Mother of World Peace: The Life of Muriel Lester

Mother of World Peace: The Life of Muriel Lester

Mother of World Peace: The Life of Muriel Lester

Mother of World Peace: The Life of Muriel Lester

Excerpt

The remarkable life of Muriel Lester, discussed in detail in this comprehensive biography, can be approached from many different perspectives. At one level, it is the record of personal dedication and determination in difficult circumstances. During the course of her long life, 1883–1968, Muriel experienced more than the customary share of human disappointment, yet she did not succumb to despair. It was with a burning conviction that she swam frequently against the tide, with little apparent success in many instances, yet she did not give way to an embittered self-righteousness. In the company of great men of power her powerlessness was very evident—yet she was not a person to be scorned. There was no mistaking her indifference to the world of tactical calculation and diplomatic sophistication. Her actions and comments took her straight to what she believed to be the heart of the matter, whether or not those in authority regarded her directness as one-sided, naïve or merely odd. Taken in the round, it is not a life which can be assessed in straightforward terms of ‘success’ or ‘failure’. Her career flowed unpredictably from a sense of duty which would not let her rest. She could only be a witness to the light, as she understood it, no matter where or amongst whom she moved. Men and women might not choose to listen to what she had to say, but she had to say it.

It is perhaps not altogether surprising that we will look in vain, when reading conventional histories of the world in the first half of the twentieth century, for the name of Muriel Lester amongst those who have shaped its course. Her peripatetic existence during the central decades of her life, however, gave her a sense of the world’s problems which could not often be matched in its intimacy by the leading politicians or statesmen she encountered, even though they were buttressed by dossier after dossier of information. From one point of view, her life at this distance no doubt appears to be a kind of descant, a difficult and hard to sustain variant of the major tune (violence, conflict and war) being played so often by the human race during her lifetime. Yet the total sound of the first half of the century is not complete unless a place is found for still small voices of calm amidst the earthquake, wind and fire of warfare and political strife.

Muriel’s life was that of a woman in a world shaped and directed politically by men, and on occasion she felt angered and confined by their cozy assumptions, whether she encountered them in Tokyo or London. The prime of Miss Muriel Lester was in the inter-war decades in Britain when women came from being voteless to becoming, in stages, the majority of the electorate. The issue of votes for women was a major talking point in the life of Edwardian England. It does not appear, however, that it preoccupied Muriel to the same extent as it did another product of St Leonard’s School, St Andrews—Catherine Marshall—who was campaigning vigorously before 1914 both for peace and for the vote. We may wonder in what sense Muriel saw herself as a feminist. Although she believed it important to improve the status and prospects of women she perhaps shied away from the notion that women could best use their qualities and capacities by . . .

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