Friday, November 7, 2008

ON WOMEN'S SUFFRAGE




"The book sweeps from the steamy bazaars of Egypt to proper English drawing rooms as Ursula battles international intrigue and her own sensuous nature. Dorothy Sayers would be proud of her Oxford sister."

**Rhys Bowen, Award winning author or the Molly Murphy and Royal Spyness mysteries






HANK: I met Clare Langley-Hawthorne in the one of the world's most high-tension white-knuckled situations--Malice Go Round. That's the feared and beloved event where new authors get like 10 seconds to convince a group of experienced, savvy and educated mystery readers that their new novel is the greatest thing since..well, the last greatest thing they've ever read.

Clare hit Malice Go Round out of the ballpark. Talking about her debut Consequences of Sin, she was calm and direct, articulate, passionate and intelligent. And funny. (And of course, 'historicals' are hot in the publishing world these days.) I told her afterward--I was running right out to buy her book. She absolutely won me over.


Now she's on book two--more about that in a minute. But while millions of voters in the US woke up this week to find they had participated in an historic election, Clare didn't get to vote. Why? And how does she feel? She tell us in one word:



Disenfranchised


by Clare Langley-Hawthorne

After the election this week I confess to feeling particularly disenfranchised. As I am not a US citizen I was not able to vote (and neither was my husband which actually may be a good thing as we traditionally cancel out each other’s vote as we hold opposing political views!) nor am I able to vote in Australian elections as we have been abroad so long.


In Australia voting is compulsory – a fact that many American’s find incredible – and we are fined if we fail to vote in an election. For the last couple of elections my husband and I missed getting postal votes and had to send in a letter ‘excusing us’ from voting to avoid a fine – we were then unceremoniously dropped from the Australian electoral roll. So now we are truly disenfranchised!


This gives me particular empathy for my character, Ursula Marlow, who is a suffragette in Edwardian England desperately trying to secure votes for women at a time when voting in England was restricted to men who owned or rented property. My first book, Consequences of Sin, is set in 1910 and includes the infamous ‘Black Friday’ protest which occurred after the failure of the Conciliation Bill which would have extended voting to some women.

On that day women faced unwarranted police brutality and realized just how entrenched the ‘establishment’ that opposed female suffrage was in Britain. Many of these women had already spent time in Holloway Prison and had endured forcible feeding (they went on hunger strike to protest the government’s refusal to treat them as political prisoners).

By 1912, the year in which my second Ursula Marlow book, The Serpent and The Scorpion is set, members of the militant suffragette movement (the Women’s Social and Political Union) had become thoroughly disenchanted (as well as disenfranchised!) and had begun to mount a window smashing and arson campaign. The fight for votes was reaching a level of desperate militancy that would only cease with the outbreak of the First World War when the WSPU agreed to suspend their fight for votes for women to focus on their patriotic war duty.

By the time the war was over a whole generation of men would be wiped out, women over 30 would finally be granted the vote and the nearly 2 million so called ‘surplus’ women became a political force to be reckoned with. Just imagine what could have happened if women had received the vote before the war?!

It’s hard for me to believe that Australia –a land settled by convicts and squatters - granted votes to women nearly twenty years before Britain (although Aboriginal women were still excluded).


I have to confess, as an unabashed feminist, I fully support my character’s political quest (and hey, my husband is convinced Ursula is actually me anyway!) though I have to admit to a sneaking jealousy (maybe even covetousness) for Ursula’s upper class Edwardian lifestyle. She gets to have a maid, a chauffeur, a butler, a housekeeper and a cook. At my house I have to play all those roles!


She also has the luxury of time and wealth. The kind of wealth that allows you to have custom designed French clothing (where’s my dress by Poiret?!), travel by elegant ocean liner (rather than being a sardine in coach class) and flout conventions (though I live just near Berkeley where there are no conventions to flout anyway!). But was all of this lifestyle worth having no say in the way your country was governed? When I try to absorb the sensibilities of the Edwardian period, to think and feel as Ursula would have, the answer is clearly no.


So my character and I have something in common – neither of us have the vote but we both recognize just how powerful and important that right can be.


HANK: Thanks, Clare! And there's more--





A contest! Clare has generously offered to give away a signed edition of her first book--and that's something we can all vote for. So just leave her a comment...and she'll pick a winner at random!


Clare Langley-Hawthorne was raised in England and Australia. She was an attorney in Melbourne before moving to the United States, where she began her career as a writer. Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, was nominated for the 2008 Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Macavity award. The second in the Ursula Marlow series, The Serpent and The Scorpion, was published in October 2008. Clare lives in Oakland, California with her family.
http://www.clarelangleyhawthorne.com/

18 comments:

Rhys Bowen said...

I have really enjoyed Clare's two books--of course our heroines have the same ideals in common, although Molly Murphy is at the bottom of the heap and Ursula was born with the proverbial silver spoon...
But my next Molly book, which comes out in March, deals with this very issue. It's called In a Gilded Cage and it focuses on a group of Vassar grads and how their expectations are caged by what society expects of them. The book begins with a harrowing right to vote parade!
So good luck with the new book, Clare. Sorry I missed your launch party. I had the world's worst cold.

Sheila Connolly said...

Compulsory voting--what a wonderful concept! Then no one can whine about the results.

It always horrifies me that women were "allowed" the right to vote so recently in our history.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Worlds worst cold, huh Rhys? It's going around--I had such terrible laryngitis last week,I could barely talk. It was actually kind of...interesting. Hope you're feeling better now..

In A Gilded Cage sounds terrific--you'll have to tell us more.

And I agree with Sheila, (as usual) Clare. Do people in Australia complain about being required to vote? How much is the fine?

Clare said...

Hi all
Thanks for the kind words Rhys and sorry you've been sick (and Hank too!). Our twins are at preschool so I'm steeling myself for our next round of colds! I can't remember how much the fine is in Australia but people don't complain about voting being compulsory - we all grew up with it so it's just 'the way it is'. If people want to register their protest at the system, they vote 'informal' which means they write some expletive across their ballot. Just because voting is compulsory doesn't mean that people actually vote properly - they just have to have their name ticked off the roll and go into the booth - what they do there is up to them! I think Australian on a whole are proud of their voting requirements - though that doesn't stop a motley assortment of candidates running including usually someone dressed up as a chicken (or something like that)- So those who wouldn't normally bother to vote in America probably vote for the chicken in Australia...

Peg said...

My daughter voted in this election for the first time (she turned 18 in March). She was absolutely thrilled even though she had to vote via absentee ballot since is away in Boston at school. I'm glad she understands just what an incredible privilege it is!
Peg

Clare said...

It is a privilege - one which I'm sad about losing (even if only temporarily!) I checked at Australian electoral commission site and the current fine is $20 if you fail to vote and do not give a valid excuse. I think this goes up to $50 if you still fail to reply with an adequate excuse.

Jody said...

I think it's very sad that so many people do not vote. It is indeed a privilege and a duty. Seeing what so many women went through to get the vote makes me even more proud of all the new voters our recent election brought forth. Both of my daughters have voted regularly since they reached age 18. Yay! I used to work the elections (another civic duty). Yay for all the volunteers who work the polls.

Virginia Harris said...

Now that the 2008 American election and its historic high turnout is history, there is much greater appreciation for the privilege of voting.

But most people don't realize that out of 44 American presidents, only the last 15 were elected in a truly democratic fashion by all of our citizens -- men AND women.

Until 1920 women were denied the vote, and few people have any idea of the struggle our suffragettes had to go through to right this wrong. It's an amazing, awe-inspiring story!

Now you can subscribe FREE to my exciting historical e-mail series that reveals HOW the suffragettes won votes for women. Believe me, it wasn't easy!

"The Privilege of Voting" is drawing rave reviews from readers all over the world. Dramatic, sequential short-story episodes follow the lives of eight of the world's most famous women to tell the true stories of the courage of the suffragettes. Read this FREE e-mail series on your coffeebreaks and fall in love with these amazing women!

Subscribe free at

www.CoffeebreakReaders.com/subscribe.html

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an interesting post. I'd love to have a signed copy of that book!
Lonnie

Clare said...

Thanks everyone for stopping by! We'll announce winners of the signed book in a couple of days.
Clare

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Thanks, Clare!

Come back and visit soon..

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