Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
Mary M. Talbot, Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth
It was a stroke of fate when I walked into Foyles on Saturday to buy a present for my sister and laid my eyes on Sally Heathcote: Suffragette. I've been thinking a lot about the Suffragette Movement this last week, what with the vote and the anniversary of Emmeline Pankhurst's 1914 arrest at Buckingham Palace, so it seemed fitting that this graphic novel fell into my hands.
Sally Heathcote: Suffragette tells the story of the campaign for female suffrage through the memories of Sally, a maid and seamstress who becomes a loyal (and militant) member of the WSPU. It is an impressively accurate work that gives a brilliantly concise overview of the key events of the campaign. Though concise, it is also vivid and gripping. Basically, this is a book I would add to a school curriculum and one I wished was around when I was at school, college and university.
I'm not much of a graphic novel reader, but if this is the calibre of works out there then I'll be found in the graphic novel section at the library for the next few weeks. The illustrations are wonderful and the colour symbolism of the WSPU is utilised really nicely. It is mostly in grey scale except the purple, green and white of the WSPU colours and the red of Sally's hair. I really like this affect as it keeps the message consistent as well as making the pages a joy to look at. There is a hunger strike/forcible feeding scene which is made particularly harrowing by the use of (or, lack of) colour. I also really like how the posters, banners and magazine pages are reproduced within the illustrations - this is why it is such a good social history.
The story itself is pretty action packed. We are first introduced to Sally as a maid in the Pankhurst household. She has to move to another position when the family move towards London and it is in this position that Sally faces sexism and harassment at the hands of her employer. Once she arrives in London Sally is involved in militancy from quite early on so there are plenty of protests, arrests and general unrest. All the familiar faces are here - Emily Wilding Davison, the Pankhursts and the Pethick-Lawrences. Even Constance Lytton (who is perhaps the suffragette I most admire), has a cameo role. If you're familiar with the time line of the suffrage campaign then the key protests and events that crop up will not be a surprise to you. What makes this more than just a graphic walk through the campaign is Sally's personal story. I have always questioned my own feelings about militancy and Sally's story makes me do so even more, but in a good way that enables me to truly assess my opinions.
The final image of the novel is of a girl approaching voting age in the late 60's saying 'oh, I don't think I'll bother' when asked if she will vote. This is a pretty powerful final image after all the pain, humiliation, passion and determination of the preceding pages. I know voting and politics is a touchy topic and I'm not going to get into it here, but personally I will always vote (even if I'm not totally clued up on politics) purely because what so many women went through to allow me that right.
If you hadn't already realised, I am passionate about the suffrage movement. I lived and breathed the WSPU, the Pankhursts, Constance Lytton etc. etc. for such a long time and it is really wonderful for me to be able to find that passion again in this graphic novel. Whether you're familiar with the movement or not, like history or not, like graphic novels or not, I would recommend Sally Heathcote: Suffragette. It is informative, thrilling and pretty darn beautiful.