This disturbing piece of news about the Harper government erasing Canadian feminist and women’s rights activist Therese Casgrain’s name from an award (not to mention that her image was also removed from the $50 bill in 2012) made me feel many things. Angry, obviously. But also disappointed, uneasy, and incredulous. It’s easy to take the enormous achievements of Therese Casgrain and The Famous Five for granted. This shameful debacle made me think of one of the best books about the struggles of the suffragette movement (also one of my favourite books of 2014): A Mad, Wicked Folly by Sharon Biggs Waller.
Vicky is kicked out of her fancy French school when word of her posing nude gets round to the staff. She returns to London only to find her parents less than sympathetic. She is given an ultimatum: marry well, therefore erasing her scandalous past, or move to a remote town and become a spinster. What Vicky really wants is to be an artist, but the only way she can possibly pursue these dreams is to compromise by marrying the not-so-awful Edmund. But then a few choice encounters with members of the suffragette movement and a poor (but charming) police officer have Vicky second guessing everything.
I am a big Downton Abbey fan. Sybil is by far my favourite Crawley. What’s not to like about her progressive attitude, rebellious fashion choices (those harem pants!), or willingness to get her hands dirty in the name of helping others? There’s a lot of Sybil in the protagonist of this decadent historical YA novel, Vicky. She doesn’t start off as a suffragette, rather she becomes involved in their movement after a series of encounters with various individuals. Although she has strong feelings on women artists, she doesn’t immediately make the connection to the parallel political struggle. This felt true to a head-strong, self-centred (in a good way) teenage heroine. I liked this progression. It was well-paced and felt natural.
The supporting cast is excellent. There are no straight-up villains. Thought at many times I wanted to slap certain characters, Waller sheds light on their motivations and the result is nuanced, believable characters. If we want teenagers to be passionate about history and the struggles of our ancestors, there is no better way than to present them in an accessible, engaging, yet accurate manner. The book includes a fascinating historical note that outlines just how vicious the struggle became. Fans of detailed historical fiction and readers who are looking for an accurate portrayal of what women went through to get the vote will love this rich, compelling story.
A Mad, Wicked Folly is available in hard cover now from Penguin Canada.