Title: The Ascent of Woman
Author: Melanie Phillips
Review Summary: Initially the tone was too dry and the information was repetitive throughout, but the action picked up enough at the end to add some excitement to this thoughtful analysis of the women’s rights movement.
I picked up this somewhat obscure book (only obtained through my school library by special request) for the goodreads group I’ve been most involved with lately, The Perks of Being a Bookworm. Only after I started reading did I realize that it might be hard to find in the US because it’s actually a history of the women’s rights movement in Britain. Just learning what happened in this period of turmoil was interesting (and helped me get some references I completely missed the first time around during an audiobook “re-read” of Caitlan Moran’s How to be a Woman). The book’s real strength, however, was in the focus on issues that divided the women’s rights movement as some are still relevant today.
Initially, the book was very dry. Although the book moved forward in a generally chronological manner, it took me a while to figure that out in part because there was sometimes a jump back in time at the beginning of a new chapter. The narrative felt choppy here and the focus was definitely on the author’s analysis of the arguments for and against women’s suffrage (sometimes the same arguments for both sides!). Fortunately, later in the book the tone and the focus change.
In the later parts of the book, we start to focus on a few individual suffragists and the narrative began to flow more smoothly. The author’s original analyses were repeated enough that I felt we could have done without the beginning part. In fact, the second part did a much better job of putting the argument about suffrage in a social context. For instance, the influence of Darwinism on the Victorian mentality was just fascinating. So, while I wished I skipped the first few chapters, at the end I was glad I’d decided to keep going. It’s always exciting to get the feel of an historical era, particularly one in which many fiction books take place, and this book left me with a much better understanding of both the women’s rights movement and the Victorian era. Definitely a worthwhile read.