Disclaimer: This title was very kindly sent to me by the publishers, Canongate.
2018 marks 100 years since women received the right to vote, it was a ground-breaking achievement, set to the change the social and political landscape of the country. However, as many knew and know, and as Winterson reiterates, this was just the start. Courage calls to courage everywhere is a short essay with a powerful message, a hint of anger and a spoonful of humour. Combined, these ingredients create a marvellously accessible read, suitable for the shelves of anyone interested in the subjects of feminism or suffrage, no matter the amount of previous knowledge they may possess.
Jeanette Winterson, a self-proclaimed writer of fiction, already has a place on my bookshelves. Within this, admittedly small, collection, I have very mixed feelings. For example, I love the writing in Weight, I think it’s beautiful, but I really dislike Oranges are not the only fruit, so I was a little nervous about what I would find within these two power-quotes: “Courage calls to courage everywhere” and “Behind every great woman is a man who tried to stop her”. However, besides a – in my opinion – overuse of full stops, which created a lot of three-word sentences, I really enjoyed how this was written. Without being convoluted or try-hard (my main pet peeve with Oranges), it was emotional and strong; a celebration of all that women have achieved, the fights womankind have won, and the strength that we have, and are able, to take to both present and future challenges.
In only seventy-two pages, of which two are given to end-notes, and twenty-two are dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst’s 1913 speech, Freedom or death, Winterson has packed not only a punch and a celebration but also a whole-hearted round of applause to those who maybe fell under the radar – such as the wonderful Annie Kenney – and in doing so brings an albeit brief but much needed reminder that intersectionality is key. Her passion for this topic is clear, not only in the execution of this essay but also in the amount of knowledge that Jeanette Winterson has collated. For example, did you know about Anorexia Scholastica; the once believed medical condition that was thought that debilitating thinness resulted from too much mental stimulus. Mathematics was thought to be the most dangerous subject and could also divert energy from the reproductive system. Handily, this diagnosis was discovered just as women began to campaign for equal access to education.
A suitable read for a wide range of readers, beautifully packaged and powerfully told, this is an essay which I am very glad I had the chance to read it.
Jeanette Winterson is a prolific writer – according to her website, this essay is her twenty-second published work – one of ten children she was adopted by a Pentecostal couple who believed fundamentally in the Bible. They prohibited the reading of any books that were not religious.
A graduate of Oxford University, Oranges are not the only fruit, Winterson’s first novel came about during a job interview for a newly formed publishing house. Whilst explaining her idea, Jeanette was told ‘If you write it the way you tell it, I’ll buy it.’
you can find out more about Jeanette Winterson, her books, and news here.
Canongate Books is an independent publisher based in Edinburgh, Scotland. Founded in 1973, they have published authors such as Ayobami Adebayo, Yann Martel, Ali Smith, and Matt Haig. They describe themselves as ‘fiercely independent, and … as committed to unorthodox and innovative publishing as ever’.
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