It took me a long time to really see Charlotte, my heroine, in my mind.
I’ve read a lot about the suffragette movement; its origins, ideals and philosophies, key people and events. I’ve delved into the human aspects; an anthology of diary extracts and news clippings, the story of Lady Constance Lyttleton, the Pankhurst family saga.
I’ve built up Charlotte’s back story (the childhood in India, university in Oxford, her sister Mary, the colour of her hair colour) – let she still stubbornly refused to come to life. And then, a few weeks ago, I met her.
Leafing through yet another book (provocatively entitled something like “Bombers and Terrorists”) in Blackwells, I came across a grainy sepia photograph of a woman. The caption says she is exercising in a prison yard and adds that she is probably on remand because she is still wearing her own clothes. She is not named.
The woman in the photograph is tall and slim, and wearing a long, unbelted coat over an ankle-length dark skirt or dress. She is not wearing a hat and her hair appeared to be hanging loose over one shoulder; not in a crazy, unkept way – rather in the way a young woman would wear her hair in her own house or for a solitary walk. She is walking briskly, head up, confidently (how I got that impression from a picture, I don’t know – but I did).
Her hands are deep in the pockets of her coat, her expression pre-occupied. She is not beautiful (in the way Christabel Pankhurst is in her portraits) but her energy and confidence and hint of insouciance are very attractive. She is, most definitely, Charlotte – though probably Charlotte at the end of the story.