Impossible Saints by Clarissa Harwood
Published: January 2/18. WW Norton.
The year is 1907 and Lilia Brook is unsatisfied with her position as a mere schoolmistress. She yearns for something much more than her rural village life. She reaches out to her old friend Paul Harris, who is a priest at St. John’s Cathedral in London. When the two meet again, they cannot deny their new and sudden attraction for each other.
But their relationship is put to the test when Lilia is pulled into the danger of the suffrage movement. The movement not only advocates for the women’s vote, but for the highly controversial issue of birth control. Divided by their beliefs, but not able to push away their feelings, these two will have to decide where their loyalties lie and what’s worth fighting for.
Personally, I think it was a brilliant idea to have Paul apart of the church and Lilia apart of this new political movement and have them form a romance. It really emphasized rocky relationship between faith and feminism. With that being said, I also felt that the story almost focused too much on the love drama between these two. I mean, the suffragette movement is the novels backdrop — it should have gotten more attention.
Another thing that Harwood did (which really added to the historical aspect) was she brought in the character of Emmeline Pankhurst. Pankhurst was the founder of the Women’s Social and Political Union, who advocated they were dedicated to “deeds, not words.” The WSPU would also become known for their physical confrontations — hunger strikes, assaulting police officers, destruction of public property . . . etc.
Impossible Saints is a unique read elaborating on a period of British history that is not typically seen in historical fiction. It is easy to forget, since we live in a time and age where equality is constantly being advocated, that a hundred years ago, women were not allowed to vote — heck they were even shunned for wanting the right vote arrested for fighting to vote and some even gave up their lives.
This is a great book — the writing is solid, and Harwood has done a great job giving the reader a strong sense of both time and place. I would definitely recommend this novel to anyone who has an interest in the suffragette movement or history. And actually, if you aren’t a huge history lover like me, add this to your reading list anyway — it’s a great novel looking back on an important challenge that was faced and overcome.
Kirsten Lowe studies at Athabasca University.