Behind Every Great Man: The Forgotten Women Behind the World’s Famous and Infamous
by Marlene Wagman-Geller
REMEMBER THE LADIES
Over the centuries, the saying, “Behind every great man is a great woman” has proven to be more than a girl-power chant. As it turns out, the long shadows cast by alpha males throughout history have obscured many stories of truly intriguing women who acted as their right hands and muses, the magicians behind the screen. For these intrepid females, supporting their famous husbands and partners by helping them achieve their destinies was frequently a Herculean task, accomplished in spite of sagas of alcoholism, infidelity, breakdowns, divorce, and despair (usually on the men’s part).
How did these women do it? Were they members of some more evolved species than the rest of us-equipped to handle the good, the bad, and the ugly sides of power? By casting light on the wife (or girlfriend) behind the famous man, we can begin to understand these “better halves” who left indelible lines on the visage of history through their husbands and their own works. The fairer sex has consistently been relegated to the footnotes of time under the label of “so-and-so’s lover,” “wife,” or “widow.” As Dorothy Parker observed in “The Little Hours,” “Oh, well, it’s a man’s world.” It is time for them to emerge from the shadows, both because their stories shed new insight on the famous men featured in history and because their own lives are equally as fascinating. In the feminist essay, “A Room of One’s Own,” Virginia Woolf stated, “A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction.” Behind Every Great Man explores the biographies of those who never received a room of their own to shine or whose rooms and stories have never been properly explored.
Wives have generally been the untold half of history, so this book offers a different perspective on history than what we expect: it tells the story of these famous men (and one woman) from the wives’ point of view. Public lives and private lives are indivisible, and the detail of the marital relationships of some of the most well-known men gives a rounded picture that helps history come alive. Each chapter explores the real-life Lady Macbeths and Carmela Sopranos whose love humanized their men while often dehumanizing themselves.
But the women profiled here are not those who commandeered time in the spotlight themselves, as their biographies and stories are already part of our cultural psyche. Hence there are no chapters devoted to Eleanor Roosevelt or Hillary Rodham Clinton. The criteria for inclusion entail marriage to a famous spouse who outshone them in the pages of time. While Oscar Wilde is known as the literary great imprisoned for “the love that dare not speak its name,” few know of Constance (an apt name for Oscar’s semper fidelis spouse), who found herself wed to Europe’s most (in)famous homosexual. Mohandas Gandhi is a world icon, depicted with his ever-present spinning wheel, but what about Mrs. Mohandas? She bore him four sons, fasted when he was imprisoned, and died in Aga Khan Prison for complicity in fighting to wrest her country from the yoke of the British Raj. While everyone is familiar with Germany’s notorious Nazi dictator and his trademark mustache, few know much about his mystery woman, Eva Braun-Hitler’s consort for fourteen years and wife for forty hours. Their relationship leaves lingering questions: was she the First Lady of Nazism or just an apolitical blond who lived in his Bavarian mountain retreat, oblivious to the genocide of which her lover was architect? Can one love a monster and yet not be evil oneself? Find out the answers to these questions and countless others about the remarkable yet little-known women behind history’s famous (and infamous) men.
Read the rest of the prologue on Amazon