The novel takes place between 1909 and 1916, and as the story progresses, we are witnesses the events during these years.
The Maclises live in Sheffield where the father has a factory. Sheffield is a city and metropolitan borough in South Yorkshire.
There are many references to the suffragettes as Eva supports the cause. The first reference is to the march in Hyde Park that the women took part in. The demonstration that came to be known as ‘Women’s Sunday’ on June 21st, 1908 was the first grand-scale meeting to be organised by the Women’s Social and Political Union and saw the largest number of people gathered in Hyde Park for a political purpose. Trains were specially chartered to bring in thousands of suffragettes from all over Britain. Amongst the brass bands, suffrage singers, and banner parades, were 20 temporary platforms erected in a circle around the park for 80 speakers to address the crowds.
Eva, who is a skilful artist, eventually goes to the Slade in London, which is an art school. The UCL Slade School of Fine Art (informally The Slade) is the art school of University College London (UCL) and is based in London, United Kingdom. It is world-renowned and is consistently ranked as the UK’s top art and design educational institution. The school traces its roots back to 1868 when lawyer and philanthropist Felix Slade (1788–1868) bequeathed funds to establish three Chairs in Fine Art, to be based at Oxford University, Cambridge University and University College London, where six studentships were endowed.
When Eva moves to London, she joins several women’s organisations: Women’s Social and Political Union, The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies, Women’s Freedom League, and Women’s Labour League.
The Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) was the leading militant organisation campaigning for Women’s suffrage in the United Kingdom, 1903–17. Its membership and policies were tightly controlled by Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters Christabel and Sylvia (although Sylvia was eventually expelled). It was best known for hunger strikes (and forced feeding), for breaking windows in prominent buildings, and for night-time arson of unoccupied houses and churches.
The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS), also known as the Suffragists (not to be confused with the suffragettes) was an organisation of women’s suffrage societies in the United Kingdom. The groups united under the leadership of Millicent Fawcett, who was the president of the society for more than twenty years. The organisation was democratic, aiming to achieve women’s suffrage through peaceful and legal means, in particular by introducing Parliamentary Bills and holding meetings to explain and promote their aims. In 1903 the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, the “suffragettes”), who wished to undertake more militant action, split from the NUWSS. Nevertheless, the group continued to grow, and by 1914 it had in excess of 500 branches throughout the country, with more than 100,000 members. Many, but by no means all, of the members were middle class, and some were working class. Unlike the WSPU, the group had male members.
The Women’s Freedom League was an organisation in the United Kingdom which campaigned for women’s suffrage and sexual equality. The group was founded in 1907 by seventy members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). The League opposed violence in favour of non-violent forms of protest such as non-payment of taxes, refusing to complete census forms and organising demonstrations, including members chaining themselves to objects in the Houses of Parliament. It grew to over 4,000 members and published The Vote newspaper weekly from 1909–1933.
The Women’s Labour League was a pressure organisation, founded in London in 1906, to promote the political representation of women in parliament and local bodies. The League’s inaugural conference was held in Leicester, with representatives of branches in London, Leicester, Preston and Hull. It was affiliated to the Labour Party.
On May 6, 1910 King Edward VII died. Edward VII (Albert Edward; 9 November 1841 – 6 May 1910) was King of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions and Emperor of India from 22 January 1901 until his death in 1910. In March 1910, he was staying at Biarritz when he collapsed. He remained there to convalesce. On 27 April he returned to Buckingham Palace, still suffering from severe bronchitis. The following day, the King suffered several heart attacks, but refused to go to bed. At 11:30 p.m. he lost consciousness for the last time and was put to bed. He died 15 minutes later.
On November 18, 1910 Eva joined 300 other women on a march from Caxton Hall to the House of Commons. Black Friday was a women’s suffrage event that occurred in the United Kingdom on 18 November 1910. The protests came in response to parliamentary proceedings regarding the Conciliation Bill, which would have extended the right of women to vote in Britain and Ireland to around 1,000,000 wealthy, property-owning women. The bill made it to a second reading, but British Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith indicated that there would be no more Parliamentary time for the reading in the current session. In response, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) sent a delegation of around 300 women to protest, and 200 were assaulted when they attempted to run past the police. The deputation was led by Emmeline Pankhurst to petition Asquith.
Around that time Arthur, Marianne’s beloved husband, dies of septicaemia. Septicaemia is another term used to describe blood poisoning. It is an infection caused by large amounts of bacteria entering the bloodstream. It is a potentially life-threatening infection that affects thousands of patients every year.
The Maclises read about the sinking of Titanic. RMS Titanic sank from the night of 14 April through to the morning of 15 April 1912 in the North Atlantic Ocean, four days into the ship’s maiden voyage from Southampton to New York City. The largest passenger liner in service at the time, Titanic had an estimated 2,224 people on board when she struck an iceberg at around 23:40 (ship’s time) on Sunday, 14 April 1912. Her sinking two hours and forty minutes later at 02:20 (05:18 GMT) on Monday, 15 April resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people, which made it one of the deadliest peacetime maritime disasters in history.
After Marianne marries horrible Lucas, she goes to live in Ceylon where he has his plantation. Ceylon was a British Crown colony between 1815 and 1948. Initially the area it covered did not include the Kingdom of Kandy, which was a protectorate from 1815, but from 1817 to 1948 the British possessions included the whole island of Ceylon, now the nation of Sri Lanka.
The book tells us about George Lansbury resigning in 1912 for the suffragette cause. George Lansbury (22 February 1859 – 7 May 1940) was a British politician and social reformer. In October 1912, aware of the unbridgeable gap between his own position and that of his Labour colleagues, Lansbury resigned his seat to fight a by-election in Bow and Bromley on the specific issue of women’s suffrage.
In 1912 Geroge Lansbury lost the election. The Bow and Bromley by-election was a by-election held on 26 November 1912 for the British House of Commons constituency of Bow and Bromley. It was triggered when the Labour Party Member of Parliament (MP), George Lansbury, accepted the post of Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds as a technical measure enabling him to leave Parliament.
The book also mentions Annie Kenney as another important suffragette. Annie Kenney (13 September 1879 – 9 July 1953) was an English working class suffragette who became a leading figure in the Women’s Social and Political Union. She co-founded its first branch in London with Minnie Baldock. She also attracted the attention of the press and the public in 1905 when both she and Christabel Pankhurst were imprisoned for several days for assault and obstruction, after heckling Sir Edward Grey at a Liberal rally held in Manchester on the issue of votes for women. This incident is credited with inaugurating a new phase in the struggle for women’s suffrage in the UK, with the adoption of militant tactics.
In 1913 a bomb exploded at the new house of David Lloyd George, who was the chancellor, and the attack came from the suffragettes. On 20 February 1913 The Times reported: ‘An attempt was made yesterday morning to blow up a house which is being built for Mr Lloyd George near Walton Heath Golf Links’. One device had exploded, causing about £500 worth of damage, while another had failed to ignite. With discarded hairpins, hatpins and the sound of a motor car as their only clues, it was fortunate the police soon had a confession. For that evening, at a meeting held in Cory Hall Cardiff, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst, one of the leaders of the militant suffragette society, the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), declared ‘we have blown up the Chancellor of Exchequer’s house’ and stated that ‘for all that has been done in the past I accept responsibility. I have advised, I have incited, I have conspired’.
As a consequence of this action, the government passed The Prisoners’ Act (Temporary Discharge fro Ill Health), known as the Cat and Mouse Act. The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, commonly referred to as the Cat and Mouse Act, was an Act of Parliament passed in Britain under Herbert Henry Asquith’s Liberal government in 1913. Some members of the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU, commonly referred to as suffragettes) had been imprisoned for acts of vandalism in support of women’s suffrage. In protest at being imprisoned some of the suffragettes undertook hunger strikes. The hunger strikers were then force-fed by the prison staff leading to a public outcry. The act was a response to the outcry that allowed the prisoners to be released on licence as soon as the hunger strike affected their health. They then had a predetermined period of time in which to recover after which they were rearrested and taken back to prison to serve out the rest of their sentence. Conditions could be placed on the prisoner during the time of their release. One effect of the act was to make hunger strikes technically legal. The nickname of the Act came about because of the domestic cat’s habit of playing with its prey, allowing it to temporarily escape a number of times, before killing it.
Around this time Sylvia Pankhurst was in prison. Estelle Sylvia Pankhurst (5 May 1882 – 27 September 1960) was an English campaigner for the suffragette movement.
Emmeline Pankhurst was arrested in Glasgow. Emmeline Pankhurst visited St Andrew’s Hall in Glasgow on 9 March 1914 to address a large meeting of the Women’s Social and Political Union, the more militant suffragette organisation that she helped to found in 1903, knowing she was subject to re-arrest under the ‘Cat and Mouse Act’. Mrs Pankhurst was smuggled into the hall inside a laundry basket and appeared on stage before the police rushed in. Rioting followed, the police drew batons and several suffragette supporters, including Mrs Pankhurst, were hurt and arrested.
In 1914 Mary Richardson slashed the painting “The Rokeby Venus” in the National Gallery. Mary Raleigh Richardson (1882/3 – 7 November 1961) was a Canadian suffragette active in the women’s suffrage movement in the United Kingdom, an arsonist and later the head of the women’s section of the British Union of Fascists (BUF) led by Sir Oswald Mosley. Richardson’s most famous act of defiance occurred on 10 March 1914 when she entered the National Gallery in London and slashed Velázquez’s famous painting the Rokeby Venus with a chopper she smuggled into the gallery.
In 1914 Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated. The assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria, heir presumptive to the Austro-Hungarian throne, and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg, occurred on 28 June 1914 in Sarajevo when they were mortally wounded by Gavrilo Princip. Princip was one of a group of six assassins (five Serbs and one Bosniak) coordinated by Danilo Ilić, a Bosnian Serb and a member of the Black Hand secret society. The political objective of the assassination was to break off Austria-Hungary’s South Slav provinces so they could be combined into a Yugoslavia. The assassins’ motives were consistent with the movement that later became known as Young Bosnia. The assassination led directly to the First World War when Austria-Hungary subsequently issued an ultimatum to the Kingdom of Serbia, which was partially rejected. Austria-Hungary then declared war, triggering actions leading to war between most European states.
Austro-Hungary then declared war on Serbia.
Then Britain declares war on Germany and Austria-Hungary. On August 3, 1914 – Germany declares war on France, and invades neutral Belgium. Britain then sends an ultimatum, rejected by the Germans, to withdraw from Belgium. On August 4, 1914 – Great Britain declares war on Germany. The declaration is binding on all Dominions within the British Empire including Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.
The book mentions the Battle of Ypres. The Battle of Ypres was a series of engagements during the First World War, near the Belgian city of Ypres, between the German and the Allied armies (Belgian, French, British Expeditionary Force and Canadian Expeditionary Force). There were hundreds of thousands of casualties.
The Lusitania sank around this time. The sinking of the Cunard ocean liner RMS Lusitania occurred on Friday, 7 May 1915 during the First World War, as Germany waged submarine warfare against the United Kingdom which had implemented a naval blockade of Germany. The ship was identified and torpedoed by the German U-boat U-20 and sank in 18 minutes.
During the war Clemency joins the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. The Women’s Volunteer Reserve emerged from one of the suffragette movements, the Women’s Social and Political Union. It was founded as The Women’s Emergency Corps in 1914 by Evelina Haverfield and Decima Moore to contribute to the war effort. The Corps later evolved into the Women’s Volunteer Reserve. The WVR was mainly involved in domestic fund-raising activities, and was primarily made up of middle-class women, due to the fact that they had to pay for their own uniform.
James dies during the battle of Loos. The Battle of Loos was a battle that took place from 25 September – 8 October 1915 in France on the Western Front, during the First World War. It was the biggest British attack of 1915, the first time that the British used poison gas and the first mass engagement of New Army units. The French and British tried to break through the German defences in Artois and Champagne and restore a war of movement. Despite improved methods, more ammunition and better equipment, the Franco-British attacks were contained by the German armies, except for local losses of ground. British casualties at Loos were about twice as high as German losses.
Aidan, who first remains in England, is given a white feather as a symbol of cowardice. A white feather has been a traditional symbol of cowardice, used and recognised especially within the British Army and in countries of the British Empire since the 18th century, especially by patriotic groups, including some early feminists, in order to shame men who were not soldiers.
England introduced conscription in 1916, and men like Aidan finally went to war, but Philip was exempted because of his asthma. The Military Service Act 1916 was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom during the First World War. The Act specified that men from 18 to 41 years old were liable to be called up for service in the army unless they were married, widowed with children, serving in the Royal Navy, a minister of religion, or working in one of a number of reserved occupations. A second Act in May 1916 extended liability for military service to married men, and a third Act in 1918 extended the upper age limit to 51.
The book mentions how Lord Kitchener drowned when the ship where he was travelling was sunk. Field Marshal Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener,(24 June 1850 – 5 June 1916), was a senior British Army officer and colonial administrator who won notoriety for his imperial campaigns, most especially his scorched earth policy against the Boers and his establishment of concentration camps during the Second Boer War, and later played a central role in the early part of the First World War. On 5 June 1916, Kitchener was making his way to Russia to attend negotiations, on HMS Hampshire, when it struck a German mine 2.4 km west of the Orkney Islands, Scotland, and sank. Kitchener was among 737 who died.
Clemency meets Ottilie as she is travelling to visit a friend in hospital, who was wounded at the Somme. The Battle of the Somme was a battle of the First World War fought by the armies of the British and French empires against the German Empire. It took place between 1 July and 18 November 1916 on both sides of the upper reaches of the River Somme in France. The battle was intended to hasten a victory for the Allies and was the largest battle of the First World War on the Western Front. More than three million men fought in this battle and one million men were wounded or killed, making it one of the bloodiest battles in human history.
Clemency later joins the Women’s Land Army. The Women’s Land Army (WLA) was a British civilian organisation created during the First and Second World Wars so women could work in agriculture, replacing men called up to the military. Women who worked for the WLA were commonly known as Land Girls.
Iris worked as a nurse in the hospital in Etaples during the war. Étaples is a very old fishing town and port, which lies at the mouth of the River Canche in the region of Pas de Calais in Picardy. The Étaples Army Base Camp, the largest of its kind ever established overseas by the British, was built along the railway adjacent to the town. The camp was a training base, a depot for supplies, a detention centre for prisoners, and a centre for the treatment of the sick and wounded, with almost twenty general hospitals. At its peak, the camp housed over 100,000 people; altogether, its hospitals could treat 22,000 patients.
Ash is wounded and presumed dead during the Battle of Arras. The Battle of Arras was a British offensive on the Western Front during World War I. From 9 April to 16 May 1917, British troops attacked German defences near the French city of Arras on the Western Front. The British achieved the longest advance since trench warfare had begun, surpassing the record set by the French Sixth Army on 1 July 1916. The British advance slowed in the next few days and the German defence recovered. The battle became a costly stalemate for both sides and by the end of the battle, the British Third and First Armies had suffered about 160,000 and the German 6th Army about 125,000 casualties.
At the end of the book we learn that when Marianne fled Ceylon, she found her way to Broken Hill in Australia. Broken Hill is an isolated mining city in the far west of outback New South Wales, Australia.