My Notorious Life: A Novel PDF

Title My Notorious Life: A Novel
Author Kate Manning
Publisher Scribner
Category Political Fiction
Released Date 2013-09-09
Language English
Format EPUB / PDF
Pages 580
Total Downloads 41,235
Total Views 124,013
4/5 (171 ratings)


“Exquisitely written and richly detailed, My Notorious Life is a marvel. Kate Manning’s rags-to-riches Dickensian saga brings to vivid life the world of nineteenth-century New York City, in all its pitiful squalor and glittering opulence. I loved this novel.” —Christina Baker Kline, New York Times bestselling author of Orphan Train

A brilliant rendering of a scandalous historical figure, Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life is an ambitious, thrilling novel introducing Axie Muldoon, a fiery heroine for the ages. Axie’s 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.

In vivid prose, Axie recounts how she is forcibly separated from her mother and siblings, apprenticed to a doctor, and how she and her husband parlay the sale of a few bottles of “Lunar Tablets for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. Flouting convention and defying the law in the name of women’s reproductive rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over...

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If prostitution is the world's oldest profession, then almost by definition, the midwife/abortionist has to be number two. In My Notorious Life we follow the life of a poor child of Irish immigrants, Ann "Axie" Muldoon, as she travels from the slums of New York to riches as a midwife/abortionist in the late Nineteenth Century.We first meet Axie and her two siblings begging on the streets of New York. Their mother, recently widowed, is sick at home after being injured at the laundry where she works. The children are discovered by the Rev. Charles Brace, who takes their mother to the hospital for her injuries to be ended to and then puts the children on one of the Orphan trains headed west. When the train arrives in Illinois, Axie's sister and brother are quickly selected by families for adoption. But Axie is deemed too headstrong, and at last, is nly taken in by the wife of the local minister. Axie keeps hoping she will reunite her family, but her siblings' adoptive parents are even more determined to keep them apart. Finally, Axie takes a chance on returning to New York to at least be back with her mother. Once back in New York she finds her mother remarried and heavily pregnant. Although she is overjoyed to see Axie, it is clear that there is no room in the household for the child. When her mother goes into labor, Axie is confronted with the worst of childbirth and in desperation she gets her mother to the home of a doctor, whose wife is a well-known midwife. Afer her mother dies, she is taken on as an apprentice to the woman, Mrs. Evans.With Mrs. Evans she learns about the art of bringing children into the world and also, the opposite - theart of getting rid of children who ar unwanted.When Mrs. Evans dies and her husband reuses o pay her her back wages, she strikes out on her own and quickly becomes known, not only for being able to deliver babies, but also for dispensing information about contraception and elimination of unwanted "problems" With the help of her husband Charlie, a fellow orphan from the Orphan Train, she amasses a considerable empire - enough to build herself a mansion on Fifth Avenue. Things are looking up until the moral arbitrators of the day,including Anthony Comstock (he of the post office laws against sending "objectionable" materials through the US mail) put her and her enterprises in their gun sights.Throughout, the book raises issues that resonate today about reproductive rights and the ability of women to have control over their bodies. Unfortunately, the book is not ver well written. Characters are not well flushed out and the dialogue is amateurish. Also the author's method of using astericks to disguise words that would have been objectionable to a nineteenth century reader (b*****d, M*n**s, etc.) get to be really irritating after about 50 pages. While the book is worth reading for the issues it raises, it would be a much better read in the hands of a writer with better skills.


In 1860 Axie Muldoon, at 13 is the oldest of three children, fatherless and trying to survive the streets of New York by begging for food. Their mother, injured in a workplace accident, suffering the loss of one arm and succumbing to fever, allows the children to be taken for adoption in the Western States. However, Axie is not wanted for adoption. Her smart mouth and abrupt nature prevent her from being chosen as her brother and sister have. After a short time Axie returns to New York. Once again she is on her own, and goes into service for a doctor and his wife, a midwife. Axie takes on the role of assistant to the midwife and the skills she learns from this woman set her on the path of notoriety she is destined for.Axie begins by selling potions at a market for women’s maladies. She meets and in time marries Charlie Jones, a fellow orphan, who supports and encourages her in her quest to become a midwife. But along with the wonder of delivering healthy babies to healthy mothers, Axie also provides abortions. In the late 19th Century, women are defined by their husbands and guardians. They have no control over their own fertility and many women were forced to seek abortions. With no contraception available and women vulnerable to sexual abuse, abortion was their only hope. Axie, as Madame X, was able to provide them with this service.When men such as the zealous crusader Anthony Comstock began his moral crusade against midwives, Axie’s now affluent lifestyle and happy family life was in danger. This rags to riches story based on real life, is captivating. Axie is a fascinating character. A feisty, rambunctious and eminently interesting woman who provided a health service to women in dire need, often against her own best interests. The story is told in the style of a journal which provides the reader with real empathy for this notorious woman and the times in which she lived. My only complaint about this wonderful story is the way in which all swear words have been censored (so many *****’s!). It interrupted the flow of the story and was unnecessary in my opinion.


A compelling and provocative tale, author Kate Manning blends history and imagination to create a wonderfully rich portrait of an extraordinary character. My Notorious Life is loosely based on the history of 19th-century New York midwife and abortionist Ann Trow Lohman, better known as Madame Restell.The narrative of this tale is in the first person point of view and takes the form of a journal, chronicling the life of Axie (Ann) Muldoon. It begins with thirteen year old Axie begging with her younger siblings, sister Dutchie and brother Joe, on the streets of New York and follows her rising and falling fortunes after being separated from her family and eventually apprenticed to Mrs Evans, a Manhattan midwife who also treats ‘womens troubles’. Reunited with fellow street urchin turned print setter and aspiring journalist, Charlie G Jones, whom she marries, the death of Mrs Evans and the couple’s poverty inspires Axie to manufacture and sell medicinal aids for female complaints, a business that soon expands to include advising women on matters such as contraception, and offering both midwifery care and early term abortions for those desperate enough to seek them.Axie is a character who will get under your skin. Feisty, loyal, compassionate and brave, she is an uncommon woman for the times. Manning develops her beautifully from an orphaned 13 year old street rat to a wealthy wife, mother and midwife. Her journey from ‘rags to riches’ is remarkable but the fine clothes and fancy decor doesn’t changes who she is, despite the veneer of wealth.For Axie, whose own mother died from childbirth fever, abortion was a practice that she honoured despite its unpleasantness. I found Axie’s initial ambivalence interesting, while she understood the desperation of women worn out by childbirth, girls taken advantage of by their ‘guardians’, women seduced by the sweet nothings whispered by those they loved, it took her some time to recognise the value of the service she provided.The social portrait of 18th century America is brilliantly drawn. The disparity in class, economic and educational opportunities, the lack of social welfare and the unfettered misogyny of religion, politics and government. Central to My Notorious Life however are the issues that women faced as marginalised members of society with few rights.With the distinct lack of contraceptive options in the late 19th century women had little control over their fertility. For wives who were unable to refuse sex with their husbands, multiple pregnancies increased the already high risk of death in childbirth or other crippling complications.Women were also particularly vulnerable to sexual exploitation and assault, and as men abdicated any responsibility with impunity, once impregnated they were ostracised by society.As such, women relied on abortion to terminate unwanted pregnancies and at the time it was a accepted practice, though not openly discussed. Home remedies such as gin and hot bath, concoctions with dubious medicinal qualities such as the type Axie sells after leaving the Evans were tried while others sought out a sympathetic midwife for a abortion. The procedure, as long as it was performed before the ‘quickening’ was not made illegal until Comstock began his moral crusade, backed by (male) doctors who were determined to wrest control of obstetric practices away from midwives.While My Notorious Life explores the history of social and health issues it is foremost a remarkable and compelling story that I could not put down. I found it fascinating, thought provoking and thoroughly entertaining and I offer it to you with my highest recommendation.