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From: Peter Langston <psl>
Date: Sun, 1 Oct 100 23:05:51 -0700
Subject: Lynne Cheney
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Bold Themes in a Lynne Cheney Novel
By CAREY GOLDBERG
Elaine Showalter, an English professor at Princeton University, was browsing
a used-book stall in Paris in the early 1990's when she came upon an
astonishing find: an Old West romance, replete with whorehouses, lesbian
affairs and attempted rapes, written by an author whose name was all too
familiar to academics in the humanities.
Dr. Showalter had stumbled across an old and obscure novel by Lynne
Cheney, who until recently was known mainly for her tenure as the
conservative chair of the National Endowment of the Humanities and as a
crusader against American educational decline, multiculturalism and
relativism. These days, she is best known for being married to the
Republican vice-presidential candidate, Dick Cheney.
The book, entitled "Sisters," was printed in 1981 only in a Signet
Canadian paperback, Dr. Showalter said, and is now extremely hard to
find. In the typically hyperbolic language of romance novels, the book's
jacket promises the tale of Sophie Dymond, a beautiful, strong-willed widow
who leaves New York to investigate her sister's death in Wyoming, and finds
herself in a world "where wives were led to despise the marriage act and
prostitutes pandered to husbands' hungers . . . where the relationship
between women and men became a kind of guerrilla warfare in which women
were forced to band together for the strength they needed and at times for
the love they wanted."
This week, in a scholarly review published in the Chronicle of Higher
Education, Dr. Showalter discussed what she considered some of the more
surprising aspects of "Sisters," from its open-minded attitudes toward
feminism a*? penned by an outspoken opponent of women's studies programs
a*? to its deliciously Gothic plot elements.
Mrs. Cheney's brief biography on the official Bush campaign Web site
lists only two books to her credit: a history of the House of
Representatives she wrote with her husband, and "Telling the Truth," which
argues that political correctness is breaking down America's morality.
She has also written two other novels, "Executive Privilege" in 1979 and
"The Body Politic," which was written with Victor Gold in 1988 and concerns
the wife of a dead vice president.
But it is "Sisters" that dominates Dr. Showalter's review; she said
the book struck her in part because of the use it made of work by
several feminist historians. It showed knowledge of their work, and also
sympathy for 19th-century women's advocates, she said. In an interview
this week, Mrs. Cheney said she wrote the book while her husband was running
for Congress and said her goal was "to write a thriller set in the 19th-
But she had another goal too. "In the 1970's feminists did important
work recovering women's history," she said. "I tried to do some of that
myself." In the book, Sophie Dymond is described as a successful magazine
publisher so savvy and strong- minded she carries about a little lacquer
box of contraceptives. She goes to Cheyenne, Wyo., in 1886 to find out how
her sister Helen had died. As Dr. Showalter writes, Sophie comes upon a
group of women who are convinced of female moral superiority and the value
of powerful woman-to-woman bonds of friendship, and she comes to understand
their grievances even as she rejects their "lesbian ardor."
In one passage Dr. Showalter pointed out, Sophie watches two women
embrace in a wagon. "She saw that the women in the cart had a
passionate, loving intimacy forever closed to her. How strong it made them.
What comfort it gave."
What really struck her, Dr. Showalter said, was that Mrs. Cheney
"approaches these issues in a very open-minded way, and a way very
sympathetic to the women and very sympathetic to the feminist arguments."
But those qualities apparently did not appeal much to the book buyers of
the early 80's.
"I think `Sisters' sold about 500 copies," Mrs. Cheney said. "I hope
the renewed interest in it will send it flying off the shelves."
© 2000 Peter Langston