Book Review: Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion by Dr. Fern Riddell

Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion

Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion by Fern Riddell

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The History of the Suffrage Movement or the Birth Control Movement is not a topic that I read a lot about nor is the History of those movements covered a lot in History classes. Perhaps that is why I so looked forward to the US edition of Death in Ten Minutes: The Forgotten Life of Radical Suffragette Kitty Marion by Dr. Fern Riddell. It is a compelling tale of a figure from the Suffrage movement’s past who wasn’t just forgotten; indeed there seemed to be an effort to actively erase her and others like her from the movement’s past. Dr. Riddell provides not just an enthusiastic description of Marion’s life and experiences but also uses Marion’s life as a way of looking beyond the Suffrage movement’s carefully crafted historical image. The movement’s leaders later tried to whitewash their movement by minimizing or writing out people like Marion, but Riddell shows us through Marion what all was done in the name of the movement. Furthermore, this is a timely book that can be used as a lens through which to view the current #MeToo movement. Riddell also offers us some wisdom in her conclusion on how we should view our historical figures and heroes:

“I cannot reconcile these two halves of the same whole. I cannot excuse the actions of the suffragettes, but I will always support their reasons for fighting. So I have learned to accept one idea above all others: history is not supposed to be comfortable. It should always be questioned; it should always be held to account. False idols are the most dangerous gift history can give you. If we choose to ignore or sanitize the actions of those who founded our societies, who changed them and, in the long run, made them a better, fairer place to live, we choose a life of ignorance and lies. Heroes can be corrupted, leaders can make terrible choices, but each moment, each action—whether questionable or justified—has led us to where we are today.”

This book is an enthusiastic and passionate account of Kitty Marion’s life and with passion and enthusiasm comes the potential for hagiography. As you can see in the quotation above, Riddell has avoided that trap. The book is extensively documented and Riddell makes excellent use of Marion’s unpublished autobiography. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Death in Ten Minutes and learned a lot from it. It definitely enhanced my knowledge and understanding of both the Suffrage and Birth Control movements and the lives of women in the Victorian and Edwardian periods. This is a book well worth reading.

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Categories: Books, History

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