Last fall the editors of The Washingtonian magazine wrote Charlotte Fedders a letter. Look, they said, if you ever want to tell your story -- a story that would describe how her husband John Fedders, a high-level government official, beat and humiliated her during their 18 years of marriage -- tell it to us.
The letter paid off, it seems. The April issue of the magazine, which will be on newsstands Wednesday, contains a nearly 20,000-word account of the Fedderses' marriage. It begins with John Fedders, who is 6 feet 10, grinding wedding cake into his wife's face, and goes on, sometimes brutally, from there.
The magazine paid an undisclosed amount for Charlotte Fedders' cooperation on the piece. The Washingtonian's top rate is 50 cents a word.
"It's a classic women's story," said Editor John Limpert. "It's a classic love story."
After the story came out last year, Charlotte Fedders became for many a symbol of the abused wife. Many women's rights activists said the Fedders case served to show that such abuse occurs at all levels of income and social strata.
The Fedderses divorced last October. Charlotte Fedders, 42, still lives in the couple's $300,000 house in Potomac and has custody of their five sons, aged 5 to 17. When the charges against him were made public a year ago, John Fedders resigned his job as Securities and Exchange Commission enforcement director. He lives now in Northwest Washington, sees his children periodically and practices law at Miller Cassidy Larroca & Lewin.
Reached at home yesterday and told about the article, John Fedders said, "I don't care to talk about it, thank you."
Although staff writer Laura Elliott interviewed Fedders extensively over a period of three months, much of what is in the article appeared in court testimony.
"The initial idea was to have it be written in the first person with Laura Elliott's help," Limpert said. "Ordinarily we don't pay for something like this, but it did start out as something like a book excerpt."
So far there are no plans for a book. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine what Charlotte Fedders could have left out of her account -- except John Fedders' side of the story. Nowhere in the piece is he quoted. Limpert said, "Mrs. Fedders did not want us to call for a reaction. That's why Laura left out some petty negative details."
The article, which begins on the cover of the magazine, describes the courtship of a doctor's daughter from Towson, Md., and "a poor Kentucky boy" who played basketball at Marquette University and was finishing his legal studies at Catholic University.
They married in August 1966, and moved to New York. In those first years of marriage, Charlotte Fedders says, she found her husband demanding and fastidious. He would hold "white-glove" inspections of the apartment every Sunday night.
Soon, she recalls, the beatings began: "It was the spring of 1968. All we were doing was talking. And for the first time I was disagreeing with him and sticking to my guns. I got his right hand to the left side of my face. That was always the way it happened. One good sock to the left side of my face. Then I heard this ringing sound. He had broken my ear drum . . . My intelligence kept telling me I had done nothing wrong, but my heart kept saying I must have. Why else would he have done it?"
And soon after, when she was pregnant: "He beat me again in August -- this time around the abdomen. And he yelled that he didn't care if he killed me or the baby. I was sitting on the couch, and he stood over me, beating me. I think we were arguing about something like what kind of street the house should be on."
She says her husband would often apologize, explicitly or implicitly, in bed. Writes Elliott: "Though other aspects of their relationship fell into painful cycles, their sex life remained healthy, and probably was the most normal part of their relationship." Charlotte Fedders says in the article that she was almost as distraught about her husband's inattention as about his periodic violence. Often, she says, he would ignore her completely.
"These silences were the ultimate control. He knew not talking to me, not responding, would make me crazy. You can't imagine what it's like to walk into a room where your husband is and to get no response. None. For days. For weeks."
As Charlotte Fedders describes it, her husband was obsessed with appearances, work and money, often demanding that the couple spend way beyond their means. "I was almost as interested in the money side of it as the wife beating," Limpert said.
Fedders took a $100,000 cut in pay when he left the law firm of Arnold & Porter to work at the SEC, but he thought the "revolving door" of government would bring him a job later at around $400,000.
In February 1985, the Fedderses' marital situation became public knowledge when they began divorce proceedings in court and The Wall Street Journal published a detailed account.
During the trial Charlotte Fedders' lawyer asked her why she waited 18 years to leave her husband:
"I adored John Fedders . . . I felt privileged to be married to a man of his stature . . . I never wanted to leave him. He was my life . . . And honestly, the reason I finally decided that there was no other way was because of the effect it was having on my children. Even when John left, I didn't have the self-esteem to think I deserved to be treated better."