Letter: Defending 'mad women in attics'

February 1, 2002

Pugh does not engage with the ethical and intellectual issues that Purvis raises about writing biography. His attempt to demonise her as the "mad woman in the attic" fails miserably since scholars are too aware of how this has been used in the past as a ploy to discredit women who dared to criticise the scholarship of certain men.

The claim that his book has been "extensively praised" in the national press holds no water. David Mitchell's 1977 biography of Christabel Pankhurst, Queen Christabel , was also extensively praised in the press. It was only the late Jill Craigie, whose biography I am writing, who condemned it as sexist and misogynist.

On page 212, Pugh states that the politics of the suffragettes were "a substitute for love affairs, and hero-worship an alternative to physical passion". Such an approach hardly qualifies him to write sensitively about the Pankhurst women.

Carl Rollyson
Professor of English
Baruch College
City University of New York

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