Please welcome author Y.S. Lee to GreenBeanTeenQueen!
Be sure to find Y.S. Lee on Twitter and her website. This tour is part of Traveling to Teens, so you can find the tour schedule on the site! And don't forget my reviews of A Spy in the House and The Body at the Tower!
Welcome to the second installment of the Body at the Tower blog tour! It’s lovely to be back here at GreenBeanTeenQueen – like visiting a friend. If you missed my first essay, on American firebrand Victoria Claflin Woodhull, it’s up at the Story Siren. And stay tuned for 6 more profiles of Notorious Victorians over the next 2 weeks.
Today’s Notorious Victorian is Annie Besant: author, birth-control educator, socialist, and anti-colonial campaigner. She was born in 1847 and received an unusually good education for a girl of her time. At nineteen, she married a clergyman with whom she had two children. They came to disagree on nearly everything. After attempts to reconcile, Besant eventually left him and went to London.
Besant’s intellectual life flourished once she was her own. In 1877, she and close friend Charles Bradlaugh published a book by American birth-control campaigner Charles Knowlton. Their position was that to be happy and financially secure, working families had to be able to decide how many children to have. The book triggered massive public debate – as well as the arrest of Besant and Bradlaugh. Although the case against them was eventually thrown out on a technicality, the furore surrounding Besant had personal repercussions: arguing that Besant was unfit to be a mother, Besant’s husband took full custody of their two children.
Besant campaigned on behalf of poor Londoners, working closely with playwright George Bernard Shaw and members of the social-campaigning Fabian Society. She was elected to the London School Board, and struggled to win better wages and working conditions for match-factory and dockyard workers. As someone who’d always been proud of her Irish background (at a time when the Irish were often regarded as racially inferior to the English), she believed in Home Rule in Ireland and made the logical leap to India, too: her public lectures, articles, and demonstrations in favour of Indian independence were a very real part of the movement’s success.
Like Victoria Woodhull, Besant’s interests were strongly influenced by her own experiences – a failed marriage, marginal ancestry, a loss of Christian faith. However, Besant’s passionate interest in the poor and the politically oppressed also guided her towards direct political action against government. Both Woodhull and Besant, though – firebrands in the brightest, strongest sense of the word - flouted conventions of gender, social class, and polite behaviour to fight for what they so deeply believed to be right.
Do I still have your attention? If so, follow the tour tomorrow to Lizzy’s Cornucopia of Reviews when my attention shifts from deliberate firebrands to reluctant revolutionaries.