Saturday, January 19, 2008

A Dangerous Woman: The Graphic Biography Of Emma Goldman - Sharon Rudahl

Emma Goldman (1869-1940) lived a long life, and every bit of it was dramatic stuff. She immigrated to America from Lithuania when she was a teenager. While still in the old country, she had read What Is To Be Done? by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, a novel about an affluent husband and wife who decide to sacrifice everything and dedicate themselves entirely to the revolution. This novel remained an inspiration to her for the rest of her life.

Shortly after her arrival in America, the Haymarket Riot attracted Goldman to anarchism, and she never looked back. A gifted public speaker who first gave speeches in Yiddish and German, then English, (after perfecting her language skills during a stint in prison), Emma Goldman was still traveling the country and speaking out against government corruption and war and for birth control in the final year of her life.

Since Goldman was possessed of a seemingly boundless energy and never shied from controversy, even though jail and death threats were common, this superwoman seems like an excellent choice for a graphic biography. Author Sharon Rudahl did both the text and the art. The art is terrific, but there's so much to explain since Goldman's life was all about history in the making that the text is a little overwhelming. Rudahl has a neat way of capsulizing history at times -- in one panel, she has newly elected President Theodore Roosevelt holding a copy Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and saying "Let's hurry up with those reforms, boys! I don't want to find a finger in my meat!"

At other times, it seems clear that even Rudahl is overwhelmed with too much text, because she has speech bubbles and commentary going all the way around the panel. This was confusing. I would keep reading, then shortly, in a lower panel, would read something that seemed out of context, but familiar, belonging to the above panel. This repeatedly broke my reading concentration, but I can't really fault Rudahl -- Emma Goldman was continually fascinating and it would be wrenching to have to make editorial decisions about the narrative.

Emma Goldman was married briefly, but she didn't care for the institution and was a proponent of "Free Love" all her life. A Dangerous Woman features three or four panels in which a naked Goldman is holding her lover at the time in a sexual embrace, so this is not a graphic biography for young readers.

In spite of the text-graphics balance problems, A Dangerous Woman is a well-done study of an immensely interesting American anarchist and radical.

1 comment:

The Protagonist said...

This sounds really cool. I only know of Emma in the context of feminist writings, or more recently in the nonfiction book Freethinkers. I really like graphic novels too and this is now on my list!