Friday, 16 May 2014

Back With A Bang: 'Sally Heatcote: Suffragette'

First, I must begin this blog with an apology and that is an apology for my absence for what does feel like absolutely forever, but is actually 2 weeks. This is owing to a huge workload and a lot of stress over the past month, and I hope you will all forgive me. And so, in order to make it up to you, I decided to do something a little different this week. This week I will be reviewing ‘Sally Heathcote: Suffragette’ by Mary M Talbot, Kate Charlesworth and Bryan Talbot. This graphic novel caught my eye in Forbidden Planet, and, thinking it might quite interesting, I thought I’d give it a shot. After reading? Interesting does not even begin to cover how much I enjoyed it.
                I’ll begin with the narrative of the tale; it’s a clever depiction of a working class girl’s experiences with the suffragette movement and the Pankhurst family in general, mainly depicting her fervour and then disillusionment with said movement, and the desperation and fight that women faced at the time. I have read political graphic novels before (if you’re into that kind of thing, track down ‘Cuba: My Revolution’, it’s truly fab), and one of their true talents is telling a side of a story that isn’t so far publicised. When being taught about the suffragettes, most people remember the violence, but the idea that there was any other kind of suffragette but a militant one is something that I think so few people learn. Hell, even I was learning about them, I developed an unhealthy interest with Emily Davidson throwing herself under a horse, before realises that the famous Sylvia Pankhurst was actually a pacifist, but I digress. The protagonist Sally really, at first, believes in the militancy of her movement, a true follower of Christabel Pankhurst, and it is this very belief that makes her growing distaste of it all the more real and her separation from the movement all the more saddening to read. Sally creates a complicated image of the suffragette, a warrior who realises the true damage of some of her actions, which helps us as readers realise that the history we know of heroes and villains, freedom-fighters versus terrorists, is not a complete history, merely one aspect of a far more complex issue.
                Another point I have to make about this book, mainly because it would be a crime to Kate Charlesworth if I didn’t, is that its illustration is not only beautiful, but really adds another layer to the story. The pages contain a muted colour palette, with only the WSPU colours (green, white and purple, before you wiki it) and Sally’s bright orange hair used to break the grey and white frames. There are a few exceptions to this rule, for example the passage which is set entirely in candlelit darkness, but overall the effect of this is staggering. My own personal favourite element of the illustration was the metamorphic sequences representing the cat and mouse act, which really demonstrated the predatory and threatening nature of politics of the time towards the women’s suffrage movement. I also greatly enjoyed the realistic portrayals of women in it (no Barbies or manic pixie dream girls, woohoo!), who all came across as having the appearance of real women, something that a LOT of times is missed from graphic novels with attempts at realism.
                Overall, I have very little to criticise with this one (not that that is very new, but still). It portrays an interesting view of history, beautifully and (equally importantly) accurately, with a stack of references and notes at the back, which, if you’re a bit of a nerd like me and want to re-read with all the footnotes, is fascinating. Which is what I did promptly after reading. Twice.

1 comment:

  1. This is great Frankie, I'm glad it turned out well. I did the Suffragettes for my A level history coursework (on terrorism/acts of terror that changed things and whether they were really effective) and was surprised when doing my research by the lack of actual violent acts and the pull against violence within the movement. Although most of my research out of necessity had to revolve around Christabel (and her adoring fangirls) I definitely found Sylvia to be the most compelling to research (and the one that actually did the most good for women at the time). Might ask you for a lend at some point....xx