Monday, 17 October 2011

Marjorie Darke - "A Question of Courage"


Suffragette season continues on my blog, and I’m especially pleased to be reviewing Marjorie Darke’s book, not least because it took a lot of tracking down. And if you’re looking for a novel to help educate your early teenagers about the suffragette movement, look no further.

About 20 years ago, we were given Marjorie’s book A Question of Courage to read in English lessons at school. Even then, not knowing anything about the suffragettes beyond what I’d seen in Mary Poppins, the book struck a chord with me – unusually so, for a school set text. That Marjorie later came and gave a talk to our class was even better.

Emily is a 17-year-old seamstress in Birmingham when A Question of Courage starts, struggling to make ends meet. But when Emily is accidentally knocked off her bicycle by a car driven by privileged Louise and Peter, she quickly ends up becoming involved with the growing suffragette movement. Louise’s enthusiasm spurs Emily to join her in militant stunts, leading to a few brushes with the law and contention form her family. But it’s after Emily moves to London that her suffragette career really takes off, and she becomes involved with even bigger stunts… leading to prison and the inevitable force feeding.

The style of writing is sharp enough for a young teenager to understand the seriousness of what Marjorie is sharing, and there’s enough back-story to reinforce Emily as an empathetic person. The lack of detail about some situations is a little frustrating, but also inevitable considering the age of the reader A Question of Courage is aimed at. For instance, it struck me as strange how quickly Emily was converted to the idea of suffrage when previously she’d been listening to her mothers call suffragettes “hussies”. But I think that kind of thing is down to the age of the target reader.

It’s wonderful to know that such a well-written and considerate book about the suffragettes exists for young people, and all credit to Barn Owl books for keeping it in print. It is important that future generations never forget the amazing sacrifices made on their behalf by this wonderful band of inspiring women.

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