2020 Alphabet Soup Author Edition – No Surrender by Constance Maud

Genre: Feminist, Political

Narrative Style: Third person, chronological

Rating: 2/5

Published: 1911

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: Jenny Clegg is a mill girl in Lancashire when she gets involved with the Suffragette movement. The novel follows her and her friend Mary O’Neill through marches, prison and force feeding during their fight for the vote. 

Reading Challenges: 2020 Alphabet Soup: Author Edition

I first heard of this novel in the BBC Two program, Novels that Shaped Our World in November, last year. It sounded interesting so I downloaded it onto my kindle. I’d never read a novel about the suffragette movement before – indeed, I don’t think there are many – and so I was quite excited to read it. Unfortunately, it did not live up to my expectations.

The main issue with this novel is that it is purely political. So you might expect when dealing with such a subject but there is nothing else in this novel, no subplots, no romance and no other way of separating characters. The players in this novel are good or bad depending on whether or not they are for or against women’s suffrage. In a lot of cases, this is their only personality trait. On both sides of the argument this led to stereotypical and hollow representations. The suffragettes were all good, moral women and those against them often seemed ridiculous. No one ever wavered in their feelings – no suffragette anyway. Some of the disbelievers come across to the suffragette side.

Secondly, the majority of this novel is dialogue. Not only that but a lot of it is written in dialect which is often hard to decipher and did make me wonder if Maud had ever actually had much to do with the working classes. It made the reading experience jarring at times. All the dialogue also made the pace quite slow. There wasn’t much action, more people describing action.

There are good things – important things – in this book. It describes a lot of the reasons that women wanted the vote really clearly and shows the injustices that women – particularly working women – faced at that time. It described the force feeding of Mary O’Neil in detail and showed how badly the suffragettes were treated in prison. All of this is important historical detail but unfortunately it didn’t override the other issues with the novel.

Non Fiction Reading Challenge – My Own Story – Emmeline Pankhurst

2016 Nonfiction Challenge

Genre: Autobiography / memoir

Narrative Style: First person

Rating: 4/5

Published: 1914

Format: Kindle

Synopsis: A personal account of the meetings and actions of the W.S.P.U. and also an explanation for these actions. 

Reading Challenge: The Non Fiction Challenge.

When I was a student, I did some modules on the suffragettes and when the film came out last year, it re-sparked my interest in this part of history. So when this came up on Amazon, I didn’t hesitate.

It was a very good read. It showed the power and passion of Pankhurst herself as well as the rest of the W.S.P.U. quite clearly. Pankhurst seems to have been an incredibly charismatic leader as well as being clearly intelligent and determined. She must have been a force to be reckoned with.

In one sense, this is an uplifting read. I’m not sure that I could have kept going in the face of forcible feeding and the cat and mouse act but these women were not going give up, no matter what. It was inspiring to think of them fighting back especially considering they had no real political power. They had to find other means to make their voices heard.

For the most part though, it is a difficult read. Pankhurst writes of thirst and sleep strikes where she was so weak she could barely stand but still she attempted to walk the length of her cell and not rest. The politicians do not come out of this well. Lloyd-George and Asquith particularly prove themselves to be duplicitous and uncaring. They treated the women as if they were hysterical and ignored their demands whereas male rebels (such as those in Ireland who opposed home rule) were taken seriously.

Mrs Pankhurst’s style is conversational and so is easy to read. However, speeches and political discussions are often recorded in full and are sometimes a little dry. There is a lot of talk about motives for action but the actions themselves are not always described. This slows the pace a little. However, as an insight in the workings of such an important political organisation, it is definitely worth the read.