This book is a well-researched, well-written account of the women's suffrage movement and the impact it had on society. It explores the difference between suffragists and suffragettes (legal/non-violent vs violent/illegal activity) and the effect the war had on women and children and the movement in general.
The narrative is told from three points of view - Evelyn, who is middle-class, intelligent and longs to go to university, except she can't because she is a girl; May, who is liberal, gay and fairly well-off, who lives with her suffragist mother; and Nell, who is working class, who works in a munitions factory during the war, doing the very work that inspired one politician (whose name escapes me at the moment), on the passing of the Representation of the People Act 1918, to say, 'they've earned it [the right to vote]'. Like you have to earn the right to be treated like a human fucking being.
May and Evelyn's paths cross at the very beginning of the book and then diverge as Evelyn becomes involved in the Suffragette movement and May, a Quaker and a pacifist, pursues the Suffragist path. May and Nell meet and fall in love, but apart from that the strands of the story don't intertwine, even though I kept expecting them to. The author does a great job of showing how the suffrage movement and the First World War impacted the three girls, but I don't know. I kept thinking they'd meet up again.
This was literally the only criticism I'd have of this book, though.
The characters were just great - I really rooted for them even when they were doing things I wouldn't have or were making dumb mistakes. They all grew and learned and developed as the story progressed. I was pleased (?) that there was a bittersweet ending - the ending of the book is in 1918 when the Representation of the People Act is passed in the Commons, but the three girls in the book still won't get the chance to vote until the law was amended in 1928 because the 1918 Act only applied to women over thirty.
I thought the portrayal of working-class suffragists was fab. Traditionally, we only really hear the narrative of middle-class suffragists - the sorts of ladies who were educated to a point and then were expected to sit at home having tea, producing children (who were shipped out to nannies) and running households. They had time on their hands to go out demonstrating and leafleting and protesting. What we don't so often hear about is the suffragists working in factories or doing piecemeal work at home with loads of children running around their feet.
Yes. This book was great. Go and read it now.