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Sylvia Pankhurst


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The definitive biography of Sylvia Pankhurst, a woman ahead of her times – political rebel, human rights champion and radical feminist

About the Author

Rachel Holmes is the author of Eleanor Marx: A Life, The Secret Life of Dr James Barry and The Hottentot Venus: The Life and Death of Saartjie Baartman. She is co-editor of Fifty Shades of Feminism and I Call Myself A Feminist. She lives in London.


[A] superbly sensitive biography … It’s impossible to summarise adequately a book so magnificent … A sophisticated symphony of intriguing and complex analysis, delivered in mellifluous harmony. It’s a feminist book, as is appropriate to the subject, but feminist theory is used as a scalpel, not a sledgehammer … [A] wonderful book … Holmes sublimely illuminates Sylvia’s extraordinary life
*The Times*

Sylvia Pankhurst is finally having her moment … The genius of Holmes’s fascinating and important biography is that it approaches Sylvia’s life as if she were a man … It’s wonderfully refreshing ... It doesn’t matter whether Sylvia was right or wrong in her political enthusiasms; as Holmes rightly insists, what counts is that by acting on them she helped to make history
*Sunday Times*

A vivid, tender and comprehensive biography … Holmes has produced a towering tribute to a truly remarkable figure. Whether or not you sympathise with her political views, it is impossible not to be awestruck by Sylvia Pankhurst’s humanity and relentless, campaigning zeal
*Literary Review*

A riveting new biography … A big book and an extraordinary life
*Start the Week*

Natural Born Rebel is an astonishing, comprehensive, personal and political cradle-to-grave biography that surely stands alone as the definitive volume on an extraordinary woman: a suffragette, activist and artist for whom sacrifice and suffering were second nature
*BBC History Magazine*

I have fallen in love with Sylvia Pankhurst. This is a masterpiece
*Vanessa Redgrave*

Stirring, sad, extraordinary … In her own time, Sylvia flamed. She was rarely off the front pages for dashing herself against various legal bulwarks and misguided conventions in the way of her ultimate prize – justice and freedom for all … On every page, there is something to amuse or absorb … One finishes the book with the impression that Sylvia lived the lives of seven women in her 78 years ... Those of us living today who do not owe her thanks in some form are very few indeed

Sylvia Pankhurst was extraordinary. Rachel Holmes’s biography of her is likewise extraordinary. It draws the linkages between Sylvia’s campaigns as suffragette, socialist, pacifist, anti-fascist, anti-racist, anti-colonialist, as a campaigner for improved maternal health, as an honorary Ethiopian; the links between the practical organiser, strategic thinker, artist, poet, editor and writer … It charts a life of purpose; a life that made a difference; a life that still inspires
*Helen Pankhurst*

Let me make this very clear Sylvia Pankhurst is a most important book in British publishing of the twenty-first century. I want to say “the most important” cause that’s what I feel. In this exquisitely timed biography Holmes enlightens us to a “key protagonist in the development of British Democracy.” This rare gem shines in Natural Born Rebel and blinds authority with an indomitable spirit. Holmes captures it all and more besides. Read this book and discover what a true rebel is. Feel her heart beat corrugate your own, sense the tremor of her voice and the clench of her molten fist forged in Manchester and shaped by Parkurstian rebel DNA. Sylvia Pankhurst was protesting that black lives matter before the term was invented. There would be no Greta Thunberg and no Malala Yousafzai were it not for Sylvia Pankhurst. Natural Born Rebel speaks to us now more than ever! Read it and be enriched. Read it to understand our society now. Read it for your daughters and for your sons and when the time is right give it to them
*Lemn Sissay*

No one writes history quite like Rachel Holmes with her astounding gift for animating the past and revealing its uncanny contemporary relevance. After the stunning achievement of Eleanor Marx, raising the unsung nineteenth-century heroine from obscurity and the dead, Holmes has lifted the bar yet again. Sylvia Pankhurst tells an epic tale of the last century that speaks so presciently to current dark times. The intimate, national and global adventures of this great and brave woman are recounted with colour and precision. Schisms in the first family of feminism and on the left, the winds of world wars and liberation. Love, loss, rivalry and betrayal, but also solidarity and hope for the future. All of human life is here in a perfect read for the hard season to come
*Shami Chakrabarti*

A spectacular work by one of the most accomplished biographers writing today. Rachel Holmes's Sylvia peels away the mystique and misinformation surrounding the life of perhaps the most interesting and complex of the mighty Pankhurst women ... Exploring her passions, relationships and motivations, in a landscape of global instability and political inferno, Holmes has forged an intricate, sensitive and irresistible portrait of a woman who is entirely relevant today
*Anita Anand*

Such a big life deserves a big book, especially when it is written with political understanding and tremendous sympathy for women in politics

[A] monumental biography … Holmes’ book brings us in gorgeous technicolour the scope of Pankhurst’s lifelong political activism as it interwove and sometimes painfully conflicted with her personal life

Fine and wonderfully refreshing
*The Times, The best paperbacks of 2021*

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