Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Review: No Surrender, by Constance Maud


Pages: 328
Original date of publication: 1911
My edition: 2011
Why I decided to read:
How I acquired my copy: Persephone subscription, June 2012

No Surrender was published in 1911 at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in England. The novel tells the story of to women from different walks of life: Jenny Clegg, a former mill worker, and Mary O’Neil, an upper-class woman who gets Jenny involved in the suffragette movement. No Surrender is a product of Constance Maud’s involvement with the Women Writers Suffrage League, an organization that sought to change public opinion with the use of words, and whose members included Violet Hunt and May Sinclair.

As a piece of social history, No Surrender is excellent in its portrayal of the suffrage movement. But this isn’t necessarily a novel that’s just about suffrage. It’s also about the struggle against oppressive authority and the senseless rules that, to give an example from the novel, allow a husband to send his children to Australia without the mother’s consent. Jenny and Mary aren’t individual characters so much as they are representative of the larger idea and principle, to gain suffrage not only for women but for working-class men, too. Se we also see undercurrents of socialism. No Surrender is extremely humorous in many places, particularly when Jenny disguises herself as a servant in order to break up a dinner party; or when Mary demands to know why she wasn’t arrested when she visits the prison.

Whenever I think about women’s suffrage, either in England or the US, I think of women chaining themselves to railings and being force-fed in Holloway prison. No Surrender forces the reader to step back and look at things from a different perspective, to see the reason why those kinds of women did what they did—because to them, it was a matter of ethical principle. The women in Constance Maud’s novel had to shout in order to have their voice heard, but this novel shows that sometimes the written word is just as powerful.

This is Persephone No. 94.


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