Sylvia Pankhurst: Natural Born Rebel

Bloomsbury. Dec. 2020. 976p. ISBN 9781408880418. $40. BIOG
Sylvia Pankhurst’s (1882–1960) long and storied life as a political activist is explored in this new biography by Holmes (Eleanor Marx: A Life). Pankhurst’s mother, Emmeline, founded the first women-only suffrage organization in England with her daughters but eventually expelled Sylvia for her radical support of the labor movement. This led Sylvia to start her own more leftist women suffrage organization, explore a career as an artist, and become intimately involved with politician and labor activist Keir Hardie. She later became a communist leader and anticolonial activist, living with Italian anarchist Silvio Corio and supporting Ethiopia’s independence. Holmes includes some new finds from recently opened archives and delves deeper into Pankhurst’s personal life than other biographers. But this lengthy book drifts back and forth chronologically, repeats many of the same stories, includes an exhaustive amount of political and historical background, and veers into long biographies of the hundreds of activists and politicians with whom Pankhurst interacted.
VERDICT Pankhurst's life is ripe for discovery by new readers and a younger generation. However, this biography is often so dense that her story often gets lost within its pages.
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