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 novel ‘breathes 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!’
‘And we had to sing that bloody song!‘
(with thanks to the wonders of YouTube)