In 1823, the History of the Celebrated Mrs. Ann Carson
rattled Philadelphia society and became one of the most scandalous,
and eagerly read, memoirs of the age. This tale of a woman who
tried to rescue her lover from the gallows and attempted to kidnap
the governor of Pennsylvania tantalized its audience with illicit
love, betrayal, and murder.
Carson's ghostwriter, Mary Clarke, was no less daring. Clarke
pursued dangerous associations and wrote scandalous exposés based
on her own and others' experiences. She immersed herself in the
world of criminals and disreputable actors, using her acquaintance
with this demimonde to shape a career as a sensationalist
In Dangerous to Know, Susan Branson follows the
fascinating lives of Ann Carson and Mary Clarke, offering an
engaging study of gender and class in the early nineteenth century.
According to Branson, episodes in both women's lives illustrate
their struggles within a society that constrained women's
activities and ambitions. She argues that both women simultaneously
tried to conform to and manipulate the dominant sexual, economic,
and social ideologies of the time. In their own lives and through
their writing, the pair challenged conventions prescribed by these
ideologies to further their own ends and redefine what was possible
for women in early American public life.
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