The title of The Call, about a woman scientist who abandons her research work (in chemistry) to be a suffragette, has several meanings – military, feminist, vocational, emotional. Although the novel has been ignored for nearly a hundred years, it is an important, and extremely readable, book.
Sadly, novels about the war and about votes for women were largely ignored during the 1920s: the former was too raw and the latter ‘too remote to be topical & too recent to be innocuous’ (Edith Zangwill to a friend). Even the theme of a woman scientist in a man’s world was rather remote for the average novel-reader. Yet, as Elizabeth Day writes: ‘The Call gives a rare insight into a woman’s domestic life in the first two decades of the 20th century ... domestic details about running a house are, most unusually, given their due alongside Ursula’s political actions, elegantly making the point that a woman’s work behind closed doors is just as worthy of our attention as what goes on in the wider world. By making political points in the guise of a ‘woman’s novel’, the author stunningly reveals her commitment to feminism.’
'Poppyland', a 1904 duplex-printed cotton manufactured for Liberty in 1912. © V&A Images. The poppies anticipate WWI and this colourway hints at purple, white and green.
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