Terrible Virtue (Paperback)

A Novel

By Ellen Feldman

Harper Perennial, 9780062407566, 288pp.

Publication Date: March 21, 2017

List Price: 15.99*
* Individual store prices may vary.


In the spirit of The Paris Wife and Loving Frank, the provocative and compelling story of one of the most fascinating and influential figures of the twentieth century: Margaret Sanger, the founder of Planned Parenthood—an indomitable woman who, more than any other, and at great personal cost, shaped the sexual landscape we inhabit today.

The daughter of a hard-drinking, smooth-tongued free thinker and a mother worn down by thirteen children, Margaret Sanger vowed her life would be different. Trained as a nurse, she fought for social justice beside labor organizers, anarchists, socialists, and other progressives, eventually channeling her energy to one singular cause: legalizing contraception. It was a battle that would pit her against puritanical, patriarchal lawmakers, send her to prison again and again, force her to flee to England, and ultimately change the lives of women across the country and around the world.

This complex enigmatic revolutionary was at once vain and charismatic, generous and ruthless, sexually impulsive and coolly calculating—a competitive, self-centered woman who championed all women, a conflicted mother who suffered the worst tragedy a parent can experience. From opening the first illegal birth control clinic in America in 1916 through the founding of Planned Parenthood to the arrival of the Pill in the 1960s, Margaret Sanger sacrificed two husbands, three children, and scores of lovers in her fight for sexual equality and freedom.

With cameos by such legendary figures as Emma Goldman, John Reed, Big Bill Haywood, H. G. Wells, and the love of Margaret’s life, Havelock Ellis, this richly imagined portrait of a larger-than-life woman is at once sympathetic to her suffering and unsparing of her faults. Deeply insightful, Terrible Virtue is Margaret Sanger’s story as she herself might have told it.

Praise For Terrible Virtue: A Novel

Terrible Virtue is captivating, powerful, headlong and inventive—just like its subject. A beautifully wrought, compulsively readable novel. Ellen Feldman can do anything.”

“[A] highly topical novelization of the life of Margaret Sanger…. We need her story now more than ever.”

“Feldman compellingly portrays the difficult choices confronting women living in a man’s world.... This immersive, moving, and thought-provoking book is worthy of the intense discussions it’s sure to spark.”

“How does a minimally educated, working class woman redirect the moral compass of an entire generation? Feldman shows us how in her masterful novel, Terrible Virtue. Passionate, driven, the Margaret Sanger of Feldman’s imagination is every bit as complex as the world she was determined to enlighten.”

“A fascinating exploration of Margaret Sanger as a visionary tour de force who left a stream of public victories and private casualties in her wake. Birth control, sex, family, work, individual need, free love, the greater good—it’s all here, historically grounded but as relevant today as it was then.”

“Compelling…. An excellent choice for book groups.”

“Margaret Sanger blazes to life in this riveting, powerful novel. Read Terrible Virtue once to learn about the woman whose work ultimately shaped Western culture, then read it again for Ellen Feldman’s masterful storytelling. Fascinating and unforgettable.”

“Margaret Sanger was passionate about birth control, freedom, a surprising number of men and her daughter. Ellen Feldman lets us see all these sides of one of America’s most complicated heroines, a woman who knew too well the hard choice between work and family. An irresistible and utterly timely novel.”

“A powerful, haunting, deeply ambitious novel about love and war, impeccably executed, impossible to put down.”

“A riveting drama...inspired and inspiring.... Ruby is a gem of a character, and belongs with the best of William Faulkner’s, or Alice Walker’s, women.”

“A compelling story…of mystery, political intrigue, and forgiveness. Much of the fun comes from the literary cameos (think: Mary McCarthy, Richard Wright and Robert Lowell), but it’s the novel’s haunting portrait of a marriage that make this Cold War novel so resonant for readers of any time period.”

“Bold and original….the originality of voice and thought [is] evident on every page… part love story, part mystery and part political thriller I would heartily recommend.”

“A lustrous evocation of a stormy period in our past; highly recommended for lovers of World War II fiction.”

“An intimate look at how we can be dismantled and rebuilt by changing times.”

“An honest American experience of the aftermath of World War II rendered in sharp detail and full of pathos, Next to Love tells us what we hate to acknowledge-that personal battles don’t end with the armistice. There is the touch of Everywoman here.”

“Powerful….Feldman gets her history right and....the fictional characters are rendered in artful service to the novel’s larger project”

“Spellbinding fiction.... Rich imagination, memorable characters and elegant but restrained prose.... brings an American disgrace to life with eloquence, intelligence and passion.”

“A novel that is based on archival records, court records, and first-person accounts but that succeeds overwhelmingly as a work of imagination...distilled with great subtlety and wit, into a story worth retelling and remembering.”