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My Notorious Life

My Notorious Life

A Novel

  • reading group guide
Inspired by a real midwife who became one of the most controversial figures in Victorian New York City, this “daring page-turner” (O, The Oprah Magazine) is an unforgettable tale—a love story, a family saga, and the confessions of a charismatic and passionate woman who changed the lives of countless others.

Meet the incomparable Axie Muldoon. 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 rights, Axie rises from grim tenement rooms to the splendor of a mansion on Fifth Avenue, amassing wealth while learning over and over never to trust a man who says “trust me.”

When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official—Anthony Comstock, founder of the Society for the Suppression of Vice. It will take all of Axie’s power to outwit him in the fight to preserve her freedom and everything she holds dear. Inspired by the true history of an infamous physician who was once called “the Wickedest Woman in New York,” Kate Manning is “writing in the venerable tradition of Stephen Crane…those social reformers knew that a powerful tale with memorable characters could draw us into the heat of social debates like nothing else” (The Washington Post).
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  • Scribner | 
  • 464 pages | 
  • ISBN 9781451698077 | 
  • August 2014
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Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for My Notorious Life includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Kate Manning. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.


Introduction

Axie’s story begins on the unforgiving 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 a vivid voice, 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 Tonic for Female Complaint” into a thriving midwifery business. 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. When her services attract outraged headlines, Axie finds herself on a collision course with a crusading official. It takes all of Axie’s cunning and power to outwit him in the fight to preserve everything she holds dear.

Topics & Questions for Discussion

1. Discuss the structure of My Notorious Life. Why do you think the author chose to present the story as long lost memoir, dis see more

About the Author

Kate Manning
Photograph by Anne Day

Kate Manning

Kate Manning is the author of the critically acclaimed novel Whitegirl. A former documentary television producer and winner of two Emmy Awards, she has written for the New York Times, Glamour, and More magazine, among other publications. She has taught writing in the English Department at Bard High School Early College and lives with her family in New York City.

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