Review by Brittney Alexander
“… the slavery of women happened when the men were slaves of kings. Women’s position is changing. What women say and think may be the shadows of new events, but new events that will eventually bring.”
Lynne Leonhardt’s second novel, Step Up, Mrs Dugdale, focuses on the extraordinary life of one of Australia’s first suffragists, Henrietta Dugdale. Leonhardt is the great-great-grandniece of the main protagonist, providing her with a unique insight, that has never been seen before with this character. Usually presented as a biography, Henrietta Dugdale’s life story is this time bestowed to its audience as historical fiction.
Henrietta’s story begins with her in the average life of a woman in the 1800’s, with her husband and children. As the book unravels, we see her go through a multitude of circumstances that opens her eyes to the injustices of not only her life but the lives of the women around her; eventually leading to her presidency of the Victoria Suffragist Club. The events that took place in her life, which she was just meant to accept, changed her as a person and made her the strong-willed woman that everyone in Australia should know.
The chapters are engaging as you can hardly believe that these are the conditions she had to encounter and live through. Reading this book as a woman of the twenty-first century, you are taken aback by the circumstances of what almost every single woman had to endure in those days in this country. Mrs Dugdale’s story is entrancing; her response to the hardships in her life is nothing other but inspiring. The novel highlights just how tough the fight for the vote was for these women and how they didn’t give up even when it looked hopeless. When it comes to justice, these women were heroes in a time when it didn’t seem possible.
Lynne Leonhardt presents the reader with Mrs Dudgale, and we are on her side from the very first page. The highs and lows of her journey show the courage and the determination that will always remind people everywhere, that it is now our turn to lead this fight and we need to step up.