our 4.5 Star review of Naked Truth here!
From Washington Heights to Washington D.C. comes a true American Herstory. Filled with intrigue, lust, and betrayal, this is the fight for sexual equality.
1868, on the eve of the Gilded Age: Spiritualist TENNESSEE CLAFLIN is smart, sexy, and sometimes clairvoyant. But it’s her sister, VICTORIA WOODHULL, who is going to make history as the first woman to run for President of the United States.
It starts with the seduction of the richest man in America. Next, they’ll take New York City and the suffragist movement by storm, because together, Tennessee and Victoria are a force of nature. Boldly ambitious, they stop at nothing, brushing shoulders with Harriet Beecher Stowe and Susan B. Anthony, using enough chutzpah to make a lady blush.
That is, until their backstabbing family takes them to court, and their carefully spun lives unravel, out in public and in the press.
“Unsexed!” – New York Herald, 1872
“Short Haired Women and Long Haired Men.” – New York World, 1872
“Nothing More Than A Shameless Prostitute and A Negro.” – The Guard, Eugene Oregon, 1872
Told from shifting points-of-view and using actual news reportage from the era, Naked Truth is a riveting inside look into the struggle for women’s rights after the Civil War.
“Sometimes it is not enough to be the news, sometimes you have to make the news as well.” –James Gordon Bennett, Jr., Proprietor of the New York Herald
“Divisiveness. Chutzpah. Seduction. Politics. Oppression. Spirituality. Gender relations. Betrayal. Healers -vs- scam artists. Fortitude. Dismay. Against-all-odds battles. Fighting the good fight. Just like the plight of humanity today, the historical and excellently well-crafted novel, NAKED TRUTH: OR EQUALITY THE FORBIDDEN FRUIT by Carrie Hayes has it all.” ***** – INDIE READER
“Hayes writes with such care and authenticity that the reader will likely be unsure where the history ends and the fiction begins.” – KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Naked Truth: Or Equality, the Forbidden Fruit is a rich, balanced, and deftly written story that is as moving as it is entertaining.” ***** – Readers’ Favorite
“(Hayes) has found a fascinating chapter in history to explore, and Victoria and Tennie are compelling protagonists: fiercely determined, morally ambiguous, and deeply complicated. Readers with an interest in first-wave feminism, New York history, and detailed storytelling will enjoy mining this debut, which nicely sets up a sequel.” – Book Life
“I thought this novel was brilliant from start to finish. It is fresh, it is vibrant, and the story is one that has been waiting to be told.” ***** – CoffeePot Book Club
“Naked Truth is a smooth fast read. Carrie Hayes’ marvelous interlacing of history with the narrative sparks an American story as well as a woman story. She has made this pair of wily sisters and their slickster father vivid and timeless.” – Gail Godwin, three time National Book Award Finalist
During the Blog Tour, one lucky reader will win a copy of Naked Truth by Carrie Hayes!
The giveaway is open to US residents only and ends on October 28th. You must be 18 or older to enter.
Over the years, Carrie has tried a lot of things. She’s sold vacuum cleaners, annuities and sofas. She’s lived at the beach and lived in Europe. She’s taught school and worked in film. For a while, she was an aspiring librarian, but she fell in love and threw her life away instead. Back in the States, she started over, then met an architect who said, “Why don’t you become a kitchen designer?” So, she did. Eventually she designed interiors, too. And all that time, she was reading. What mattered was having something to read. Slowly, she realized her craving for books sprang from her need to know how things would turn out. Because in real life, you don’t know how things will turn out. But if you write it, you do. Naked Truth or Equality the Forbidden Fruit is her first book.
Monday, October 19
Review at Passages to the Past
Thursday, October 22
Review at Bitch Bookshelf
Saturday, October 24
Review at Reading is My Remedy
Sunday, October 25
Interview at Passages to the Past
Tuesday, October 27
Review at Novels Alive
Wednesday, October 28
Interview at Novels Alive