Bring Out the Banners
Set in the Edwardian period shortly before the outbreak of WW1, the story deals with a different struggle, the fight for women’s right to vote. Office girl Fiona Campbell has joined the Women’s Social and Political Union and, although she lives independently from her parents in modest accommodation, she still cannot afford to support the suffragette movement openly for fear of losing her job and her livelihood.
When she meets Lady Isabelle Isherwood, a girl her own age whose parents are sympathetic to the cause – although not directly involved in it – and dashing writer and journalist Guy Dangerfield, she finds the courage of her convictions to take a stand for justice.
Mainly through Fiona’s eyes, we follow the paths of the three friends as they come into contact with famous (and infamous) personages of the time, e.g. Mrs Pankhurst and Flora Drummond, and we witness the authorities subjecting the suffragettes to the barbarous Cat and Mouse Act. The developing romance between Guy and Fiona is touching, even if they don’t always see eye to eye about the methods used in the struggle.
There’s a strong sense of atmosphere, and the novel is rich in period detail, from ‘the gas-lit hall’ to contemporary anecdotes and newspaper accounts of the rallies and protests organised by the suffragettes. Expertly researched, it focuses not on the differences between the supporters, who come from all walks of life, but on the cause which unites them and, although the author describes vividly the ordeal suffered by the women on hunger strike in prison, this is done sensitively without wallowing in the awfulness.
At 159 pages the book is just the right length, with just the right tone, to interest readers aged 9+ in the subject without being didactic.