by Isabel Meredith
first published 1903
This was another book that I stumbled upon by accident and enjoyed immensely. I find it astonishing that I didn't come across the book previously and I guess I have the internet to thank for exposing me to another great (and free) novel.
The protagonist here is Isabel Meredith, a young Londoner living in the late nineteenth century. She comes from a wealthy and talented family, but after the death of both her parents, she turns to radical politics, and discovers that anarchism is the closest thing to her heart. As soon as the possibility arises she teams up with some truly eccentric anarchists and they take over the publication of a struggling anarchist paper. The narrator spends a great deal of time describing the people around her. In fact, character descriptions take up most of the novel. Stylistically it reminded me somewhat of Charles Dickens, but perhaps that's only because I'm a bit out of touch with more comparable English writers. To put it simply - the prose is truly great.
What touched me most about this was how little has apparently changed in 120 years of anarchism. Idealistic anarchists living with the poor and deranged. The talented exploited by the unscrupulous. Damaged anarchists putting their associates at risk. One thing that has changed however is that a modern european anarchist would probably not resort to eating a stewed tom cat (well probably not).
After reading the book, I was inspired to do a bit of research on the author. Isabel Meredith was apparently the pseudonym of two sisters, Helen and Olivia Agresti. Incredibly Olivia in her later years moved to Italy and became a supporter of Mussolini (according to wikipedia). Learning this was somewhat disappointing to me, but it seems wrong to judge a book by the behaviour of the author. I'm still rating this with five stars.