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No Surrender by Constance Maud

No Surrender (1911)

by Constance Maud

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Published in 1911, at the height of the women's suffrage movement in Britain, NO SURRENDER masterfully straddles the line between journalism and historical fiction. Throughout the novel, there are factually accurate and stirring portrayals of suffragette protests and incidents, as well as their arguments in favor of giving women the vote. The actions are carried out by fictional characters, but a close reading will give evidence that they are not-too-thinly-veiled representations of real people, such as Lady Constance Lytton and the Pankhursts.

Some of the protests verge on the humorous - suffragettes having themselves delivered, as parcels, to the Prime Minister's front door with their petitions, and a large group of women pretending to be a fire brigade with a call to meeting, instead of a call to fire. Suffrage supporters might ambush politicians after worship services, attend local and national government meetings, or take employment in an aristocrat's household just to be able to present a dignitary with the suffrage petition at a prominent dinner party. They would hand out pamphlets and copies of the petition for people to read, and spread their message through public forums and street-corner oratory. Some suffragettes would take more aggressive actions to draw attention to their cause, such as throwing rocks at the windows of anti-suffrage supporters. As the works became more violent, the police took a more active role in containing and detaining the suffragettes.

It was the courtroom and imprisonment scenes that had the strongest impact for me. The suffragettes were protesting for political equality. However, precisely because they could not vote, they were not treated as political prisoners by the judicial system. While political prisoners were given relatively comfortable quarters, quality food, and some liberties; suffragettes were condemned to the same class as thieves and drunkards. They were afforded almost no comforts, housed in squalid quarters, and if they dared to protest (as most of them did, for the injustices were plentiful inside as well as out of prison) the women were put in the inhumane conditions of solitary confinement. Many women protested this punishment the only way they could, by refusing food. To keep the hunger striking prisoners alive, prison staff would force-feed them. The horrific details of these forced feedings are not spared in NO SURRENDER, and the actions themselves are akin to rape. To think that women would willingly submit to such torture is proof of how stridently they believed in their cause.

There are also representations of the "Anti's" who stridently opposed women's suffrage. What became clear through reading NO SURRENDER was how strong the British class divides were, and how those divides played into the levels of sympathy and empathy afforded to suffragettes by others. The novel spends time with the aristocracy, the upper class, and the working class - exploring their lifestyles, prejudices, and how each group responds to the idea of women's suffrage. No matter the social class, women had practically no power or authority. A woman had no agency over her own children; one character's husband sends their children to live in Australia, without any notification or consent toward his wife, and she can do nothing about it. Lower-class women and girls worked for long hours in excruciating conditions, and few cares were made about their welfare by the employers. The meager wages they earned were legally belonging to their father/husband. For the women of the upper classes this was of little concern because they did not need to earn a living, but for working-class women it meant that they were prisoners in their lives and homes. One of the great strengths of NO SURRENDER is its focus on the lower class women, and their struggles as part of the greater social movement in which women's suffrage found stead.

As a work of historical interest, the significance of NO SURRENDER is self-evident. However, it struggles as a work of literature. The dialogue, especially of the Northern Brits, is stilted and full of stereotypical turn of phrase. It is distinctly different from the speech of the Londoners, which may serve to illustrate further class divides, but that point is practically invalidated by the main character, Jenny Clegg, who is a working-class Northern girl yet she has exceptionally educated-sounding speech. There is little in the way of plot throughout the novel. In fact, the book isn't divided into chapters, but rather sections called "Scenes". They seem to illustrate different parts and points in the Women's Suffrage movement, and function better when thought of as linked short stories rather than chapters in a cohesive novel. There are also instances of a romance between Jenny Clegg and two different men, but both relationship seem overly contrived and terribly inauthentic.

NO SURRENDER can be viewed as a novel of two parts. First, it is an honest, rational, and emotionally raw exposition on the women's suffrage movement in early twentieth century Britain, for women of all social classes. Although the characters are fictional, the events are factual and historically faithful. It is in terms of plot and dialogue that the novel suffers. It is not a great work of fiction, but it is a great work. ( )
  BooksForYears | Nov 4, 2016 |
No Surrender is one of a surprisingly few suffragette novels, it is I am sure the only novel I have read from this time that centres wholly on women’s suffrage. William: an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton; Persephone book number one also has a suffragette as a central character but that novel concerns itself with war rather than suffrage. No Surrender then does seem to be a remarkable novel, not only for the story it tells – and that really is remarkable, but also as a brilliant piece of social history. It left me wondering why there are so few suffragette novels written at the time the movement was in full swing. The realities of women’s suffrage, which have been captured by Constance Maud in her 1911 novel, were quite an eye opener for me. I thought I knew about suffragettes, I thought I had fully understood why it is so important that I use my vote, I thought I had understood exactly what those women had been fighting for and against. It turns out I only knew half of it; votes were only part of the matter.
In No Surrender we meet Jenny Clegg and Mary O’Neil, two passionately determined young women from very different backgrounds. Mary is from an Anglo Irish aristocratic family, Jenny is a Lancashire mill girl in a shawl and clogs. Jenny is one of many thousands of working class women who were fully aware of the real inequalities for women; she had seen and experienced it in her own family. Jenny’s mother and sister are regularly beaten by their husbands, they have no legal right to their own children, no way of obtaining an expensive divorce – should the idea even occur to them. When Jenny’s mother reveals her paltry savings to her husband – money she has saved to help her sick son, he immediately takes the money from her, she has he declares, no right to it. When Jenny’s sister discovers her husband has sent their two eldest children to his uncle in Australia without her knowledge, there is nothing she can do about it, she has no parental rights over the children she gave birth to, those rights belong solely to the father. There is an enormous disparity between wages for men and women – (something that has continued until relatively recently in some quarters) – even leading some poor women to selling themselves.
“The interminable jolting drive in Black Maria, under such airless crowded conditions as had caused two women to faint, had landed them at last at the grim gates of the old prison, where one by one they had been unpacked and passed in. After going through the preliminary ceremonies of inscribing their names and ages, and aiding in recording a prosaic description of eyes, hair, height, and other personal details, they had then been driven, cattle-wise, into these narrow pens, there to wait for many a weary hour the doctor’s summons. After this would come the bath and the donning of the prison garments, and finally, at some hour far into the night – for there had been many convictions on this occasion – rest on the hard prison bed.”
Jenny and Mary meet, becoming friends and associates, their fight takes them to London, and inevitably to prison – they make other friends just as passionate and committed as they. However there was massive opposition to women’s suffrage, from politicians, working men, the privileged classes and maybe most surprisingly many other women. Their fight is a frustrating and difficult one. Jenny leaves her work at the mill to work full time with the Women’s Union – her intelligence and determination marking her out early on as a perfect champion for the cause. Suffragettes were seen as unwomanly, troublesome, violent and hysterical, their grievances seen as being mainly the preserve of man and not for women to worry about. Mary and Jenny and their differing perspectives, represent all the women who worked together to bring about the changes that women so desperately needed to make their lives, and the lives of their children better.
The thing that will remain with me after finishing this novel is the absolute commitment and determination of these women. How much easier would have been – having suffered two weeks in prison with the bed bugs horrible food and the threat of losing their jobs upon release - to have thought I’ve done my bit – and to leave the struggle for someone else to take up. Not these women, and the freedoms and equality women now enjoy are due to these nameless women whose cry of “No Surrender” rang through the walls of Holloway and the drawing rooms of the aristocracy and out on to the streets, a cry that was taken up by more and more voices. This is a novel I would say should be read by all women – maybe by all people. ( )
2 vote Heaven-Ali | Apr 13, 2013 |
No Surrender was published in 1911 at the height of the women’s suffrage movement in England. The novel tells the story of to women from different walks of life: Jenny Clegg, a former mill worker, and Mary O’Neil, an upper-class woman who gets Jenny involved in the suffragette movement. No Surrender is a product of Constance Maud’s involvement with the Women Writers Suffrage League, an organization that sought to change public opinion with the use of words, and whose members included Violet Hunt and May Sinclair.

As a piece of social history, No Surrender is excellent in its portrayal of the suffrage movement. But this isn’t necessarily a novel that’s just about suffrage. It’s also about the struggle against oppressive authority and the senseless rules that, to give an example from the novel, allow a husband to send his children to Australia without the mother’s consent. Jenny and Mary aren’t individual characters so much as they are representative of the larger idea and principle, to gain suffrage not only for women but for working-class men, too. Se we also see undercurrents of socialism. No Surrender is extremely humorous in many places, particularly when Jenny disguises herself as a servant in order to break up a dinner party; or when Mary demands to know why she wasn’t arrested when she visits the prison.

Whenever I think about women’s suffrage, either in England or the US, I think of women chaining themselves to railings and being force-fed in Holloway prison. No Surrender forces the reader to step back and look at things from a different perspective, to see the reason why those kinds of women did what they did—because to them, it was a matter of ethical principle. The women in Constance Maud’s novel had to shout in order to have their voice heard, but this novel shows that sometimes the written word is just as powerful. ( )
  Kasthu | Oct 14, 2012 |
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Dedicated to
Mrs. Despard
That inspired leader
whose warm sympathy and help
encouraged me to persevere
in this attempt to break a lance
for the woman's cause
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Once upon a time God made a fair green valley in the North Country.
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Jenny proceeded to make her bed, rolling up the bed-clothes on the shelf, and fastening the bed up sideways against the wall. She had hardly finished this when from the adjoining cell came a faint sound, like the notes of a call.
Jenny darted to the corner from where the sound came. Kneeling on the floor she put her ear where the hot-water pipe passed through the wall. Again came the notes of a call, the prison greeting of the Suffragettes:
"No sur-ren-der," to the chimes of Big Ben.
Jenny gave the answering chimes:
"No sur-ren-der! Good morning. How are you, dear Miss O'Neil?"
"Splendid - only longing for a breath of fresh air, aren't you?" came the voice of Mary O'Neil.
"We must all go at the Governor again to-day," sang out Jenny. "Three days without air for speaking a few words at exercise isn't what political offenders ought to put up with - we've got to protest."
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