Talk: Votes for Medea: The British women’s suffrage movement and the classical franchise

A talk by Michael Simpson and Barbara Goff

Part of the CCL events series Sing in me, Muse: The Classical, the Critical, and the Creative

© British Library Board, 1910 General Reference Collection LOU.EW 1170, p. 1

As classical civilisation lost its hold on the commanding heights of the British cultural economy in the early 20th C, so that by 1920 Ancient Greek was no longer required to enter Oxford, it conversely developed a new profile as a resource for progressive movements.

In 1921 the Crewe Report on the ‘Position of Classics in the Educational System of the United Kingdom’, commissioned by the Government of Lloyd-George, included an impassioned plea by the Labour Party for the importance of classics in the national life.  There is an obvious mismatch in this new role for the classics, constructed as they so often are as a beguiling fantasy of transcendent and timeless authority, and we may suggest that the progressive parties put on classical garb because, like the bourgeois revolutionaries of Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire, they mistake the historical forces that are in reality at work.

Our presentation takes the form of an introduction to our research on the classics in the British Left, followed by a more detailed look at a case study, the classical references in the activist press of the suffrage movement.

This talk is planned for Spring term 2023, and the exact date will be announced in due course. Attendance will be free and a link to book will be added closer to the time.

The Speakers

Barbara Goff is Professor of Classics at the University of Reading.  She has published widely on Greek tragedy and its reception, and on political aspects of reception.  Her most recent monograph is Your Secret Language: Classics in the British Colonies of West Africa (2013). With Michael Simpson, she has co-authored Crossroads in the Black Aegean: Oedipus, Antigone and Dramas of the African Diaspora (2007) and co-edited Thinking the Olympics: the Classical Tradition and the Modern Games (2011).

Michael Simpson is a member of the Centre for Comparative Literature.  He has published widely, and mainly separately, on British Romanticism and on classical reception.  He is currently completing a single-authored monograph titled Lost Plots: Romanticism and the Distractions of Reading, and is collaborating with Barbara Goff on a major project called ‘Working Classics: Greece, Rome, and the British Labour Movement’.  His latest publication with Barbara Goff in this vein is the co-edited collection Classicising Crisis: the Modern Age of Revolutions and the Greco-Roman Repertoire (2021).