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Novel shines fresh light on women’s suffrage

Novel shines fresh light on women’s suffrage as New Zealand celebrates 125 years

13 March 2018

“Before I could stop myself I stood up in my seat and boasted that I had met Mrs Sheppard when we berthed in Christchurch. That I’d read Wollstonecraft in London and that all women should get the vote …” These are the words of Grace Coles, one of the main characters in Gone to Pegasus – a new novel by Tess Redgrave published by Mākaro Press.

Released 125 years after women won the fight for suffrage, Gone to Pegasus is set in Dunedin and central Otago in 1892 and touches on key events that led to New Zealand women achieving the vote the following year.

In particular, it tells the story of Eva, a young gifted pianist who is left to fend for herself in Dunedin after her husband is committed to Seacliff Lunatic Asylum. When Eva meets the exotic, politicised Grace Coles, both of their lives start to change. The two women bond over music and find themselves at the forefront of the struggle for suffrage.

An important historical event imagined in the novel is the forming of the Women’s Franchise League in Dunedin on April 28, 1892. This separated the struggle for the vote from temperance because, as Grace says in the book

, "When the focus is on getting the vote purely so you can banish intoxication, you demean our womanhood." The novel also depicts the evil doings of Dunedin MP and mayoral candidate, Henry Fish, who tampered with suffrage petitions."

“I never set out to write about suffrage,” says author Tess Redgrave. “But when I began writing two strong female characters at that time in history, it became obvious that they would be involved with the franchise movement.”

Gone to Pegasus is Tess Redgrave’s first novel. A journalist, she is a media relations adviser at Auckland University. Her book will launch at the university on

March 20 and is available in all good bookshops now.


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