Suffragette Autumn Women’s Spring
The title highlighting the women’s suffrage movement drew me to this book. When I discovered the starting point of the sinking of the Titanic, I was intrigued. I had not previously associated these two vivid features of Edwardian society, but Ian Porter’s story links them seamlessly. Opening with the Titanic tragedy, Porter focuses on a young crew member, Ruby Martin, and an older passenger, Alexander Nash (the ‘Nashey’ of Porter’s previous novel, Whitechapel), as they abandon ship. Their shared experience of the dreadful treatment received by lower class passengers both on board and after their rescue predisposes them to support the suffrage movement.
While making it clear that the movement encompasses far more than votes for women, Porter weaves his fictitious characters in and out of the paths of real figures in history, including the Pankhursts and Emily Davison, who died under the King’s horse on Derby Day. (Ruby is cast as her official horse racing advisor.) Porter’s detailed research yields many fascinating facts, conveyed compellingly and with compassion. I often wondered where the historical fact ended and the fiction began.
A few things hampered my enjoyment of the story: the prose was somewhat ponderous, and repeated misspelling of words (e.g. ‘bye-election’/by-election; ‘a-jar’/ajar) was distracting. Nashey’s Eastender dialect written phonetically was irritating: there is a knack for writing accents, the trick is to give a flavour not dwell on detail. A professional editor experienced with the technical side of writing would have sorted these issues. However, the historical detail and likeable main characters kept the pages turning.
The endpoint – the outbreak of the First World War – made this a timely read as the world marks the centenary. It would make a topical, stimulating book group choice.