From January 2016

Why Persephone Wright rejects the “White Feather” campaign

White Feather

In the third book of the Suffrajitsu trilogy, Christabel Pankhurst is shown encouraging the women of England to hand white feathers to “every man you see who is not in uniform”.  What was the meaning of this campaign, and why does Persephone Wright reject it?

In real history, the “White Feather” campaign was initiated during August of 1914 by Admiral Charles Fitzgerald and the author Mary Augusta Ward.  Within the context of nationalistic fervor at the outbreak of the War, their plan was simple; in order to reduce “malingering”, which was the then-current term for avoiding military service, women would hand symbols of cowardice to young men in civilian clothes, with the object of humiliating them into joining the Army.

Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst, who had by then suspended their “Votes for Women” campaign and thrown their efforts into supporting the government for the duration of the war effort, became enthusiastic proponents of conscription. Christabel went further, advocating internment for all members of “enemy races” in England. There is, however, very slight actual evidence linking either of them to the White Feather campaign, other than a paragraph in Sylvia Pankhurst’s 1931 suffragette memoir which conflated her mother’s and sister’s followers with that campaign.

Given that Sylvia had been bitterly estranged from her family, it seems not unlikely that this assertion was either vindictive or honestly mistaken; detailed archive searches have revealed no direct correlation between the WSPU and the White Feather Brigade.

It’s impossible to judge how effective the campaign actually was, but it quickly became highly controversial.  Notably, members of the “Order of the White Feather” were criticized for indiscriminately targeting any man who was out of uniform, including those who were engaged in crucial public service occupations and those who had been honorably discharged from the Army due to injury or illness.  The government responded by creating various lapel badges, including the “King and Country” and “Silver War” badges, to indicate that the wearer was not a malingerer.

White Feather 2

Compounding the controversy, soldiers who were “at home” (on leave from active service) were also frequently handed white feathers if they chose not to wear their uniforms while in public.  One such was Private Ernest Atkins who was on leave from the Western Front and who was presented with a white feather by a girl sitting behind him on a tram. He responded by slapping her with his pay book, saying: “Certainly I’ll take your feather back to the boys at Passchendaele. I’m in civvies because people think my uniform might be lousy, but if I had it on I wouldn’t be half as lousy as you.”

As the War dragged on and especially as news of the horrific conditions faced by soldiers filtered back to England, the White Feather campaign began to lose popular support.

Although the campaign was briefly revived during the Second World War, the effort was by then widely perceived to be in infamously bad taste.

In the fictional universe of Suffrajitsu, protagonist Persephone Wright rejects Christabel’s encouragement to support the White Feather campaign on ethical grounds, stating that “A man who’s been shamed into service isn’t a volunteer at all”.  This is particularly significant in that Persephone had previously been among the most ardent supporters of Christabel’s “Votes for Women” movement during the pre-War period.

 

 

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Toupie Lowther referees a women’s fencing match (1899)

Toupie

In the Suffrajitsu trilogy, May “Toupie” Lowther serves as Emmeline Pankhurst’s chauffeur and getaway driver, as well as the second-in-command of the clandestine Amazon bodyguard team.  She also appears as the protagonist in the short story The Pale Blue Ribbon and as a major supporting character in the novella The Isle of Dogs.

In reality, Toupie was a champion tennis player and fencer who was also a proficient weightlifter, jiujitsu practitioner and driver of both cars and motorcycles.  In this illustration, she referees a fencing match between two young women at MacPherson’s fencing school.

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Edith Garrud’s role in the Suffrajitsu stories

Jujitsuffragettes-1
Edith Garrud (uppermost) demonstrates a jiujitsu armlock on one of her suffragette students.

Several Suffrajitsu reviewers have asked why Edith Garrud, who was the real-life jiujitsu instructor of the suffragette Bodyguards, seems to have been downplayed in the graphic novels.  Can you comment?

Tony Wolf: First of all, I should say that I’ve been learning about Edith Garrud’s life and martial arts activities for the past decade.  In recent years I’ve written a number of articles about her, contributed to mainstream newspaper, magazine, TV and radio profiles on her life and even wrote her biography.

Edith’s role and position in the Suffrajitsu series are mostly due to the fact that I prioritized the relationship between Persephone Wright and her uncle Edward, who was the founder of Bartitsu and the owner/manager of the Bartitsu Club. Their relationship had actually been established long before I started writing the Suffrajitsu stories, during an ongoing world-building conversation with other Foreworld Saga writers including Mark Teppo and Neal Stephenson.

Given that Persi was Edward’s niece and protégée, it made sense to turn the Bartitsu Club into the Amazons’ headquarters and to position Bartitsu as their fighting style.  That choice also offered a much wider scope for the fight scenes, in that Bartitsu actually included kickboxing and stick fighting as well as jiujitsu training.

Edith Garrud
Above: Edith Garrud training Amazon Judith Lee in the finer points of the womanly art of self defense.

So what happened to Edith Garrud?

She’s right there doing exactly what she did in real life – teaching the Amazons jiujitsu.  She makes a cameo appearance training Judith Lee in Issue #1 and then Persephone lists her along with two other real-life suffragettes, Flora Drummond and Gert Harding, who will take care of things in London while the Amazons try to rescue Christabel Pankhurst in Austria.  Persi also later refers to Edith’s own security team, the Palladium Irregulars, who will escort Christabel back to London after the rescue.

Who were the Palladium Irregulars?

In real history, Edith taught a women-only self-defense class at the Palladium Academy, which was a primarily a dance school.  Those classes were probably attended by suffragettes and may well have formed the early nucleus of the Bodyguard’s training, but we don’t know for sure.

The Palladium Irregulars are our fictional elaboration of that idea.  In the world of Suffrajitsu, they serve as a sort of reserve unit that can be called on to reinforce the Amazons in times of crisis.

But why isn’t Edith part of the Amazon team?

I should mention that, historically, Edith wasn’t actually a member of the team.  She specifically served as their jiujitsu instructor, rather than as a bodyguard herself.

That said, she was originally part of my fictional Amazon team, along with several other amazing Edwardian-era women who sadly don’t appear in the published version of the story. As I was writing the first issue, it became obvious that there were just too many Amazon characters to do justice to in the amount of space I had to work with.

The commission from Jet City Comics was for a trilogy of 24-page stories.  The requirements of writing an action/adventure storyline within those strict limits – only so many pages per issue and panels per page – meant that there wasn’t space to include many people I’d been hoping to pay homage to.  So, with a heavy heart, I had to remove and merge characters until the team was down to a workable size that offered a diversity of viewpoints, while keeping the focus on Persi as the main protagonist.

Given that one of my priorities was to shine a light on some lesser-known figures such as Flossie Le Mar, Toupie Lowther and “Miss Sanderson“, I was OK with Edith’s eventual role and position in the graphic novel.  I can understand that some readers still wanted to see more of her, though.  I’d encourage them to read the biography Edith Garrud: The Suffragette who knew Jujutsu and also the Kindle Worlds Suffrajitsu novella, The Second Story Girl, in which she plays a more prominent role.

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