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The Pankhursts - Martin Pugh

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Genre: Biography / Author: Martin Pugh / Paperback / 560 Pages / Book is published 2002-08-01 by Penguin Books Ltd

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      09.07.2003 23:51
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      The book begins with a Pankhurst family tree, which is useful to refer to in the early stages of the book while the characters are less familiar. Emmeline (nee Goulden) married Richard Pankhurst and they had five children: Christabel, Sylvia (whose first name was actually Estelle), Frank, Adela and Harry. The book chronicles not only the Pankhursts involvement in the suffragette movement but the personal lives of the family. Emmeline was without doubt a very strong lady. She fell in love with Richard as she admired his principles, his politics and his oration skills. He worked with her in the initial stages of fighting for women?s suffrage but died in 1898 before the movement began to adopt militant tactics. Although Emmeline was often doing good deeds, such as adopting four children abandoned due to illegitimacy at the beginning of the First World War and sacrificing liberty and health in the suffragette movement. However, on a personal level she seemed to be less understanding and philanthropic. To her wearing glasses was a sign of weakness and Frank, who had terrible eyesight, was never allowed spectacles. As a result he suffered terrible headaches and suffered academically. Emmeline?s favourite was obviously Christabel and luxuries given to her would be denied to other children. Adela suffered more than the others in this regard and was withheld a formal education. In later years, Emmeline and Adela fell out and Emmeline, embarrassed by Adela?s left wing politics, banished her daughter to Australia and the two never spoke again. Emmeline undoubtedly worked hard for the suffragette movement, albeit at the expense of family relations. She participated in the widespread technique of hunger strikes and her health suffered severely as a result. In her latter years she retired to Canada, where she embarked upon courses of morality lectures. She was obviously a woman who liked to have ?a cause?. Adela, the youngest daughter, suffered throughout her life from depression and did not receive the support of her family. She participated in the fight for suffrage and felt that she was always competing for her mother?s attention and respect. Despite her efforts her mother tried to steer her out of the public arena and into horticulture! This was obviously not in her nature and once she had begun her new life in Australia she became an ardent campaigner against fascism. Christabel, Emmeline?s eldest and favourite child, seems to have been a bit of a prima donna. She was, no doubt, a very talented speaker but loved to be the centre of attention. She disliked the periods she spent in prison and to escape imprisonment fled to France, where she lived in Paris (at the expense of the suffragette funds) until she could safely return to England. In later life she followed her mother to Canada and became an Adventist. She, never one to lead a quiet and sheltered existence, spent the rest of her days preaching the word. After reading the biography I emerged with a clear favourite of Sylvia from the Pankhurst clan. She always worked hard in support of her beliefs, which seem to have been genuinely and deeply held. Her actions were always unselfish and made from a pure motive of standing up for what she believed in. Although I do not share her left wing political views, which at times became so extreme that she was associated with Communism, I do admire her commitment to her beliefs and her determination to fight for what was right. She was actively involved in the suffragette movement and in her later years she was a strident campaigner against Mussolini?s invasion of Ethiopia. She was so committed to this issue that she was eventually offered a large home and staff in Ethiopia, where she became well known and revered and upon her death was given a state funeral. The biography is just that, a biography; Pugh conc
      entrates on the lives of the Pankhurst women and, although the suffragette movement (for which they are most famous) is discussed in some detail, it is not a dominant topic but is covered in enough depth to reflect its importance and duration in the Pankhurst family?s lives. Pugh sets out the book in strict chronological order, which seems logical but results in a hopping around in the discussion of one Pankhurst to another. Also this format does not lend itself as well to a critique or overview of the entire situation. Pugh narrates his tale clearly and dispassionately, allowing the reader to form their own opinion of the characters and situations. One minor criticism would be that he occasionally repeats himself but the instances are few and far between and probably imperceptible to the casual reader. The book contains some photographs of the Pankhursts, which really helps to bring the story to life. Seeing images of those people we are reading about makes the personalities seem more real and we are able to build a mental image of them. I found the pictures so interesting that I would have just one more gripe: there should have been more of them! The book was not a complex read but an interesting depiction of the lives of these fascinating women. I would not necessarily recommend it to those interested in learning about the suffragette movement per se but would highly endorse it to those who enjoy reading biographies. OTHER INFORMATION Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London Website: www.penguin.com Price: £8.99 ISBN: 0-140-29038-9

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      Emmeline Pankhurst, together with her three daughters--the charming but fickle Christabel, the serious socialist Sylvia, and the lesser-known militant Adela, personified the suffragette ...