Pieces of horse

Posted on Jun 04th 2013

This is not an announcement of the startling unearthing of the Women’s Suffrage and Butchery League from the ruins of history; but thoughts on the 100th anniversary this week of the death of Emily Wilding Davison under the hooves of the Kings’ horse at the Derby (in case you hadn’t noticed…).

The horse is the story. Political movements – like the worlds of literature – prefer a straightforward story; one that begins at the Starters’ line, runs straight ahead for a while, and crosses a clearly defined Finish. (Nelson Mandela is released from prison, followed by the first free elections.) Although in Emily W.D.’s case the horse didn’t finish the race, what carried on running was the story, straight ahead over the finishing line, to Emily’s death four days later, through the resultant publicity and on to her martyrdom. It has carried on running through to this anniversary, its saddle broad enough for us all to jump onto.

While writing The Invisible Riot, I came across the idea that, (especially in post-Colonial and post-Imperial literature), writers have a responsibility to resist the notion of ‘one story’, as that story is invariably a narrowing, an appropriating of a myriad of perspectives into one inarguable reality. In these days of blogging and Facebook and Twitter, we are becoming expert at constructing our own versions of a world narrative. Yet our literature has, for the most part, not caught up with this. (For more, see David Shields’ fascinating book, Reality Hunger).

I have aimed not simply to ride the horse, but to put the reader into the experience as fully and viscerally as possible – one minute in front of the horse, the next under the hooves, then as the jockey hearing the starters’ pistol – while still cleaving to the momentum of the story. The Suffragette movement didn’t run in a clear line. It was a mad chaotic shitfight, the full diversity of which only adds to the sense of what it must have been like to be there.

The First World War broke out at the peak of the militant protests, leading to the release of all Suffragette prisoners and the suspension of the formal campaign. It was only in 1928 that the cause – and the story – finally walked over the finishing line.


Jun 04th 2013

Well put. The simplification of ‘the story’ is used by mainstream media and establishment to ridicule movements of the people. If not dismissing the suffragettes as mere pieces of – ankle-length – skirt, they can be diminished to the single figure; martyr: Emily Wilding Davison; ugly man-hating hag: Andrea Dworkin (hello, Daily Mail); quirky kook: Caitlin Moran. That way we forget that feminism is global, we forget that there were male supporters of the suffragettes (the right to vote is a basic human rights issue), that feminism means the right for a girl to have an education without being shot in the head by the Taliban (doesn’t that surely make us ALL feminists?), and the right not to be raped. Owen Jones is one of the very few MALE media commentators to speak about this – and he himself faces the same ‘story simplification’ by being labelled as a ‘lone voice’ for ‘looney leftism.’ The establishment wants to keep the story simple, dressing civil rights in the petticoats of history. In fact, the story is still being told, in myriad forms and from myriad perspectives. We are all part of this fractured narrative.

Jo McFarlane
Jun 05th 2013

Yes, this is very interesting and true. And I think one of the reasons that so few writers have the guts or impetus to tell the story from different angles, as you have done, is because it is hard work and takes honest soul-searching. But how else can we arrive at the truth? That is why ‘the Invisible Riot’ is such an important book – not only ambitious, original and effective in its purpose, but full of integrity. I agree with the publisher who read it and said it should be shortlisted for the Orange prize. I anticipate great things if a publisher has the foresight to take it on. Come on guysand gals, what are you waiting for!

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