Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Library workshops this term - book your place!

Our programme of Saturday workshops for the Autumn term is now out!

This term we are doing two full days of workshops to help you get started with using the Library's resources - sign up for as many as you need.

Book your place online at the link below. We look forward to seeing you at a workshop.
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/mybirkbeck/global/workshop_timetable?orgunit=LIB

Friday, 25 September 2015

Orientation Day for new students

The Library will be taking part in the Orientation Day for new students tomorrow (Saturday 26th September). Come and get some freebies from our stand, come to one of our talks or try our self-guided Library tour and quiz. Compete the quiz and you can enter our prize draw for a £50 Amazon voucher!

More about the Orientation Day here http://www.bbk.ac.uk/new-students/orientation

Take a look at our New Students page which lists all the ways you can get to know the Library
http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/about/userinfo

Tuesday, 22 September 2015

Come and have a look round!

There will be 20 minute tours of the Library at 5.30pm, Monday to Friday, from 21st September to 16th October 2015 . No need to book, just meet at the Library entrance. Come and have a look around!


There are more ways to get to know the Library at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/about/userinfo 

Book display - study skills

Our latest book display on Level 1 highlights books on study skills to help you if you're new to studying or just need a refresher on things like citing and referencing, academic writing or just learning to cope with the pressure of studying.

All these books are available to loan, so please take them off the display and borrow them if you'd like to.


Thursday, 17 September 2015

Longer opening hours from next week

Our normal term-time opening hours start again next week. From Monday 21st September we will be open from 08.30-23.45, 7 days a week.

During the week the issue and help desks are staffed from 10am to 10.30pm and at weekends from 10am to 6pm. Outside of those times, you can use the self-service machines to issue, return, renew and pay fines.

More information at http://www.bbk.ac.uk/lib/about/hours

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Word to the Wise

Neglected gems of the language for taking down the pub and introducing to your mates.

Supercilious

Soo-per-sil-ee-uhs: Adjective: haughtily contemptuous; displaying arrogant pride, scorn, or indifference.


Now, this particular gem may not perhaps be as neglected as all that, though it is one of those words that we tend to bandy about, aware of what we intend to convey when we employ it – usually from a very safe distance, if you’re anything like us – but without ever knowing how it came about and, therefore, what we’re actually saying when we use it. We can be pretty certain that the super part is indicative of something or other being in a state of aboveness but, when we accuse some fellow of being a decidedly supercilious perisher, what is it, precisely, that we imagine he stands in such loftiness over? What’s this –cilious bit all about when it’s at home warming its chestnuts by the fire? Any Latin scholars out there now will be champing at the bit (that’s a cliché, of course) at this very moment, like a pride of archaic boffins (that’s a stereotype – a completely different customer) and muttering darkly along the lines of, “Tsk! Surely everyone’s heard of the cilium, haven’t they?” Which would be rather supercilious of them but they’d be absolutely bang on the money there (now we’re back to clichés), as that’s exactly where it comes from. The seed from which the cilium root sprang is, in fact, celare, to cover or hide – cell and conceal are near-neighbours, with occult just around the corner by the newsagent’s – while cilium itself is nothing grander than the good old eyelid. Typical of your Romans (stereotype again) to imagine that the role of the eyelid is merely to hide the eye, being fickle villains with guilty consciences, but this is the race that gave us the word inculcate. Innocuous enough, you might think, meaning as it does to instil by forceful or insistent repetition, but the root of it is calx, or heel, and so what they’d come up with here is a term for describing all those situations which required them to do a bit of well-aimed stamping down with the bony part of the foot, usually involving an enemy’s head somewhere along the line, until they’d made their point. Small wonder, then, that such a people wouldn’t have much time left to dedicate to conjuring up imaginative terms for the minor appurtenances, now is it?

All of which means that the supercilium turns out to be the much-underrated eyebrow – see what we mean about the minor appurtenances? Those Romans could happily get through life calling the eyebrow “that bit above the eye-hider” but they simply had to have some way of saying “to trample into abject submission” – which also means that, rather disappointingly, when we do resort to referring to some blighter as a “decidedly supercilious perisher,” what we are actually alleging is that they’ve behaved in a markedly eyebrowish fashion, or that they have expressed themselves with altogether too much eyebrowness. Down our way, that sort of behaviour is likely to elicit the menacing response of, “don’t you use your eyebrow like that on me, my lad!” What we’re attempting to get at through all this is that we have arrived at the notion of expressing contempt via the raising of the eyebrow. To most of us, that amounts to nothing more than a gesture of arrogant condescension likely to make the blood boil, whereas, to the likes of someone like Sir Roger Moore, it’s the methodology on which to base an entire acting career.

Sir Roger, of course, is best known for playing the role of James Bond – whereas the name Roger Moore should really be associated with sentiments like “scurrilous old Tory tax exile” – though he actually rose to fame as Simon Templar in the Sixties television series, The Saint, in which he established the “suave” playboy style that he is known for. Well, he did use it in every role he ever played. Before that even, in the Fifties, he worked as a model, appearing in advertisements for knitwear, which earned him the nickname of “The Big Knit.” He remains the oldest actor to have portrayed Ian Fleming’s most enduring character (being forty six when he started and a staggering fifty eight when he finally hung up his gadgets), portraying Bond in seven films, including Live and Let Die and The Spy Who Loved Me. Oh, and The Man With The Wooden Delivery.

 Did you notice how we managed to shoehorn in the word “scurrilous” back there, while we were indulging in that outrageous and insupportable diatribe against one of this country’s most respected entertainment institutions – if we go on at this rate, before you can say, “Nice to see you. To see you nice” we’ll be referring to our own dear Brucie as a fossilized old mangel-wurzel in a tuxedo with a Shredded Wheat strapped to his head, and then a line would most certainly have to be drawn. (Incidentally, in all fairness, it should be pointed out that Roger Moore has done a great deal of humanitarian and charity work, for which he was knighted). Anyhow, scurrilous was introduced as a prime example of this week’s theme, which is the number of words that seem to wallow in much the same mire of pejorative as does supercilious, all of which also happen to start with the letter S, as if they somehow all require that sibilant quality to make them hiss like a pantomime crowd at the entrance of the baddie. Not a few of them are quite closely related, as it turns out.
 
First up then, we’d best turn our attentions to smug, pretty much the stunt double for supercilious, seeing they very often fill the same role but with markedly different characteristics. Unlike Roger Moore, then. You may just get away with calling someone supercilious, on the grounds that they might not quite understand what is actually being implied (which is, that you find their eyebrow work most irritating), but chancing your arm with smug is more than likely to result with you copping an unfortunate one round the lughole. Which is a bit of a shame really, seeing that, while it might mean excessively self-satisfied to our modern ears, back around 1550 time it indicated the state of being trim or smart. This may well be an alteration of the German word for this, smuk, which comes from smücken, to adorn, which originally stood for “to dress.” The sense of smug as in overdue self-satisfaction came in about 1701 (the time of James II, the absolute epitome of smug and who was about to get unceremoniously kicked off the English throne that very September for it) but, in 1580, smug had extended from smart or neat into more your smooth and sleek, and was often applied to attractive girls or women. So, come on lads, what are you waiting for? As soon as we’ve finished here, why not do the decent thing and rush straight home, put your arms around your better half, plant a great big sloppy smacker right on the kisser, and then tell her just how smug she’s looking? You’re sure to reap the rewards for it.
 
Then there’s smarmy, of course, which means to be obsequiously flattering or unpleasantly suave, even ingratiatingly unctuous, if you will, unctuous being the operative word here, coming from the practice of anointing with sacred oils, or unguents, in deeply spiritual rites, the sense having acquired a sarcastic edge somewhere around 1742 and thus come to mean blandly ingratiating or “affecting an oily charm,” a kind of diluted version of smarminess. When it comes to smarm, many dictionaries list it as of “origin unknown” but there is evidence to suggest that it comes from an old English dialect word, smalm, meaning to smear or bedaub, usually the hair, with pomade, which is how we chaps would make a fashion statement back in the 1800s, when pomade was mostly bear fat or lard – we sure knew what the women (and wasps) would go for back in those days – though it could be made from mashed apples, the French word, pomme, giving it its name. There is a theory that smarm may be an amalgam of smear and balm, though this is unproven. By the time the twentieth century arrived, it had taken on the sense it now has: that the smearing involved was with insincere flattery.
 
At this point, having looked at supercilious, smug and then smarmy, there’s every chance that an image of Jeremy Hunt has sprung unbidden into your head. He’s the Secretary of State for Health, as we know and, having already rubbished an international screen idol as well as this country’s top all-round entertainer along the way, it’s barely feasible that we’re going to pass up this opportunity of dishing out much the same treatment to a truly outstanding Parliamentary statesmen, now is it? (We’ll come to sarcasm later). His infuriatingly self-satisfied smirk may well make us want to wipe it off that smug face of his via a swift blow with a spade but, in fairness to the fellow, on his best form he’s capable of telling the very drollest anecdotes you’re ever likely to hear, all with his own impeccable and inimitable sense of timing. Only a couple of years ago (absolutely true), he stepped up onto the podium to address the Conservative Party Conference on the state of the Health Service, only to inform us that he had recently had to undergo “a small procedure” of his own (rumour abounded at the time that there was a fear his humanity had turned malignant, though this was scotched emphatically when it was proven that he’d had it all removed when still only a small child). A small posse of nurses and matrons were waiting in attendance to get him settled comfortably into bed and, once they had, the chief amongst them leaned over and asked of him, “Now tell me, Mr Hunt, what is it that you do?” Jeremy paused, teasing his audience, before announcing that, “I froze!” Of course, we all simply roared. Once the laughter and thunderous applause had died down, however, a ripple of uneasiness began to make its way around the hall. For one thing, this was the man in absolute charge of the NHS, one of the biggest employers in the country, and yet not a single member of staff had even the faintest suspicion of who in the name of ruddy health he might be. And, furthermore, it was clear from his punchline that, had they known that he was the man behind all the recent reforms to their service, he was somewhat concerned that their thanks might arrive in the form of a blunt and well-deserved hypodermic.

Obviously, we were being rather sardonic there, seeing it was “characterized by bitter or scornful derision,” not to mention “mockingly cynical” at the same time. It seems that sardonic comes down to us via the Phoenician Sardinians: it may be from the Greek, sairo, to grin, making it grinning in the face of danger; or it may be from an ancient belief that ingesting the sardonion plant (the active ingredient in hemlock) would produce convulsions resembling laughter. Followed by agonising death. But the Sardinians themselves were an especially sardonic bunch of brutes, seeing it was their custom to kill their old people, during which process they were much given to loud bouts of laughter. It has been suggested that, far from our own idea that such would be in the most appallingly bad taste, back then they held to the notion that laughter accompanying the passage from life into death thus led to rebirth and new life, hence it was more an act of piety. However, given that they not only killed their elderly people but also went in for poisoning them with hemlock (the “sardonic herb”) first, then flinging them off a rock and beating them to death, this theory would appear to be somewhat sardonic in itself. Even a tad sarcastic. And yet, in the final analysis, they never had the kind of pension crisis we’re now enduring: something for Iain Duncan-Smith to think about there, we fancy.

Now we’ve even descended to being sarcastic about IDS who, given his unimpeachable record for caring for the sick and disabled, has probably considered a scheme much along those lines already. Sarcasm: mocking, contemptuous language intended to convey scorn or insult, from the Greek, sarkazein, to rend the flesh, sarx being flesh. Which our old friends, the Romans, lost no time appropriating for their own sarcasmus, once they realised they were going to be in much need of such a term, especially at their sporting events. Sarcophagous is from the same root, meaning flesh-eating, not to be confused with sarcophagus, of course, your old-fashioned coffin-type arrangement, which also means flesh-eating, seeing they were big limestone affairs that supposedly speeded the decomposition process along nicely.

Irony, on the other hand, is the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning, though it comes from the Greek, eironeia, dissimulation or assumed ignorance, much used by that best-known of hemlock victims, Socrates, who loved pretending to know less about a subject than the fellow he was debating it with, thus allowing them to ramble on until they tripped themselves up. This is known as Socratic irony and, if you wanted to know what this looks like in action (without having to resort to an executed criminal), the pre-eminent example would be none other than Lieutenant Columbo, as played by Peter Falk. Columbo used his dishevelled appearance and bumbling manner to lull his suspects into a false sense of security before gradually tightening the noose around their necks until he’d got ‘em, which is perhaps the method Socrates should’ve gone in for – got himself an old raincoat and a half-smoked cigar – if he’d wanted to escape the old poisoned chalice routine. The sense of irony as being “a condition opposite to what might be expected” arose around 1640. Just in time for the Civil War, ironically.

Satire, just to complete the set, is a means by which topical issues or perceived evils might be held up to ridicule, though its origin is rather different to the meaning it’s ended up with, seeing it started life as satis, Latin for enough. Also from that same root came sate and satiate, satisfy (literally, to do enough), saturate and, strangely enough, even sad, the sense of which evolved from heavy or ponderous (mentally or physically “full”), through weary or tired of, and finally into unhappy by about 1300. The sense in which we use it today to mean pitiful or pathetic has, surprisingly enough, been on the go since as far back as 1899, having meant “very bad” as early as 1690. So, not at all a modern usage and possibly even bordering on a cliché.
 
Now, those of you who’ve been paying attention might have noticed the odd mention here and there of clichés and stereotypes which, as we all know, are completely different concepts. A cliché is an expression that has been overused to the point of losing its original resonance to become trite or irritating, especially if it was once considered meaningful. Whereas your stereotype is an oversimplification of characteristics typical of a person or group. Such as, for example, stating that Yorkshire people hate everyone else and also hate each other, though nobody in their right mind would ever say that. Would they? (Little bit of satire there. Nearly) Anyhow, as it turns out, both words were originally synonymous and both come from the French. From their printers, in fact. When novels started to become really big sellers, rather than have to set the type up all over again for reprints, they started to form the page settings into solid blocks, or stereotypes (from the Greek, stereo, solid), cast from a papier-mâché mould (wonderfully known as a “flong”). Cliché comes from clicher, to click, supposedly an onomatopoeic word for the sound that was made when the mould met molten metal. So there we are – never get the two confused. And always be kind to Yorkshire folk – you never know who might be listening …



[All opinions expressed herein remain entirely those of the author]



Images:
Roman Caliga: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Denis Healey: By Gahetna [CC BY-SA 3.0 nl (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/nl/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons
Roger Moore: By Allan warren (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
Bruce Forsythe: SqueakBox at en.wikipedia [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.5)], from Wikimedia Commons
James II: By John Riley (oil-paint.ru) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Beau Brummell: Robert Dighton [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Jeremy Hunt: Jdfirth at en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
Phoenicians: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Iain Duncan-Smith: By Work and Pensions Office [OGL (http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/doc/open-government-licence/version/1/)], via Wikimedia Commons
Peter Falk as Columbo: By Margie Korshak Associates-publicity agency-Falk was appearing at an awards dinner in Chicago. (eBay item photo front photo back) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Stereotype: Deutsche Fotothek‎ [CC BY-SA 3.0 de (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/de/deed.en)], via Wikimedia Commons


Friday, 4 September 2015

Giants of Academia & the Arts

… but, then again, nobody is perfect

Emily Wilding Davison (11 October 1872 – 8 June 1913)

Emily Davison was something of a notorious gaolbird in her day, having been in and out of prison nine times between 1909 and 1912, for offences such as breaking windows and heckling Lloyd George, not to mention not going away when asked to by a policeman, which shows the depths of her depravity. Back then, it was much frowned upon for women to take part in sports, be educated or to hold her own opinions: naturally enough, for such a bad ‘un, she went in for a spot of cycling and could have made a professional career out of her swimming activities, only she declined the offer. Needless to add, she also dabbled in schooling to a dangerous level, gaining first class degrees from both Oxford and the University of London – well, she would have, only Oxford didn’t grant degrees to women at that time. Nor were women allowed the vote either, which is where the trouble really began. Mostly, though, she is remembered for her association with a racehorse called Anmer.


Emily was born in Blackheath, though both her parents were originally from Northumberland. Mind you, theirs was an odd union. The dad, Charles, was both posh and rich, being an affluent businessman who had been happily married for eighteen years previously, in pretty standard middle-class wedlock to Sarah Chisholm, daughter of George Wilding Chisholm (hence Emily’s middle name) and, numerically speaking, he took his husbandly duties most sedulously, siring nine offspring before his exhausted wife finally pegged out from the effort of it all. For poor old Charles, this was a decided nuisance, seeing he liked to spend his time gallivanting, doing deals, making cash and all that kind of caper, but now it seemed like he was going to be saddled with looking after an army of sprogs all on his own, a prospect that didn’t appeal to him in the least. Something had to be done. Glancing up from his ruminations on this thorny issue, what should his eye light upon but his teenaged housekeeper, Margaret, a woman from so humble a background, it seems, that she didn’t even possess a surname, though she was young, very pretty and, above all, a woman, thus eminently suited for the task he had in mind: free childcare, with some extras thrown in. Before you could say, “Look here, Davison, old boy – you’re a forty seven year old bounder and she’s nothing but a chit of a domestic lassie, barely nineteen and hardly much older than that lad of yours that’s just become a lawyer,” she was nursing their firstborn, a daughter called Letitia, born in February 1868, and so, in order to make the situation all above-board (or above-stairs, anyway), he promptly told her she’d passed the audition so how about a trip down the aisle to stop the neighbours gossiping. They married in August of that year, with a son Alfred and then sisters Emily and Ethel following in quick succession.
 
After schooling in Kensington, Emily won a bursary to attend Royal Holloway College in 1891, at which point her old man chose this rather inconvenient moment to drop down dead, meaning she was forced to quit, seeing her mother could no longer afford the fees. Quite what happened to all the fabulous Davison riches is nowhere adequately explained but Emily now found herself having to take work as a governess before turning to teaching, though she did eventually raise enough money to support herself through Oxford, reading Biology, Chemistry, English Language and Literature, making her something of an all-round boffin, a fact fully endorsed by her gaining first-class honours in her final exams. Quite the academic. And yet no degree to show for it. Well, it just wasn’t the done thing in those days, the big fear being that a good education would make women “unfit” for marriage and motherhood, at which they might well turn their energies to social reform and careers instead, when what Britain and her Empire really needed at the time was not social reform but (the same old) men in charge with wives behind them to do their bidding, just as it had always been. In the face of such uninformed enlightenment, what was a woman supposed to do?
 
Well, she could join the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) for a start off. This was an organisation formed in 1903 by six women, including Emmeline and Sylvia Pankhurst, who believed that militant and confrontational tactics should be used to achieve women’s suffrage. In 1906, they argued the point of equality with the Prime Minister, Henry Campbell-Bannerman, who broadly agreed with what they were saying but told them that he was “obliged to do nothing at all about it” – his overall policy was Do Nothing, If At All Possible – and advised them to “keep pestering” and to exercise “the virtue of patience.” Sentiments so ill-chosen that even adding “my dears” to the end couldn’t have made them sound any more condescending, the effect of which – on the ears of some who had been “pestering” for fifty years without result – was to stir them up to righteous indignation and to “Deeds, Not Words.” The incident led to the coining of the term “suffragettes.” By a man, Charles Hand. Who could be described as a journalist, only he worked for the Daily Mail. It was now that Emily joined the WSPU and, by 1908, she had given up teaching to dedicate herself to the movement. At the same time, she was also entering the University of London examinations as an external candidate for a degree in Modern Foreign Languages, resulting in first class honours and thus probably ruining her chances of ever becoming a good wife.
 

Emily Davison was always regarded by the WSPU as something of a maverick, having gained a reputation as a militant and violent campaigner – for her Deeds, Not Words – whose radical methods failed to gain the approval of the leadership and would ultimately land her in a prison cell. More than once. That particular career got off and running in March 1909 when she attempted to hand a petition to Prime Minister Asquith, for which she got a month inside for causing a disturbance. In July, she wantonly attempted to enter a hall where Chancellor Lloyd George was making a speech and was this time given two months, ostensibly for obstruction but actually for not listening politely while a great man was orating (it’s said that she even shouted at him). She went on hunger strike and was released after five days. By September, she was at it again, this time for throwing stones – another two months but soon released after going on hunger strike. It’s unclear what poor old Lloyd George had done to so get up Emily’s nose – granted, he was a portly and ageing womanising Welsh windbag, but you can’t hold his nationality against him – but, come October, he once again found himself being used for target practice by a stone-hurling Davison, who had wrapped her missiles with the words: “Rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God.” She got a month’s hard labour in Strangeways for that one but, when she went on hunger strike this time, the authorities were cute enough to have seen that one coming. They decided some force-feeding was called for. Only Emily got wind of what they intended. Mind you, it would’ve been hard not to, once you’d spotted a mob of one matron, two doctors, and five or six wardresses armed with a length of rubber tubing clanking inexorably in your direction. She barricaded the door. This so incensed one prison officer that he got a hosepipe and started to fill the cell with freezing water, not stopping until he’d all but drowned her (though she was a top swimmer, remember), his misguided efforts doing much to inadvertently aid the suffragette cause. Keir Hardie would eventually complain in the Commons about this treatment and Emily took legal action that resulted in her being awarded forty shillings damages. Didn’t do her much good at the time, though. They battered the door down – which would’ve been a sight easier, had some idiot not filled the cell with water – sat their heftiest members atop her and forced the tube into her gut.


November 1910 saw her getting another month’s stir, this time for breaking the windows of the House of Commons, though whether or not Lloyd George was anywhere about the place isn’t recorded. In 1911, she took things a little more sedately, confining herself to hiding in a cupboard in the Palace of Westminster on the night of the census (2 April) so that she could legitimately give her place of residence as the House of Commons. They failed to see the funny side, though Tony Benn got a plaque put up to commemorate the event in 1999. By January 1912, she was back to her fieriest best, quite literally, this time being banged up for six months for arson (setting fire to pillarboxes). Near the end of her sentence, and what with force-feeding being very much the in-thing with the authorities and dozens of her fellow suffragettes being subjected to this barbaric torture, Emily decided that a gesture – “a tragedy” – was called for, in order to draw attention and thus put a stop to anyone suffering this brutality again. She climbed to the top of an iron staircase and threw herself down the thirty foot drop, intending to kill herself. A safety net saved her life, though she sustained severe head and spinal injuries that would cause her discomfort for the rest of her life. Which would not be long. Though still time for two final acts, the second of which would prove to be her greatest. The first, however, was a bit of a lash-up, seeing she got ten days for beating up an innocent Baptist minister who she mistook for Lloyd George (him again!) Mind you, if this clerical sort had the effrontery to go round looking like Lloyd George, well, he was pretty much asking for it really, wasn’t he?
 
By April 1913, Asquith’s Liberal government had, in its infinite wisdom, come to the conclusion that all this force-feeding of women business was making them look beastly and brutal fellows altogether (just when they needed be preparing themselves for bloody war), so some bright spark came up with the idea for The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act 1913. This made the women’s hunger strikes legal but, the minute they started to look a bit off-colour, they would release them, the cunning part being that, as soon as they took a bite to eat, it was straight back inside with them again. Seen in much the same light as a cat toying with its victims, it quickly became known as the Cat & Mouse Act. At least it meant the government wouldn’t look quite so callous, though they did end up with egg on their collective face, seeing that they could let the women go, no problem, only they couldn’t catch some of them again afterwards, thanks to a network of suffragette sympathisers and an all-women team of bodyguards, who employed tactics of misdirection, subterfuge and direct confrontation with the police. What had been intended as the means to quietly put a lid on these female trouble-makers quickly became a public scandal. Just in time for the Derby.
 

The Derby of 4 June 1913 would have been infamous, even had Emily Davison not attended and done what she did, thanks to a bunch of blue-blooded but hopelessly incompetent stewards, who disqualified the winning favourite because he was owned by what they considered a damnable coward. But that’s another story. As the field of fifteen began to thunder round Tattenham Corner, Emily Davison ducked under the rails and stepped out onto the course, straight into the path of the oncoming Anmer, owned by King George V and only really in it because he traditionally had a runner, which was why the forlorn beast was languishing amongst the stragglers. Horse and jockey would both survive (Anmer even completed the race, though riderless). The suffragette would not. What had been in her mind when she committed this grievous act will never be known (some were outraged because she might have “injured a valuable racehorse”) and the best we can do is to speculate on supposition. And prove nothing. Though that hasn’t prevented myriad opinions from being voiced down through the years.
 
It can’t have been intentional martyrdom, some say, because she had a return rail ticket (that was the only type you could buy then). She simply wandered onto the course assuming the field had all passed (unlikely that a woman with intelligence enough for two first-class degrees would do such a thing). She tried to stop the King’s horse by grabbing its bridle (ditto, given that even a slowish specimen like Anmer would be a halfton travelling at thirty five miles an hour, a bit like stopping a car by getting hold of a wing mirror). She could only have hit on Anmer by pure chance, given that there was no racecourse commentary and she couldn’t have known whereabouts in the field he was at the time (Pathé had three cameras at Tattenham Corner and the film shows two horses pass her before Anmer hits her – plus she was found in possession of a racecard, not only giving the King’s distinctive colours but even a rudimentary knowledge of form would show that Anmer was likely to be struggling; also, any of the gents perched on high on the charabancs might have commented on Anmer’s poor showing). One theory is that she was attempting to throw a Votes For Women sash across Anmer so that the King’s horse would be seen crossing the line emblazoned with the message, apparently endorsed by the monarch himself (who, incidentally, would not have been able to see the incident from his position and had to be told that a woman had brought down his horse – he is supposed to have responded: “Good god! Is the horse all right?”). This sash-throwing idea has also been pooh-poohed (partly on the grounds that it was a scarf, not a sash – for pity’s sake! – and partly because the person who picked it up at the time was not the Clerk of the Course, as claimed, but “an East End docker with no racing connection whatsoever”). Which pretty much scotches that one, don’t it? And yet, if you look closely at the photograph, Emily is clearly holding something very sash-like (or scarf-like) in her right hand as she hits the turf. The idea still holds water …
 

One aspect that barely gets mentioned is how Anmer hit her at all. One jockey complained that he would’ve been placed, had he not had to swerve to avoid a woman on the track. A racehorse’s instinct is to avoid: time and again, you’ll see steeplechasers pick their way with infinite daintiness through the flailing limbs of a horse and jockey that have fallen in front of them and only in a melee, where it becomes unavoidable, will they be forced into making contact. Why, then, did Anmer not swerve? Unless the sash plan became impractical and suddenly changed at the last instant to martyrdom with a swift step to the right. After all, a woman that doesn’t flinch at a thirty foot plummet down an iron staircase is hardly likely to settle for another sentence, this time for mere trespassing on a racetrack. Is she? We will never know.


Emily Davison died four days later in Epsom Cottage Hospital due to a fractured skull and internal injuries. At her funeral, on 14 June 1913, thousands of suffragettes accompanied the coffin and tens of thousands of people lined the streets of London. Much later, more than a World War later, women would grudgingly be given the vote, but then only when they reached the age of thirty.

One small woman, one immense Giant …





Images:

Emily Davison: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Emily Davison: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
The Class of Doctor Charcot: By André Brouillet [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Votes for Women: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Lloyd-George: By Not known (The Illustrated War News, 13 December 1916) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Suffragette: By The original uploader was Lordprice at English Wikipedia [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons 
Cat & Mouse Act Poster: By Women's Social and Political Union...NOR. (Museum of London) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Emily Davison hit by Anmer: By Arthur Barrett [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons 
Force-feeding: [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, 3 September 2015

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