The following review appeared in edition 160 of Ripperologist magazine.

 

SYLVIA PANKHURST: THE REBELLIOUS SUFFRAGETTE

SHIRLEY HARRISON

London: Sapere Books, 2018
www.saperebooks.com
First Published: Sylvia Pankhurst, a Crusading Life 1882–1960 (2003)
Softcover & ebook
422pp; sources
ISBN:1912546132
£10 softcover & £4.99 ebook

Shirley Harrison describes Sylvia Pankhurst as running a “teashop” and I imagined Sylvia in a black dress and a white, starched-crisp, frilly pinny serving scones with clotted cream and strawberry jam. Elsewhere, Shirley has described this establishment as a “transport café”, which conjured an equally incongruous picture of Sylvia enveloped in a blue haze of cooking fat, spatula in hand, flipping eggs, frying bacon, and plating up sausages for overweight lorry drivers wearing sweaty vests and smoking Woodbines.

I have no idea which of these images is the closest to the truth, but both are clichéd images, so neither is probable. Nothing about Sylvia Pankhurst’s life was a cliché.

Sylvia Pankhurst (1882-1960) was the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst and sister of Christabel, the two great figures in women’s suffrage, but Sylvia was probably the most likeable and in many respects perhaps the most idealistic. Unlike Christabel who led from the rear, as it were, avoiding much of the suffering her followers endured, even fleeing to France to avoid arrest, Sylvia did her time, literally and figuratively, and went on hunger strike and endured forcible feeding. Sylvia also took her campaign to the poor, unlike Christabel who targeted the middle and upper class, and founded the East London Federation of Suffragettes, which campaigned for the vote for working-class women between 1912 and 1920.

Sylvia continued to fight for the vote after Emmeline and Christabel had moved on to other things, notably supporting WWI (and the highly controversial and in some ways deplorable Order of the White Feather, whose members and supporters gave a white feather denoting cowardice to men not in uniform), with which Sylvia disagreed, deepening the rift between them.

Sylvia founded and edited four newspapers, wrote and published 22 books and pamphlets, and countless articles.

Shirley Harrison has written a masterful and exceptionally well-received biography of Sylvia Pankhurst. This is not a new book, which is why we haven’t dallied long in its company, and it has in fact seen two previous incarnations, the revised 2012 edition having been republished by Sapere. Whilst the book isn’t new, the publisher is. Sapere – which I think means “to know” – was launched this year by Amy Durant, Richard Simpson and Caoimhe O’Brien, who formerly worked for the now defunct Endeavour Press. They’re an untraditional publisher, limiting their costs by only publishing print-on-demand and ebooks, and selling their goods exclusively through Amazon. The softcover is nicely produced, but lacks illustrations and an index, which is essential for a book of this size and subject matter, and for some reason there is a request from the author at the end of the book that the reader leave a review on Amazon and Goodreads. Which is all well and good, except the author is Keith Moray and the book is an unidentified crime fiction novel.

Review by Paul Begg.

 
 

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