NON FICTION ALERT!
Fuelled by Government’s repeated refusal to allow women to vote, Emmeline Pankhurst started and lead organisations and campaigns with ever-increasing militancy to gain the vote. She encourages crowds, confronts MPs, faces prison, escapes, grieves and fights in this book of her memoirs.
I loved this book. I loved learning about the suffragettes, hearing Pankhurst’s intelligent strategy in winning the vote, and was repeatedly outraged at the government’s reaction to them. It made me angry that I’ve never learned more about them – despite going to two girls schools. It made me angry that in culture we’ve reduced them, not acknowledging their sacrifice and the evil that they were up against.
I think that as a culture we think wrongly about the Suffragettes. We remember the more extreme things, and perhaps dismiss them as a little silly (Mary Poppins, anyone?). Despite knowing very little about them, I’ve always been immensely proud of and thankful to the women who sacrificed everything to give me the power to vote. The power to have a voice, to be a part of deciding what happens in our country.
But I was shocked, in reading this book, to find how little I know about them. I consider myself well-read and fairly knowledgable about the history of our nation, but found myself repeatedly astonished at this book: the cruelty and belligerency of the government, and the determination and resilience of the suffragettes. They suffered the most appalling treatment in prison and were beaten by police, and would still go out again to smash windows, burn down houses, interrupt meetings and do whatever it took to show the politicians that women were serious about wanting the vote.
The book was certainly historical rather than personal; Pankhurst describes things factually and clearly, evoking shock and outrage rather than sympathy or empathy. But it worked.
I would recommend this book to absolutely everyone, and would really like to see suffragettes getting a bit more airtime in the history curriculum. Of course, it’s a subject that makes our government – and men – look pretty awful, so I guess that’s why it’s not there – but I think it should be.
I think there’s a film coming out soon too, and I really want to go!