Monday, 25 August 2008

Votes for Suffragettes. . .

When I was recently visiting Niagara-on-the-Lake to take in some plays at the Shaw Festival, I wandered into the British shop on the main road, to stock up on Jaffa Cakes and Twiglets. The store also has a good selection of DVDs and I picked up The Suffragettes. It's only about an hour long and thus basically just skims the topic. Still, it shows how ghastly the force-feeding was in the prisons, and it's quite difficult to watch Emily Wilding Davison's death when she throws herself in front of the horse at the Derby. Actresses play the Pankhursts and other suffragists and there's a tiny bit of scene from Shaw's Press Cuttings. A good introduction to the topic - I imagine it would be useful for students. Much more powerful is the Upstairs Downstairs (one of my favourite television series) episode in the second season, when Rose the maid, tries to stop Elizabeth - her naive upstairs mistress who is dabbling at being a suffragette almost out of boredom - from getting into trouble with the law and ends up being arrested instead. Rose's experiences in prison are frightening and heart-breaking.

These brave women are true heroines of mine - discerning readers may have noted that the colours I've chosen for this blog reflect the purple (for justice), white (for purity) and green (for hope) of the flags of the Women's Social and Political Union - one of the main organizations in the fight for women's votes.

There would definately be a section in my bookstore devoted entirely to histories of the suffrage movement, biographies of the main players and plays and novels that explored the issues and/or were written by suffragists. Broadview Press has kept a lot of these books in print. They've published a wonderful anthology entitled The Literature of The Women's Suffrage Campaign in England, edited by Carolyn Christensen Nelson, that includes articles making the case for and against suffrage, eyewitness accounts from the memoirs and writings of the suffragists themselves and selections of suffrage poetry, drama and fiction. They also specialize in New Woman fiction of the era, having also published The New Woman Reader also edited by Christensen Nelson, and novels such as Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore. At the end of this month they are bringing out Prisons and Prisoners - the memoirs of Constance Lytton, a member of the aristocracy who pretended to be a working class woman to call attention to the differential treatment that women of different classes received in the prisons.

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