Book Review: Sally Heathcote: Suffragette by Mary M. and Bryan Talbot

shsTitle: Sally Heathcote: Suffragette
Authors: Mary M. and Bryan Talbot, Kate Charlesworth (Illustrator)
Published: 2014
Genre: GNHF
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 192
Source: Library
Dates Read: March 22 – April 9, 2018
Grade: B
Synopsis: Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a gripping inside story of the campaign for votes for women. A tale of loyalty, love, and courage, set against a vividly realized backdrop of Edwardian Britain, it follows the fortunes of a maid-of-all-work swept up in the feminist militancy of the era. Sally Heathcote: Suffragette is a  stunning collaboration from Costa Award winners, Mary and Bryan Talbot. Teamed up with acclaimed illustrator Kate Charlesworth, Sally Heathcote‘s lavish pages bring history to life.

Review: Even though this is a graphic novel and should be a quick read, I found myself putting it down a lot. I don’t know if it was the way some of the story seemed to be piecemealed together or what, but regardless, once I sat down to read it after page 35 I just finished the rest of it easily in one sitting. As for the artwork, I liked how most of the images were black and white with only a few pops of color, like Sally’s red hair, the flowers in spring, the purple and green of the suffragette movement, etc.

I watched Suffragette, starring Carey Mulligan, Helena Bonham Carter, and Meryl Streep, shortly before finishing this book, and I appreciated the parallels in the graphic novel to the movie. Some of the same events were covered, like the women’s speaking to Lloyd George (which the graphic novel did a great job of depicting, having the men turn slowly into large cats while the women became mice, in the style of Maus), the incident with Emily Davison and the king and his horse at the derby, the use of surveillance cameras to watch the suffragettes, and police brutality.

I liked how they included the inception of World War I at the end of the book, bringing up the issue of conscription, with Arthur (for a time at least) still standing by Sally’s side as they continued to fight for women’s suffrage, not letting the war overshadow the movement. The arguments of pacifism vs. militarism within the women’s suffrage movement were more interesting in this context:

I reckon they’ve been waging war for women’s suffrage so long they’ve forgotten they’re pacifists, yes. First they abandon socialism, now pacifism. I don’t recognize them anymore. (158)

A lot of the propaganda of WWI portrayed women and children cheering men on or wishing their husbands and fathers would fight. This imagery sought to secure in the public’s mind the picture of a patriarchal ideal, with the wife and mother submissive and in the home. They also perpetuated an idea of hyper-masculinity, shaming men who objected to fighting in the war. One example in the book reads:

If he does not think that you and your country are worth fighting for–do you think he is worthy of you? If your young man neglects his duty to King and Country, the time may come when he will neglect you. Think it over–then ask him to join the army to-day. (160)

I did not learn anything new in this book. Since I had taken classes in college that covered both WWI and women’s suffrage in the literature of the time, including the force-feeding which is something that really stuck with me, reading this was more of a refresher. But many people today don’t think much about the movement. Even at the end of the book, when Sally is speaking with her granddaughter, who will soon reach voting age in 1969 when it was lowered from 21 to 18 in the UK, the granddaughter says she doesn’t think she’ll bother voting. Following this statement, we see the last panel: an image of all of Sally’s personal items from the suffragette movement, leaving us with the poignancy of complacency.

After seeing all of the women who are now running for public office in the wake of what is happening in the U.S., reading this graphic novel seems all the more affecting than it may have been had I read it when I first heard of it upon its release. I’m glad I waited.

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