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It is almost certain that Britain would not be in the mess it is in today if it was not for Mrs Thatcher, who once said that she ‘owed nothing to women’s lib. The feminists hate me, don’t they? And I don’t blame them. For I hate feminism. It is poison.’ Secretly the boys from the Bullingdon Club agree with her, even if they are being forced to give lip service to the notion that in the late  twentieth century women have to be granted equal rights. But whatever one’s feelings about Mrs Thatcher, and whatever one’s political viewpoint: we hope and pray that the world will soon have five women leaders – Theresa May, Angela Eagle, Angela Merkle, Hillary Clinton and Elizabeth Warren – to follow in the footsteps of Nancy Astor. Eleanor Roosevelt, Indira Gandhi, Aung San Suu Khi and Margaret Thatcher. Meryl Streep had the last word about Mrs Thatcher in The Iron Lady.

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For twenty-five years Aung San Suu Kyi (b. 1945) has been inspirational. To think that she spent the years 1972-88 mostly in North Oxford (the very words are redolent of peaceful domesticity) but by 1991 her life had changed so dramatically that she had been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; yet it would be two decades before she could formally accept it  – her house arrest did not end until 2010.

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Indira Gandhi (1917-84) was India’s third prime minister, serving from 1966 until 1984, when her life ended in assassination. She was at Somerville College, Oxford; and began her political career in the late 1940s at the time when Emma Smith was travelling in India, before returning to England to write The Far Cry.

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Eleanor Roosevelt (1894-1962), the American politician, diplomat and activist was one of the key people drafting the ‘Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ as chair of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in 1948. We love her especially because she considered Dorothy Canfield Fisher one of the most influential women in America.

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Women politicians on the Post this week. Very odd to think that the United Kingdom aka Great Britain (we’ll presumably just be England in future) elected its first woman Member of Parliament less than a hundred years ago – Constance Markievicz in 1918. She was an Irish republican and did not take her seat. Nancy Astor was therefore the first woman who was both elected and took her seat in Parliament – in November 1919.

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‘I think this is an absolutely devastating result. Personally, I feel pretty heartbroken. It has revealed massive divisions within our country’ said Caroline Lucas, the Green MP this morning. Heartbroken indeed is how we are feeling. Although 52% of the British people do not realise it yet, and will not realise it for many, many months to come, this is the most devastating day for Britain since September 3rd 1939. Vere Hodgson, a passionate and committed European, would have been as despairing as we are today. But in Few Eggs and No Oranges she never gave up on her efforts to help other people and on her liberalism and nor shall we at Persephone Books. (This is a newly-discovered photograph of Vere, we have just given two boxes of her papers to Kensington Public Library, where they are joining the original manuscript of Few Eggs and No Oranges.)

Eugenia Ginzburg for website copy

Eugenia Ginzburg, author of Into the Whirlwind, is the fourth in the Persephone line up of our authors who have made a  difference politically. What can one say now this crucial day is upon the people of Britain? Perhaps read and re-read the article written by Sarah Helm (who wrote the book about Ravensbrück). It is headed ‘Jo Cox’s voice was inspirational. Why did it take a tragedy for the world to hear it?’  In the piece Sarah Helm says: ‘Writing the book was harrowing. But it was also inspiring to uncover the voices of courageous, inspirational women sent there often for political opinions and writings, who battled to survive there. They came from more than 20 countries, and every background. Kathe Leichter, an Austrian social democrat had campaigned for women’s rights and helped rescue Jews, before her arrest. Loulou Le Porz, a French doctor, had spoken out against the collaborationists of the Vichy government and joined the French resistance. Yevgenia Klemm, a history teacher from Odessa, had cited the Geneva conventions to Nazi generals and was sent to Ravensbrück. Thousands of women in the camp had worked for humanitarian causes long before Hitler came to power, and then underground for the resistance. All of them worked to alleviate others’ suffering. only to be rounded up, silenced and sent to Ravensbrück. It is a long way back in time to Ravensbrück, but the message has strong resonance. More than anything, these women understood that working together across nationalities was vital to their survival, and vital if those horrors were not to be repeated.’ It is because these horrors must not be repeated that we hope and pray that by the end of today Persephone Books is still a European publishing house.

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Cicely Hamilton is, if one thinks about it, the author of one of the great European novels William – An  Englishman. She was also a deeply convinced suffragette and pacifist. The quote on the flap is about the moment when William and Griselda emerge from their honeymoon cottage (in Belgium) to be confronted with war on their doorstep, and are taken prisoner. ‘So they trotted down the valley, humiliated, dishevelled, indignant, but still incredulous – while their world crumbled about them and Europe thundered and bled.’

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Etty Hillesum’s diaries ‘have become a monument of spirituality and spiritual resistance against persecution and hatred’ (the context is here). An Interrupted Life, which was Persephone Book No. 5 in 1999, has been a crucial part of our thinking and outlook ever since. Rowan Williams gave a lecture about Etty in 2004, it’s online, and last Saturday there was a gathering in London celebrating Etty at which he again spoke. His address was called  ‘No Man Is an Island’ (which is apt since the Remain poster we have in the shop window at the moment quotes Donne’s poem). And American Persephone readers can go to the Etty play.

 

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‘What we have learned this week is that the veil that separates civilisation from mayhem is thin. The tragedy is that it took the death of a devoted, admired and adored woman to teach us that lesson’ wrote Jonathan Freedland in the wake of Jo Cox’s death. This week on the Persephone Post we shall feature five Persephone writers who were extraordinary political activists, who were devoted and wise and admirable and adored and whom we are SO proud to have on our list. Hilda Bernstein is the first. Here is a factual account of of her life: ‘Hilda Bernstein (1915–2006) was an accomplished artist, a significant recorder of South Africa’s liberation struggle and a political activist who was hounded by the Security Police, detained, banned repeatedly and forced to go into exile with her family. She also had to endure the uncertainty of the 1964 Rivonia Trial in which her husband, Rusty  was appearing on a charge of treason as a co-accused with Nelson Mandela and others. All expectations were that they would be given the death sentence, but Rusty was released on account of lack of evidence.’ The bare facts do not convey Hilda’s bravery, insouciance, and compassion. We reprinted her 1967 book The World that was Ours in 2004 and she wrote a new preface and afterword for us. It is available as a grey Persephone book and as a Persephone Classic.

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