No Surrender by Constance Maud

Next up in this week’s set of book recommendations to celebrate International Women’s Day (yes I’m still going!) –  some gripping fiction.

No Surrender, published by the wonderful Persephone Books, is an absolute page-turner written at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in 1911. Emily Wilding Davison said that this novelbreathes the very spirit of our Women’s Movement’ and I would recommend it to anyone wishing to get a sense of the characters and events of the struggle for female suffrage.

It interweaves the story of a working-class mill girl who joins the movement with stories of the better-known ‘posh bird’ (technical historical term) side of the movement. In the character of the mill girl’s love interest, it also casts a light on those parts of the emerging labour movement that failed to support the women in their fight.

There are parts of this book that feel tame, but the forced feeding scene (far too pleasant a term for what was essentially torture) is brutal and the closing scene with the women marching down Piccadilly is glorious.

My grandmothers Margaret and Iris (see photos below) were born in 1916 and 1927 respectively – both before UK women secured equal voting rights to men in 1928. Yet only 66% of women – and 44% of women aged 18-24- voted in the 2015 UK general election. What would our ancestresses, who sang the rousing Women’s Social and Political Union anthem The March of the Women (see clip below), think of that?

‘They’re not voting Maud. After all that.’

‘You mean to say Ethel,  we were arrested, imprisoned, and force fed by those nasty wardresses shoving  four-foot-long tubes down our throats, for women not to vote?’


‘I’m effing annoyed Ethel’

‘Calm down Maud, it’s not good for your blood pressure’

‘You had your bloomin’ teeth knocked out when we were in Holloway!’

‘I know’

‘And we had to sing that bloody song!

(with thanks to the wonders of YouTube)

Nanny Iris in mid 1928 (with brother Charles),  when women secured equal voting rights to men
 Nanny Iris, 89, vs the patriarchy

6 Comments Add yours

  1. edbucks16 says:

    Brings out many of the themes from the film Suffragette too (where the interplay between different classes fighting together for the same goal is really striking).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I finished this book literally before walking into the film – sitting in the foyer of the Barbican waiting for my chum – and the same thing struck me. I would love to know if they used this as a source when researching the film. What did you think of the film?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. edbucks16 says:

        I really enjoyed it – I watched it with my sister, and we both liked the way that it felt like real people’s stories. Sometimes I think Emmeline Pankhurst et al just get put on a pedestal without recognising that it was a movement where individuals faced day after day of pain to be involved. Lose your home, your husband and your child to get women like yourself a vote? What a choice!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes agree – that was also the strength of the film. It could so easily have become a Pankhurst biopic but they took the right viewpoint. I am looking forward to watching it again now!


  2. FictionFan says:

    Great post! Haha! But Ethel and Maud couldn’t have foreseen how hard it is to commit to any of our current bunch! Sometimes as I stand in the polling booth, pencil in hand, I curse the Suffragettes… 😉

    Liked by 1 person

    1. FictionFan, I agree with you on that point! But I wonder if we had a committed electorate, we would then get parties we could commit to! Especially if we marshalled the youth vote (male and female). Not sure if I count as the youth vote anymore ha ha! I wish I had the answer.

      Liked by 1 person

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