ART & LIFE; POSTCARD BIOGRAPHIES FROM THE NATIONAL PORTRAIT GALLERY
Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) on Emmeline Pankhurst (1858-1928)
Sunday 02 February 1997
Of Lancastrian and Manx liberationist descent; married a reformer; almost perished hunger striking. The Suffrage won, worked for the Empire; became Canadian State Lecturer on Hygiene etc; died Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Whitechapel. Dignified, graceful, with lovely eyes and exquisite voice, her passionate eloquence was irresistible. Women worshipped her; men bore her terrific onslaughts without resentment; accepting service as nothing, waverers were dismissed ruthlessly and unthanked. Modest, disinterested, incorrigibly hopeful, she remains like Joan of Arc a human miracle. Ethel Smyth
The composer and former suffragette Ethel Smyth found her task a difficult one, and on 23 Feb 1940 she wrote to the National Portrait Gallery's director:
"Here's the best I can do - 80 words. It seems to me as characterless as one of my dogs' towels - & rather resembles them. Forgive me, for never in my life have I tried so hard to pull off anything. But honestly I think it is an almost impossible job unless you have a particular sort of literary knack which I haven't got.
Betty B thinks I am a little hysterical about it - I hope you will! Anyhow don't scruple to tear it up and give the job to someone else."
! Portraits, drawings and letters from the "postcard biography" archives are on display at the National Portrait Gallery, St Martin's Place, London WC2. Free.
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