Tuesday, August 8, 2017

The Call by Edith Ayrton Zangwill

Hi Dear Folk,

I just finished reading The Call, by Edith Ayrton Zangwill, first published in 1924.  One could say it was almost a biography of her step mother Hertha Ayrton.  Set in the Edwardian period, just before WWI and during the War.  Ursula Winfield the heroine of our story lives an upper class life in Kensington, living with her step father Colonel Hibert and mother  She has her own laboratory in the attic where she carries out experiments and writes her papers. She also becomes involved in the women's suffrage movement, for women to get the vote in the UK.

Ursula has studied a little under Professor Smee and he opens up an opportunity for her to be the first women to read a paper at an all male scientific institution.  Professor Vernon Smee lives a middle class life in a suburb of London with his wife Charlotte. He is in his forties and is smitten with Ursula and they have science in common.  Ursula is totally unaware of this, and just enjoys his company as a friend.

This period of time before the first world war was when women were asserting their rights. The right to equal opportunity of a job in a men's world, and the right to vote.  Her mother would just like to see her marry well.  Her mother married Andrew Winfield, and was told he was a little different which he turned out to be, going out to Australia and just making his fortune as he died, this certainly changed her circumstances in life and she marries Colonel Hibert, because a women needs to be married and a girl needs a father.  This family works well together, because she understands both her husband and her daughter, even if she would like her daughter to socialize more, instead of shutting herself away in the attic.

At the Henley Regatta Ursula's mother introduces her to Tony Balestier.

Yes, he was handsome, there was no doubt about it, although, perhaps, he hardly justified her mother's description of him as an Adonis.  Still, his fair, crisp hair, his blue eyes, his well-cut features were pleasant to look upon, while his figure was altogether admirable.  She notices that Professor Smee, who was standing near by, had suddenly grown short.  Why Mr. Balestier must be quite six foot two or three, although his excellent proportions kept one from realizing it.

Ursula's family go away for the summer up to their hunting lodge in Scotland, Ursula has stayed at home on her own to finish her experiments.  It had been her habit to take an early morning walk by the Serpentine and feed the ducks, where she runs into Tony Balestier.

Mr. Balestier was standing in front of her.  He was wearing grey flannels and a straw hat - evidently he considered London in August could be put on a country footing - and he looked very cool and big and altogether pleasant to the eye. And Ursula did feel pleased, although she was rather surprised at herself for doing so.  

Ursula's companion glanced at her with interest.  How mistaken he had been about Miss Winfield!  He had thought her to coldly clever for any human weakness, and here he found her feeding ducks and sympathizing with ragamuffins.

This relationship progresses to a quiet engagement understanding between them, much to her parents joy.  Tony must go off to a secretarial posting in India.  During his time away, Ursula becomes more involved in the suffrage movement.  Many of their letters cross in the mail or are late so she does not truly understand Tony's thinking on the suffrage movement and he hers.

She attends a meeting at the Albert Hall.

More interesting than the vehicles were the actual people all around her.  the great majority were naturally women- women of curiously diversified strata.  There was a large element in so-called artistic attire, rather untidy, rather attractive - at least Ursula found them so, although she could not help remembering the well-known quip, "Oh Liberty, what crimes are committed in they name."  There was another numerous and distinct contingent, probably ladies from Suburbia, the mamma's stout and unintellectual looking, the daughters slight and equally unintellectual looking, but all alike wearing the then fashionable large hat and long coat, the latter usually of a deplorable cut..... Another distinct class was present with which Ursula was less familiar, poorer women with sensible worn faces and toil-coarsened hands.  She guessed them rightly to be the wives of working men, probably mothers of large families.  There were also a sprinkling of working girls, more noisy and even smarter than the young ladies from Suburbia-perhaps hailing from East end factories.  

The Albert Hall was full except there were some empty seats held by 'Life Holders' and they would not release their seats for the suffrage movement, although they would for many other gathering at the hall.

It's interesting that I found this book The Call and it is under Women's Suffrage Literature, and you can learn a lot of history of what women did and how they went about getting the vote.  From lecture tours, passive resistance, imprisonment and hunger strikes.  Also just the down to earth life of traveling around the country giving lectures on the cause and staying at different peoples homes.  On one of these occasions Ursula is housed with Mrs. Todd and her daughters.  Mrs. Todd turns out to be the sister of Charlotte Smee.

"But it ain't the friendship being bad for 'Im that I'm thinking about!"  Her voice shook.  "It's my sister, my little Charlotte - for she'll allies be that to me.  When she was 'ere she spent 'alf 'er time crying - crying because o' you.  You've taken away all the 'happiness of 'er life - an' that weren't over much." .....

Menfolk is born silly, but that's why we women 'as got to stand up for each other.  Ain't that what suffrage mostly means?"

"Yes, that is what suffrage mostly means," Ursula agreed slowly.

All of this is a total revelation to Ursula, who had no understanding of the situation she had put herself in and that she was the cause of such unhappiness.

1914 comes and WWI Tony is enlisted and all the worry that comes with that.  For several years he has a behind the lines posting, which he finds out has been wangled for him, by a relative. When he finds out he immediately revolts against this and gets himself transferred to the front.

Ursula has been working on a device to extinguish liquid fire, a terrible weapon of war used in the trenches.  She thinks it will be greeted with welcome arms when she presents her invention, only to find out that it is not.  This similarly happened to Hertha Ayrton, who invented a design to sweep poison gases from the trenches which was originally dismissed by the War Office.

True Moloch had gripped them nearly all into his service either at home or abroad.

Moloch is a pagan god mentioned in the Bible who the Israelites offered up their children to in the fire.

I will not go any further or spoil the ending.  This book is rich in detail and feelings of the period.



  1. It sounds really interesting especially as it seems to be based on a real person.

  2. Sounds like a good, interesting book.

  3. I must see if my Library has "The Call " .
    It sounds wonderful


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