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Bruce L Rogers (Boston, USA)

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The Pankhursts
The Pankhursts
by Martin Pugh
Edition: Paperback

16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Pankhursts: What a family!, 7 Nov. 2003
This review is from: The Pankhursts (Paperback)
The contribution of late-19th and early-20th century activists for women's voting rights are rarely given attention. Martin Pugh provides reason to revisit this exciting era of change with his colourful, well-researched, and fast-paced account in "The Pankhursts". Pugh gives a fascinating story of this family's decades-long political and intra-familial struggles. He does so largely from an interpersonal perspective with the political backdrop, in the first half of the book, of late Victorian and Edwardian political party leaders with whom they battled and, in some cases, later enjoined. The Pankhurst family and their relationships amongst themselves, their enemies, dutiful followers and close companions are skillfully plotted and interweaved with each family members' emerging and constantly evolving political focus.
Pugh starts with the liberal-minded but politically feckless, Richard Pankhurst, and crafts the setting for the apprenticeship and slow emergence from under his shadow of his much younger wife, Emmeline, following his death. Emmeline embraced the progressive political programme of her husband and with his encouragement, and as his partner, fought for "every struggling cause." Significantly, both parents were subsumed by the goal of building Richard's career, including several unsuccessful attempts at election to Parliament. Consequently, whilst the three daughters, Christabel, Sylvia and Adela gained a political education, each was deprived of parental love and attention which was to have a profound affect on their relationships with their parents as well as between themselves. In particular, the eldest daughter Christabel, although she became a Suffragette firebrand within the organisation her mother founded in 1903 (Women's Political and Social Union) to further women's right to vote, was not considered warm-hearted by colleagues and often failed to form close personal attachments. In the decade preceding the Great War, each daughter contributed to the cause but Christabel emerged as the chief strategist and galvanised women as no one else could at successively larger Suffragette-organised demonstrations. Pugh's account of the WPSU militant's activities, instigated by Christabel, runs like a fast-paced thriller, with inciting speeches, gaolings, forced feeding of incarcerated Suffragettes, cat-and-mouse games with police, window breaking and, finally, exile for Christabel and decline of the movement.
Militancy finally atrophy's by the eve of the Great War. The war with the Kaiser's Germany changes the family's political balance irretrievably as Emmeline and Christabel jettison their radical past and augment the war-effort as ultra-patriots. Christabel, in her first major re-incarnation becomes a lover of Empire and passionately anti-German. Syvia and Adela break with the jingoistic policies of Emmeline and Christabel, and along with the personal breach, swing to the Left and even espouse Bolshevism for a time. So bitter is the break-up that Adela is exiled to Australia and, Sylvia, as the 1920's proceed, develops an all-consuming hatred for Mussolini and Fascism.
Post-World War One sees Christabel the Suffragette activists, then super-patriot, re-invented as a born-again Adventist. The metamorphosis is an all too believable account of true belief mixed with opportunism and financial exigency. Christabel sustains herself by milking the pessimistic decade for all its worth, writing several derivative texts predicting the imminent return of Christ, the end-of-the-world and the relationship of the then current events with scriptural prophecy. One can understand if modern-day feminists might prefer not to eulogise Christabel. In contrast, Sylvia's views mature and exhibit profound prescience as she calls attention to the dangers of expanding Fascism, particularly the Italian invasion of parts of North Africa. For the remainder of her life she expended indefatigable energy in drawing attention to the Fascist violation of Abyssinia (Ethiopia). Post-World War Two she worked timelessly in fundraising for Ethiopian causes and eventually lived and is buried in Addis Ababa. Sylvia the socialist was never reconciled to either her mother or Christabel.
To Australian readers the fate of the youngest daughter, Adela, has certain poignancy. Exile to Australia was a not unheard of solution for a troubled British family at this time (and perhaps, later). Adela, like her sisters, did not receive a thorough formal education, and this might have contributed to her wild political transformations from Suffragette, Bolshevik advocate, union activist, right-wing defender of Fascism, to Japan appeaser. The last phase led to her political eclipse as she foolhardily cosied up to the Japanese Government just prior to outbreak of the war in Asia. After Pearl Harbor, if not before, she was persona non grata in most circles. Given hindsight, her eccentric series of political activities might seem bizarre, but her sincerity, however misdirected, emerges from the pages. Pugh's account not only humanely brings out Adela's story and personality but he also intersperses a series of fascinating vignettes of the topsy-turvy fringe politics of Australia in the 1930's. Several of these organisations, such as the Women Guild of Empire, the Industrial Peace Association, and Australian First Movement, might comprise a list of peculiar losers of the period that could always be counted on to make the wrong choices at the wrong time.
Pugh has written a sympathetic history of a complex activist family that over two generations were embroiled in some of the most tumultuous events of their era. With a possible exception of Christabel, Pugh succeeds in carrying the reader along with this unusual family to provide an exciting human-interest story along with a discerning eye to how those involved responded in the face of complex and rapid political change.


Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA
Rosalind Franklin: The Dark Lady of DNA
by Brenda Maddox
Edition: Paperback
Price: £8.99

25 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maddox's Rosalind: a fair account, 4 Nov. 2003
Many of the key players in the exciting discovery of the double-helix structure of DNA have been rightly rewarded by enhanced reputations and, in the case of James D. Watson, Francis Crick and Maurice Wilkins, the awarding of the Nobel Prize in 1962. Not so for the sole female contributor, Rosalind Franklin, her life has been subjected to caricature and only in rather recent years has her significant scientific contributions been publicly recognized. The ire of many a feminist is particularly directed at James D. Watson, the author of the 1968 best seller “The Double Helix”, in which, Watson paints the then deceased Franklin as a virago figure. In contrast to Watson’s personal memoir, British author Brenda Maddox, in her recent biography, has done much to lay out a very human portrait of Franklin as well as provide a balanced account of her prodigious scientific accomplishments. Maddox covers her subject’s whole life, not just the critical but brief DNA years and thoroughly succeeds in generating an admirable Rosalind (as she is sensitively referred to throughout, in contrast to others who are referred to by surnames). Maddox is an accomplished biographer with several awards to her credit including the Whitbead Biography award for her life of D. H. Lawrence. Her skillful techniques are well honed and through Maddox’s lens the reader cannot help but view Rosalind as a warm though strong-willed, precociously intelligent and, on account of her untimely death at only thirty seven, ultimately a tragic figure.
Franklin was fortunate to be born into a well-heeled banker’s family that allowed her to secure a rigorous education in the physical sciences at the private St. Paul’s Girl’s School in London. Maddox does a splendid job of bringing Franklin’s girlhood alive and the extract from Franklin’s diary describing the awe and unadulterated fun surrounding the coronation ceremonies for King George VI are marvelous. Franklin loved sports but was a committed scholar as well and graduated with an award for outstanding performance, especially in physics, that allowed her to enter Cambridge University as an undergraduate on the eve of World War II. Her family’s wealth provided the educational opportunity but Franklin provided the rare combination of uninhibited drive, focus, powerful intellect and hard work. As Britain and her Commonwealth stood alone against Hitler, Franklin showed the same steadfastness of purpose by her unswerving commitment to her studies. Once again, Franklin shows her uniqueness, since there were many belles (and a few beaus, I would imagine) at the university who enjoyed the social whirl that existed in spite of the war. While at Cambridge, Franklin met a fellow physicist, Adrienne Weill, a dynamic Frenchwoman that fascinated and greatly influenced Franklin. This relationship was the first step in Franklin’s transition to passionate francophile which ultimately soured her relationship with her own country and spoiled her interactions with her British colleagues. In the meantime, Franklin completed her Ph.D. in physical chemistry with a specialty in applying X-ray structural analysis to amorphous coal and proceeded to publish her first publications in prestigious scientific journals. Franklin’s life was not work since she had a penchant for strenuous holidays in the outdoors usually involving climbing and hiking which she maintained throughout her life. The French connection ultimately led to a job offer in Paris, which Franklin embraced with enthusiasm. Although she remained totally committed to her work, she mastered French, conquered high mountains, developed fine dress taste and was exposed to the Parisian post-war political ferment. This was not to last, and in 1950 she returned to London to what would prove to be professionally productive but personally an unhappy time. This constituted her leap into DNA at King’s College London.
Franklin’s accepted a research fellowship to work at the Biophysics unit, King’s College London, headed by the famous physicist, J. T. Randall, responsible for the British discovery and development of radar during World War II. She was to work with Randall’s deputy, Maurice Wilkins, on studies he already had underway involving DNA. By all accounts, except Franklin’s, Wilkins seemed to be an excellent collaborator and had productive and amiable relationships with colleagues and students in his decades-long scientific career. Franklin came to King’s with a craving for foreign friends and what can only be thought of as a “chip on her shoulder”. She was described as “tense and unbending, clutching her aversion to everything English” and ultimately this led to her having a poor relationship with several of her colleagues. In particular, she considered Wilkins her inferior. Nonetheless, interpersonal squabbles aside, Franklin was a professional scientist of the highest quality and she quickly made her mark in her new laboratory and generated X-ray pictures of DNA that were second to none.
The steps along the way to the discovery of the structure of DNA have been laid out before, notably by Watson in his 1968 best seller and also in commentaries and rebuttals to his biased account. The key facts run as follows, Watson and Crick at Cambridge University utilized model building as a tool to visualize several hypothesized structures of DNA. In large part, these tinker-toy-like models were speculative and relied on laboratory data generated by others as well as competing models proposed by academic competitors, notably the renowned chemist, Linus Pauling, in the US. In Franklin’s thinking, model building was not given much weight and she focused, to the exclusion of almost all else, on X-ray methods and data analysis as the true road to deciphering the structure of DNA. As it turned out, Franklin’s experimental data was instrumental in inspiring the Watson and Crick model of DNA and in recent years the importance of her contribution has gained increased credence. Unfortunately, Franklin’s productive life was cut short by cancer and she died aged thirty-seven of cancer. Although not fully reconciled in life, the Franklin-Wilkins building at King’s College London was opened in 2000, and stands as a testament to their joint contribution to one of the last century’s greatest scientific advances.


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