Constance Maud’s No Surrender: A Graphic Novel by Scarlett & Sophie Rickard

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Review by Julie Barham

Colourful, powerful and amazingly enjoyable – this new version of Constance Maud’s suffragette classic as a graphic novel is a revelation. I have not read many graphic novels for various reasons, but this offering from sisters Scarlet and Sophie Rickard is enough to change my mind. They have taken this book (originally published in 1911, available now published by Persephone), which formed a rallying call to those who supported women’s right to vote in Britain in the early twentieth century and their equality before the law, and transformed it. 

I have read and reviewed the original novel, which pioneering Suffragette Emily Wilding Davidson said “breathes the very spirit of our women’s movement”; it is brilliantly written and very much of its time. This version is in full vibrant colour and reveals the stories of the characters, which were based on real people, including mill workers from Lancashire and wealthy society women. It includes one well-connected titled Lady who not only went on hunger strike in her own name but also disguised herself as a poor woman to see if she was treated in the same way. It displays the colours adopted by the suffragette cause as an early success in branding, and puts the women usually seen in black and white into a vivid and memorable setting. This is a beautiful book in so many ways, one to enjoy and keep as an object as well as a substantial and memorable read. I can thoroughly recommend it as a reading experience for anyone interested in the vital battle for rights in Britain with reference to other countries. 

The format of the book is a large and heavy paperback with cartoon type illustrations throughout. There is considerable use of colour, and the pictures are of a high quality, with chapter title pages, some full page illustrations and even fold out flaps which reveal an incredibly detailed and fascinating picture of a procession. The colours are beautifully handled to suggest the difference between the depressing monochrome of the mill area and the poverty of the women and the luxurious settings in which the wealthy live. The prison sections have a haunting and memorable quality conveyed by the drawing and the careful use of colour. Even those who are new to the history of the fight for the vote and equality before the law will be able to follow the story with interest. 

The story of the lives of the people who feature in the novel are well described and contrasted. Jenny works in the mill, partly to help support her family, in which her demanding father is never satisfied, her downtrodden mother scrapes to find enough food, and Peter, her brother is still recovering from work related illness. A sister has been ill treated by her husband and deprived of her children. Jenny’s focus has become the fight for the vote for women which she sees is the route to equality before the law and genuine hope for women. A male advocate of the socialist cause is interested in Jenny, but she knows that their paths lie in different directions, and that her solidarity with the cause and other women may well end in her imprisonment. Meanwhile wealthy women are being criticised by their acquaintances and even their families for wanting to stand with the women’s cause, and indeed witness the formation of anti-suffragist groups. Not that men are excluded – they are often opposed to the fight but some clear sighted men are sympathetic and supportive. There are crises throughout the book – as arrests are made and protests occur in prisons which test everyone’s beliefs. A young woman is arrested for her desperate acts, and it takes extreme events to bring about life changing decisions.

This is a book to savour in so many ways, an incredible retelling of a comprehensive story of real people represented by fictional characters. It conveys so much of the setting, the atmosphere and determination of all those involved. This is a book to discover and treasure, a powerful expression of an important movement in history with implications for equality of treatment and opportunity well into today’s world, made accessible for all.    

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Julie blogs at Northern Reader

Scarlett & Sophie Rickard, Constance Maud’s No Surrender: A Graphic Novel (Self Made Hero, 2022). 978-1914224065, 368pp., paperback.

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