The Making of Mollie
I was immediately drawn into this story by the easy tone of 14-year-old Mollie writing to her friend at boarding school. The book is set in Dublin, 1912, when Home Rule was being lobbied for. Another struggle was surfacing, too, not universally welcomed; women were arguing that the new parliamentary vote should be for all, and not just half, the population. We soon learn through Mollie’s letters that her older sister has a secret: Phyllis is a suffragette!
The plot revolves around the irrepressible Mollie becoming both politically aware and active. At first, she notices that her brother gets the best bits of chicken at supper. And he is allowed to relax afterwards while she and her sisters have to do the darning. From such gentle observations, Anna Carey builds up a kind of Girls’ Own picture of the unequal status of women. The family servant, Maggie tartly sums up her own shaky existence, ‘I may very well be part of the family, but it’s a part that can be sent packing without a reference.’
As well as this wonderful humour, Carey makes excellent use of sources. Heckles at one of the rallies Mollie sneaks off to are quotations from contemporary news reports. The slang used is drawn from yearbooks of the (actual) school that Mollie attends. And Mollie’s final act of daring is rooted in the court records of the day.
My one reservation is that the plot tension is not strong, mainly arising from Mollie’s attempts to keep her political activities secret. Being Mollie, of course, she is largely successful. However, if you approach this as the writings of Mary Wollstonecraft sung to the tune of Malory Towers it works quite delightfully. I, for one, curled up on the couch and did not put it down.