The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.
RISE UP WOMEN! THE REMARKABLE LIVES OF THE SUFFRAGETTES
London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2018 www.bloomsbury.com www.dianeatkinson.co.uk @Dithe Dauntless hardcover & ebook 670pp; illus; appendices; notes; biblio; index ISBN:9781408844045 £30 hardcover (but see below) & £3.47 ebook
At well over 600 pages, Diane Atkinson’s book is a heavyweight in every respect except reading, for the narrative moves at a sprightly pace, which is both a good and a bad thing. Diane Atkinson’s aim is to provide a comprehensive account of the suffrage movement, and in this she succeeds admirably, but the topic is huge and it’s difficult to tell in detail, which means that Atkinson flashes through her narrative with what amounts to a series of pen-portraits or vignettes of people and events.
We mainly recall the Pankhursts, primarily Emmeline and her daughter Christabel, founder and leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), who tirelessly campaigned between 1903 and 1914, becoming increasingly violent, but Atkinson doesn’t give them the usual limelight and instead pays attention to others who played a major but now virtually forgotten part in the cause – the armour-wearing, white horse riding Margery Bryce, and the arsonist Lilian Lenton, a master of disguise nicknamed the “Elusive Pimpernel”.
It wasn’t a simple matter of giving women the vote. That this would happen was almost inevitable. What worried many people in authority was that Britain was heading towards revolution, and some looked favourably on the real possibility of war as the only way of preventing it. Others were seriously concerned that enemy agents were entering the country in large numbers. The suffragettes, smashing windows, chaining themselves to railings, setting fire to public buildings and empty houses, were viewed as terrorists, akin to the Fenian bombers of an earlier generation, and one of the subversive elements determined to bring down the status quo. Even a great many women thought that giving women the vote would “damage the country and the Empire”.
It’s little surprise, therefore, that the police were ordered to respond to the Suffragettes with force and in many cases acted with undue and unnecessary brutality, and that women taken prisoner were treated like common criminals and held in unsavoury conditions, rather than the better conditions they would have been afforded if treated like the political prisoners they saw themselves as being.
World War One effectively brought the Suffragette movement to an end. Campaigns were suspended for the duration, Emmeline and Christabel threw their weight behind the war effort, women turned to taking over the jobs of men in factories.
Rise Up, Women! is a meticulously researched celebration of the women who answered the call and among the better books written in this centennial year of partial women suffrage. As said, it isn’t a tough read, but it isn’t easy going either. But it is very satisfying. It’s also worth noting that although the cover price is £30, it’s possible to pick up a new copy for half that price and that the ebook is less than £3.50.
Review by Paul Begg.