Skip to main content

Spotlight On...Cicely Hamilton



I’m so excited about my latest book purchase I just have to share it! I’ve just acquired a copy of Cicely Hamilton’s autobiography, Life Errant (London: J M Dent and Sons, 1935) so the latest Spotlight On is about Cicely Hamilton. 

Cicely Hamilton (1872–1952) is one of my writing heroines. She was a suffrage campaigner who joined the militant Women’s Social and Political Union founded by Mrs Pankhurst, and wrote the words for the WSPU anthem, The March of the Women, music by Ethel Smythe. Later critical of the dictatorial style of the Pankhursts, she left the WSPU to join the Women’s Freedom League, and edited their paper The Vote. In 1908 she founded the Women Writers’ Suffrage League and the Actresses’ Franchise League.

 
Cicely Hamilton's autobiography, Life Errant
She achieved success with her play Diana of Dobson’s in 1908, and went on to write a  number of suffrage plays with her friend Christopher St John (born Christabel Marshall, 1871–1960), including the comedies How the Vote Was Won and The Pot and the Kettle. In 1910 she wrote A Pageant of Great Women – I also own a copy of this rare text – which featured fifty two great women including Joan of Arc, Jane Austen, Angelica Kauffman, and Charlotte Corday. Cicely Hamilton herself played Christian Davies (1667–1739), who enlisted in the army as Christopher Welsh. Davies’s disguise was discovered by surgeons after she was wounded at the Battle of Ramillies.

The Pageant was performed around the country, including Bristol’s Prince's Theatre in 1910 and the Albert Hall, Swansea. Cicely Hamilton also wrote the book Marriage as a Trade (1909) criticising women’s limited economic choices which forced them into marriage for want of the skills or opportunity to do anything else.  

During the First World War, she worked for the Scottish Women’s Ambulance Unit, and then joined a touring theatrical company entertaining the troops. Many of her novels and plays deal with the issue of war and humanity’s capacity for violence, which she attributed to what she called the herd instinct, the “crowd-life” which overcame people’s “responsible individuality”. These included the novels William: an Englishman (1919), which has been republished by Persephone Books, and Theodore Savage (1922). Her 1926 play The Old Adam (also known as The Human Factor) explores the response of two warring nations when they acquire the technology to disarm one another’s weapons. You might expect this to be a cause for rejoicing, but Hamilton’s disillusionment takes the play in another direction entirely. Unable to use machines, men arm themselves with knives and clubs…     

In spire of her pessimism about the possibility of human progress, she continued to campaign for women’s equality. She was an editor of The Englishwoman, and worked on the feminist journal Time and Tide. She was active in the Six Point group in the 1920s, campaigning for better child protection laws, legislation to protect widows and their children, rights for unmarried mothers, equal guardianship of children, equal pay for teachers, and equal opportunities and pay in the civil service. 

   
One of the things Hamilton criticised the WSPU about was its obsession with dress and appearance, “its insistence on the feminine note”. In a witty tangle of gender identities, she once attended a fancy dress party dressed as George Eliot (Marian Evans), with her friend Christopher St John dressed as George Sand (Amantine-Lucile-Aurore Dupin) in male costume.


William an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton is available from Persephone Books 



Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Dickens and Chickens

On 17 April 1860, in fields near Farnborough, Charles Dickens joined an audience amongst whom were the Prince of Wales and the Prime Minister, Lord Palmerston, as well as a number of MPs and clergymen, to watch the American John Carmel Heenan and England’s Tom Sayers (the Brighton Titch) beat one another blind and bloody in a bare-knuckle fight that lasted nearly two and a half hours. The fight ended in a draw when Aldershot police stormed the ring, forcing the fighters and their illustrious spectators to flee the scene. It was the brutality of this match that signalled an end to the bare-knuckle era and prompted the development of the Marquess of Queensberry’s rules. Dickens’s interest in pugilism was of long standing. In 1848 Dombey and Son , which had been published in serial form over the preceding two years, came out in book form. One of many of his novels that draws on the world of the prize fighter, it introduces the unforgettable Mr Toots, a would-be man about town, an

Spotlight On...Begbrook House, Frenchay, Bristol

On 11 November 1913, the head gardener at Begbrook House in Frenchay near Bristol discovered that the   building was on fire. The house stood in its own wooded grounds, and was said to have twenty rooms and a fine old staircase. Within a few hours the house was gutted. The fire caused £3,000 worth of damage. A copy of the WSPU newspaper, The Suffragette , was left at the site with the message, “Birrell is coming. Rachel Pease is still being tortured”.  Begbrook House Picture: Frenchay Village Museum Augustine Birrell was the Liberal MP for Bristol North, and a cabinet minister. He was frequently targetted by militants in Bristol. Suffragettes interrupted his meetings and two women once accosted him at Temple Meads Railway Station with their demand for the vote.    Begbrook House belonged to Hugh Thomas Coles, a wealthy banker. Hugh Coles was the son of   William Gale Cole of Clifton, who was also a banker, and was born in Clifton in 1856. Lik

The Bristol Boys: The Bare Knuckle Champions and The Hatchet Inn

The Hatchet Inn on Frogmore Street in Bristol is all that remains of a row of seventeenth-century timbered houses dating back to 1606 – making it one of the city’s oldest pubs. It was substantially altered in the 1960s, and these days it stands on a traffic island. But at one time it boasted extensive grounds – and amongst the facilities on offer was a bare-knuckle boxing ring. Plaque at The Hatchet Inn, Bristol The pub’s connection with Bristol’s boxing heroes is commemorated in a plaque illustrating five of Bristol’s champions – one of whom, Hen Pearce, features in Bloodie Bones: A Dan Foster Mystery. Hen Pearce (Detail) Bristol born Hen Pearce, The Game Chicken (1777 – 1809), a former butcher’s boy, became champion of England in 1805. He was a hero inside and outside the ring. In 1807 he climbed onto the roof of a building in Thomas Street, Bristol to rescue a servant girl from a fire. Always a popular figure, this courageous act inspired many eulogies in pr