Form and Content
In Emmeline and Her Daughters: The Pankhurst Suffragettes, Iris Noble uses the Pankhurst family to trace the struggle for women’s suffrage in Great Britain. The book is thus both a collective biography of the Pankhurst family and a history of the role of the Women’s Social and Political Union in obtaining the franchise for British women. The book begins with a suffrage gathering in the Pankhurst home in 1892 and, in ten chapters, traces the contribution of each family member to that reform movement. The final chapter concludes by briefly summarizing the lives of Em-meline Pankhurst and her daughters after women’s suffrage was achieved in 1918.
Noble enlivens her study by writing as if she had been present during the various episodes recounted in the book. She imaginatively creates private conversations between the Pankhurst women and others, dialogue for which there is no documentation. This fictionalization increases the book’s readability, giving it the vividness of a film.
Noble begins by indicating how the pro-women’s suffrage views of Dr. Richard Pankhurst influenced the female members of his family and then, in a narrative account, relates how the latter formed the Women’s Social and Political Union to campaign for the right of women to vote. Emmeline and Her Daughters traces the escalation of their militancy as they discovered that the government was not prepared to grant women the vote when they sought it by peaceful, constitutional methods. The book chronicles the violent conflict that ensued as the Women’s Social and Political Union attempted to force the government to accept their demand.
Although many Liberals supported women’s suffrage, the Liberal government refused to proceed with the reform because of its fear that it would benefit the Conservative Party more than the Liberals. Several bills were introduced that were to have provided women with the right to vote, but each time the government found an excuse to prevent the bill from becoming law. Noble makes good use of the court reports in explaining the Pankhursts’ justification for resorting to acts of violence, in addition to the autobiographical accounts written by Emmeline, Christabel, and Sylvia Pankhurst. The book contains a name index, but no notes.