Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Lit Nerd Recommends: Suffragettes

It's no secret that, along with the First World War, the Suffragette Movement is an obsession of mine. When I was planning my MA dissertation I somewhat cautiously moved away from my original idea focusing on shell shock and instead decided to look at the WSPU. It was both one of the boldest and most exciting decisions I'd ever made at uni and, although I slightly fell out of love with the subject at about 19,500 words, it's something that still fills me with that urge to learn.

I've read so many fantastic books - fiction and non-fiction - about the movement and written by the women who were part of it. I'm sure there are countless more out there that I don't know about. Given the recent buzz around the subject following the film Suffragette, I thought I would share my personal reading recommendations.

No Surrender by Constance Maud
Published by Persephone, this is probably my favourite of the bunch. 'No surrender' is a common phrase in suffrage lit and whenever I see it written down my mind immediately goes to the women in this novel beating out the rhythm of the words on the pipes whilst in prison.

William, an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton
Another Persephone book and an absolutely wonderful, but heartbreaking novel. Worth a read for the suffrage movement and WW1. Hamilton is also hugely inspiring and founded the Women Writer's Suffrage League (this reminds me that I really must revisit Lis Whitelaw's biography).

Falling Angels by Tracy Chevalier
I studied this novel in college and I think it was one of the first books which triggered my life-long interest in the WSPU. It's a really good novel for getting a feel of the Edwardian period as a whole, not just the suffrage movement.

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
Another contemporary novel which has managed to stay with me since I read it. At it's heart is a romance, but it's a beautifully written novel which focuses on the struggle between the heart and the head.

The Judge by Rebecca West
I'm a huge fan of West, but this is definitely one of her more complex novels in terms of plot/theme. It's an interesting read and one with plenty of depth.

Sally Heathcote, Suffragette by Mary Talbot and others
You may remember I raved about this graphic novel a while ago and I still stand by those comments. It's brilliant and well worth a read - I adored that it uses only black/white and the WSPU colours.

Voices and Votes
This is a really great anthology that I tracked down when I was first collecting my primary sources. I always enjoy reading the perspectives of people who have perhaps been a little forgotten over the years.

Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore
Another favourite and one I would highly recommend. Colmore includes real people and events in this novel (thinly disguised, of course), and her account of Lady Hill (aka Constance Lytton) disguising herself as a working girl to reveal class differences in the treatment of prisoners, introduced me to Lytton, who is now a bit of a hero of mine.

Prisons and Prisoners by Constance Lytton
When I wrote my disseratation I wasn't able to find a physical copy of this so you can imagine my excitement when I stumbled upon a copy on the South Bank Book Market (sheer joy doesn't quite cover it). For anyone who wants to explore a different side of the movement I would recommend this memoir as the perfect starting point.

Well that's quite a list! I think I may take some time next year to have a re-read of some of these books, or perhaps explore others. If you have any recommendations do share them in the comments! Have you read any of these?


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