As I mentioned in a recent post, I had a bit of bookish luck whilst on my travels to visit Family when I stumbled across a lovely old green Virago – “Clash” by Ellen Wilkinson, an author I’d only recently come across when I received a review copy of her newly reprinted British Library Crime Classic “The Division Bell Mystery”. Delving a little deeper has revealed that Wilkinson really *was* a fascinating woman.

Coming from a poor Manchester background, she nevertheless attended university, became a Communist and a trade unionist, joined the Labour Party, supported the 1926 General Strike, became Labour MP for Jarrow (and was therefore heavily involved in the iconic Jarrow March), visited Russia and war zones – well, that just scratches the surface. What an inspirational woman and what a life!

Ellen Wilkinson by National Photo Company Collection [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

I’m currently reading “Clash” and finding it completely absorbing and, depressingly enough, still very relevant. The beliefs Wilkinson gives her protagonist Joan Craig are ones I can really empathise with, and the book is really compelling.

Ahead of my full review of it, I wanted to share one particular quote which really stood out for me:

She was desperately tired, too tired even to make the effort to get back to Gordon Square. The thrills of the day, following a night on the train, had left her utterly exhausted. There came to her at that moment the queer clearness of vision that sometimes happens when the body falls asleep of itself. Through the chatter of the crowded restaurant she seemed to see England – the great steel towns of the north, the mining villages she knew so well, the little homes in which she had stayed during her organizing tours. Decent men and women working far too hard, crowded together in uncomfortable homes. Lack of obvious things like baths and hot water, lack of comforts, and, for at least five years, lack of food and warm clothes. What fine stuff they were, what excellent material out of which to build a fine race. And instead . . . muddle. Those men and women of the employing class meant well, no doubt, some of them, but, oh, their hauteur, their assumption that people, because they were manual workers, were of an inferior race! The unblushing lying to preserve a competitive system that the really intelligent among them knew was breaking down, the refusals to organize or to allow resources to be organized except on a basis that would yield excess profits to some one! They wanted inequality. They could not conceive a society without some one to bow before and others to cringe to them. The Socialist ideal of a commonwealth of equals “simple in their private lives and splendid in their public ways” made no appeal to the class that governed England in 1926. The bolder of them wanted a world in which they could gamble. The timid wanted security – Government bonds and six per cent.

So it rather seems that back in 1926 it was all about the few taking what they could from the many, and it’s shocking and saddening to find that nearly a century later little has changed. I find myself fascinated by Wilkinson and her writings, and I really do think I may head straight on to reading “The Division Bell Mystery” straight after this one!

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