Brighton Festival 2015

Brighton Festival 2015: French Resistance in WW1, Elif Shafak & Rachel Holmes

Another Brighton Festival has come to an end (the Fringe lives on for another week) and the buzz of heading to event after event is slowly dissipating. I still have no idea what I’ll do in June, but a succession of dinner dates with lovely friends will help bridge the gap this week.



Historian Roderick Kedward, writer Caroline Moorehead spoke with Martin Evans

This was a talk on the role of the resistance during WWII in occupied France.

Martin began the event by introducing Roderick (RK) and Caroline (CM). RK has written two books on the French Resistance, personally interviewing those who participated. CM is a human rights journalist and has written fiction on the resistance.

Roderick then spoke to the audience about the resistance, and the different forms this took in France. One woman in a small village burnt a letter denouncing a member of the village as a Jew. Resisters often underplayed their actions when talking to RK when he was in France interviewing in the 60s. They didn’t see what they were doing as bravery. An interesting thought considering thousands of those who resisted were tortured and hundreds killed. RK was very interesting, but I think I needed more of an introduction to the subject to fully understand what he was describing.

The talk then moved to a panel discussion between RK, CM and ME.

CM explained that the resistance was so prominent in the villages she writes about in her novels because the were more isolated, slightly dislocated from modern France. Resistance was often dutiful though there were those who were fearless. There is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the resistance, which there had to be in order for it to function without detection.

RK explained that women were ideal for the resistance, describing the ‘woman at the doorway’ phenomenon. RK found that on interviewing members of the resistance there was often a wife in the background correcting the information RK was being given. Women kept people talking in doorways while people escaped. Many of these women were not recognised at the time and France is now working on recognising the anonymous women of the resistance.

Questions were then opened up to the audience.

The resistance is not a subject I have much been interested in (unless watching ‘Allo ‘Allo counts) but after this talk I would be intrigued to read some accounts.

Elif Shafak in conversation with Jacqueline Rose

Elif Shafak is a Turkish author and academic (and is utterly awesome). Jacqueline Rose is an academic and has written books on Sylvia Plath and other famous women.

I only discovered Elif (ES) recently when I watched her marvellous TEDTalk, so I was rather excited to get the opportunity to hear her talk.

Jacqueline (JR) spoke about her book, Women in Dark Times, where she chose to focus on three women to be admired. These women are Rosa Luxemburg, Charlotte Salomon and Marilyn Monroe.

“[Marilyn Monroe] was asked to carry the burden of American perfection.”

ES and JR immediately begin discussing Feminism. I’m relying solely on notes and this jumps into psychology, so I’ll try and recount the discussion as accurately as I can – be aware I may unintentionally misconstrue.

JR explained that the personal is now political, but the personal can be very dark. She feels that feminism should have this realisation, political life needs feminism to be aware of how linked feminism and the psyche are, and as marvellous as this feminism resurgence is, the issues go deeper.

ES shares JRs belief that this side of feminism needs to be explored, as there are many silences that need to be looked into. Both agree that women need to support each other and that in infighting is only damaging to the cause. ES shared her mother’s and grandmother’s story of raising her. Rather than remarry, ES’s mother went back to school and her grandmother helped raise her. So, ES was raised by two very strong, but also very different women.

ES believes we should cultivate our inner space as much, or more than, we do our public/outward facing personas. That we become more open minded and open hearted in this space, citing reading as a way to nurture this. She has found that many of her readers, those with extreme views, really connect with characters that contradict those feelings. Books are powerful tools.

“Writing about silences and individual stories of men and women is important.”

ES gets angry when people say they don’t need feminism (it makes me angry too). Some countries may need it more than others, but we’re not post-feminism. JR spoke about the complicated nature of the patriarchy, which is more than men oppressing women. She explained that There is a discourse of sexuality as goods. With women wanted to be in control of this ‘selling’ that makes her uncomfortable. By selling, I took to mean, JR is saying that women will control the sexuality they are projecting rather than men, but it is still the same act. This does not overthrow the patriarchy but plays into it in an alternative way.

I’m not entirely sure what I think about this, I agree to an extent, but need to give it further thought.

ES went on to discuss Turkish attitudes to women both in the public and private. JR feels we need a vocabulary to talk about acts such as honour killings that remember these women for more than just death. These women need a voice.

Rachel Holmes on Eleanor Marx

Rachel Holmes is a writer and colomnist and has written on various historcal figures, the most recent being Eleanor Max, daughter of Karl Marx.

Rachel (RH) began with a question, why Eleanor Marx? She explained she didn’t choose the subject, the subject chose her. She was in a relationship with Arthur Conan Doyle when Eleanor Marx popped into her mind, refusing to go away.

“Eleanor Marx changed the world”

No book had been written on Eleanor Max since before the fall of the Berlin wall, so her life was in need of a re-telling. RH describes Marx as very intelligent, but a bad actress (and not just because there were no good roles for women, but because, ‘she had trouble being anyone but herself’). Her family was under constant surveillance, suspected of being spies. This was a boon for RH as a writer, as it meant there was a wealth of material on the family. Marx was home-schooled by her father, who re-wrote The Communist Manifesto as a sort of fairy tale for her, so she could understand it.

Marx was a pioneer of Trade Unions, this being at a time when government was run by rich white men (how unfamiliar….). She brought feminism to the heart of the trade union movement, both in the UK and Europe.

She’s an activist, she rolls up her sleeves and heads to the streets.”

Some of the campaigns Marx fought for where for 8 hour days, the introduction of May Day and social feminism.

RH ended with the end of The Mask of Anarchy by Shelly:

‘Rise like Lions after slumber
In unvanquishable number –
Shake your chains to earth like dew
Which in sleep had fallen on you –
Ye are many – they are few.

I left this talk feeling as though, during this current political climate where many of what she fought for is being pulled apart, that we need an Eleanor Marx reborn.


So, what do I do now?

One thought on “Brighton Festival 2015: French Resistance in WW1, Elif Shafak & Rachel Holmes

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