Guest blogger Anne-Marie Jordan on Radio 4’s History of Women Writers

Recovering from a morphine-fuelled mini-break to remove a fibroid, trashy magazines, DVD boxsets and cheeky daytime dozing were rapidly dominating my every waking (and snoozing) hour.

So when Sam asked me to guest blog about Radio 4’s Open Book programme (July 14) exploring women’s writing over the last century I welcomed the opportunity to engage my growingly gooey brain in something that didn’t involve debating the top ten playsuits for the summer season (perfect contemplation for my orange peel enhanced thighs) or slumping on the sofa, half-watching Countdown (Sky+ed on a daily basis by my parents so they can – courtesy of their favourite fast-forward function – skip the choosing of the consonants and vowels and cut straight to the wordplay action).

Mariella Frostrup presented the first in the four-part series In A Book of One’s Own: How Women Wrote The Twentieth Century and kicked off proceedings by looking at the literature of the suffrage movement which, although groundbreaking at the time, seems to be have been largely forgotten by today’s readers.

Who can genuinely say they have heard, let alone read, Suffragette Sally by Gertrude Colmore which followed three heroines, each from a different social class, who came to be united through suffrage? Despite being hugely popular in its day, the novel is no longer in print, thus denying the curious reader the chance to delve through a fascinating social document charting the lives of our great-grandmothers at the end of the 19th century.

We learnt that it wasn’t uncommon for female writers to employ male pseudonyms in order for their literature to be taken more seriously and that some male authors, such as HG Wells, were willing to take up the fight on their behalf as well.

From 1907, the suffrage movement – and the literature which went hand in hand – flourished. Cecily Hamilton, as synonymous with suffragettes as the Pankhursts, said the suffrage movement was the first political movement to harness the arts. It employed modern marketing tools, such as postcards, banners and souvenirs, which not only raised awareness of the cause, but also much needed funds

Not surprisingly, the movement was overtaken by the greater threat posed by WW1 which saw many suffragettes throw themselves into the war effort. The new-found confidence, acquired through being pivotal in the workplace, meant the gender landscape was irrevocably altered: equal pay, property, marriage were just some of the issues at the forefront of many people’s thinking.

Having looked at the programme’s précis, I am reminded that Mariella was joined by Shirley Williams, daughter of the iconic feminist author Vera Brittain, and that we ended at the end of the 1920s and Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. It was nothing personal but my concentration drifted (no idea where) at this point – I blame the drugs!

Over the next three weeks, Mariella will be speaking to leading novelists, critics and publishers – including AS Byatt, Carmen Calil and Kate Mosse – as she traces the evolution of women’s emancipation in fiction. And the BBC iPlayer means you can listen to this fascinating feature at your own convenience – now that is progress. Visit http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006qp6p for more details. A History of Women’s Writing is on Radio 4, on Thursdays at 4pm.

Prolific procrastinator, emailer and shuffler of paper, AMJ has contributed to a variety of anthologies including The Spirit-Cabinet (new ghost fiction from Kent) and the Medway Mermaids’ Sea Shanties and Siren Songs and, more recently, WordAid’s Children in Need anthology Did I Tell You?  She is currently muddling her way through her first novel (writing, not reading) for young adults.

Anne-Marie Jordan photo

Anne-Marie Jordan

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About 17Percent

A campaign to get more plays by women playwrights onto UK stages.
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