Autobiography, Activism, and the Carceral: An Analysis of the Prison Writing of Lady Constance Lytton

By Tilghman, Carolyn M. | CLIO, Fall 2007 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Autobiography, Activism, and the Carceral: An Analysis of the Prison Writing of Lady Constance Lytton


Tilghman, Carolyn M., CLIO


The social enemy was transformed into a deviant, who brought with him the multiple danger of disorder, crime, and madness. (1)

Documents uncovered at the National Archives reveal that the votes-for-women movement probably became the first "terrorist" organisation subjected to secret surveillance photography in the UK, if not the world. (2)

Covert surveillance of militant suffragettes early in the twentieth century was a means by which Scotland Yard and Parliament kept tabs on the increasing number of unruly women who were demanding the vote. The disorderly conduct of these women, who not only were public nuisances, but also resorted to unladylike acts of arson, vandalism, and public assembly, was perceived as a major threat to national security, even though suffrage antics were joked about in the halls of Parliament. The actions of the suffragettes were labeled delinquent, whether they involved slashing the backside of Velasquez's famous painting of the Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery or simply gathering before the House of Commons with demands for political concessions. As a corrective measure, the state intervened; dissenting suffragettes were sent to prison.

In Discipline and Punish, Michel Foucault argues that the development of modern institutions along with their associated discourses began over three centuries ago, bringing with them increasing state intervention into people's lives. (3) A defining characteristic of this intervention is how it imprints human bodies and behaviors in ways that are both productive and punitive, thereby creating delinquent behavior. Noting the disciplinary function of the state, Foucault asserts that the growth of the current prison system with its dual missions to incarcerate and to reform can function as a useful microcosm of modern social organization because the carceral extends its disciplinary operations beyond actual prison walls into society at large. As numerous scholars have pointed out, what is not addressed in Foucault's discussion of the carceral is how it manages prevailing social hierarchies, how it engages purposeful dissidence, or how it navigates multiple perspectives in a discontinuous network of power relations. The first two of these issues are within the scope of the following analysis since social hierarchies, particularly those of gender and class, and the dissidence they generate crucially inform the social organization of Edwardian England and are manifested in the production of suffrage autobiography as a whole. The third issue is outside the scope of this essay which narrows its analytical focus to the production of a particular autobiographical text and, therefore, a particular historical perspective.

The prison also figures as the central narrative frame and social metaphor in Lady Constance Lytton's autobiography, Prisons and Prisoners. (4) Lytton's rendering of her involvement with the Women's Social and Political Union (WSPU) has emerged as a seminal text for reconstituting the suffrage movement as public record, doing so, as Laura E. Nym Mayhall observes, amongst many competing and subsequently excluded suffrage texts. (5) In it, Lytton describes herself as a "superfluous spinster" who possesses too many privileges, strong family loyalties, and poor health, but who discovers a purpose for her life in social activism. An effective and highly influential piece of suffrage propaganda, Lytton's autobiography details her successive incarcerations in Holloway, Newcastle, and Walton Green jails for her part in the WSPU's militant suffrage campaign. After suffering a heart attack and stroke that partially paralyzed her and inscribed her body with her prison ordeal, Lytton decides to write about her prison experience.

As a rationale for the activities of the WSPU, her autobiography intentionally characterizes the British state as hegemonic in order, first, to draw attention to women's lack of citizenship and the inequitable treatment of women prisoners and, second, to laud and memorialize the WSPU as preeminent in redressing perceived wrongs.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Autobiography, Activism, and the Carceral: An Analysis of the Prison Writing of Lady Constance Lytton
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.