This week saw the publication of Park Lane, a new novel by Frances Osbourne (wife of the current chancellor) about the shifting social hierachy in Edwardian England. The latest in a long line of historical novels about the suffrage movement, Osbourne’s book has disturbed some readers, on both stylistic and political grounds. As Julie Burchill put it in The Observer: “There is something repulsive about a book that celebrates a pivotal moment of social progress – votes for women – by the wife of a man who serves in a government that contains more well-born nobodies than any since the second world war, men who would probably not have attained such status had they had to get there on their own merit rather than been given a leg-up by their expensive educations and extensive crony network.”
Meanwhile, No Surrender (1911), Constance Maud’s crusading realist novel written at the zenith of the suffrage campaign in England, has recently been republished by Persephone Books.
According to the Persephone Books website: ‘When Emily Davison, who was to die in 1913 under the King’s horse at the Epsom Derby, reviewed No Surrender, she wrote: “There is scarcely a notable incident of the militant campaign which is left untouched. As we devour its pages, we once more review such unforgettable as the Pantechnicon incident, the protest of the Grille, the Suffragette Fire-Engine, the sending of women by Express Post to the Prime Minister, and the final word-picture of [the procession of 1910]. But for vivid realism, the pictures of prison life, of the Hunger Strike and Forcible Feeding, are difficult to beat. It is a book which breathes the very spirit of our Women’s Movement’”.’
For an insightful exegesis of Edwardian women’s suffrage fiction, see the chapter on ‘Suffragette Stories’ in Jane Eldridge Miller’s Rebel Women: Feminism, Modernism, and the Edwardian Novel (1994).