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Suffragettes Unite!

Old Baggage Book Cover Old Baggage
Lissa Evans
Fiction, women's fiction, politics
Doubleday UK
June 14, 2018
288

'Essential . . . Evans is a brilliant storyteller' Stylist What do you do next, after you've changed the world? It is 1928. Matilda Simpkin, rooting through a cupboard, comes across a small wooden club - an old possession of hers, unseen for more than a decade. Mattie is a woman with a thrilling past and a chafingly uneventful present. During the Women's Suffrage Campaign she was a militant. Jailed five times, she marched, sang, gave speeches, smashed windows and heckled Winston Churchill, and nothing - nothing - since then has had the same depth, the same excitement. Now in middle age, she is still looking for a fresh mould into which to pour her energies. Giving the wooden club a thoughtful twirl, she is struck by an idea - but what starts as a brilliantly idealistic plan is derailed by a connection with Mattie's militant past, one which begins to threaten every principle that she stands for. Old Baggage is a funny and bittersweet portrait of a woman who has never, never given up the fight.

What do you do when the Suffragette Movement, to which you had given your youth is not more? And the First World War killed off many men and left many women single – which was not a considered a ‘natural’ state in the early part of the 20th century? And then, you still had not achieved all that you wanted to when you joined the movement, but society was not set up for you to achieve those aims – such as actually being given a degree in a degree awarding ceremony, such as running a business and obtaining a loan in your own name, or even taking part in the Olympics such that a Women’s Olympic Games was set up…

In this book we follow the stories of some of these women in the 1920s. Now middle-aged they are single – most of them – or have ‘settled’ into a marriage. And they find that young girls are rather unadventurous. And  Right Wing politics were beginning to advance into the local area – which happens to be Hampstead in London.

All of which story is dear to my heart as a graduate of Mary Buss schooling.

This is a gentle story but with some serious points to make about how insidious the politics of the right can be, and how easy it was, and still is from time to time, to belittle the work of women and their ambitions – hence the lack of women on Boards – still!

I really enjoyed reading this book and found the characters believable and empathetic and was reminded – again – about my own youth and the restrictions that there still were on girls then in general.

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