Fight Club 1914

Fight Club 2 Page 5 Detail

In Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk (Number 5, September 23 2015) we see Mary Richardson attacking a painting with a meat cleaver. Richardson was known by Dora Marsden, and appeared in Dora’s publications.

Richardson was with Emily Davison when she stepped onto the racetrack in front of King George’s horse on June 4 1913. The two intended to hold up a banner supporting women’s suffrage, as members of Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU). Davison was struck by the horse and died four days after.  She had given her life for a cause, a cause that could now never benefit her life: an object lesson in the result of being a servant to external forces rather than refusing the dualism of self and cause.  Dora wrote in The New Freewoman, Volume 1 Number 1 (June 15th 1913)…

“Miss Emily Davison has gladly laid down her life for woman’s freedom.” This is Mrs. Pankhurst’s latest message. Here, then, we have it – the cause of Freedom. Freedom is the devil which drives. We must get a nearer view of it. What have we in mind when we say Freedom? [When] a person “dies for the cause of women’s freedom” the effect of such a death is to give a crowd of degenerate orgiasts a new sensation. The motive may be (a motive arrived at by a tragically mistaken process of reasoning) the belief that thereby others can be freed. Such is a tragic delusion. There is only one person concerned in the freeing of individuals: and that is the person who wears and feels and resents the shackles. Shackles must be burst off: if they are cut away from outside, they will immediately reform, as those whose cause is “our poor sisters” and “poor brothers” will find.

In 1913 the WSPU began a campaign of arson to support women’s suffrage. Among the targets were post boxes and railroad stations. Richardson was arrested for arson. She went on a hunger strike to protest her arrest. Like Pankhurst, Richardson was subject to ‘cat and mouse’ torture by her jailers, a policy of alternately force-feeding and then starving suffragette prisoners so that upon their release they were too weak to continue.

Instead of weakening, Richardson increased her resolve. On March 10 1914 she took a meat cleaver to La Venus del Espejo (also known as the Rokeby Venus) by Diego Velazquez, one of the most famous paintings in the British National Gallery. The attack had been approved by Christabel Pankhurst, Emmeline’s daughter and a leader in the WSPU. As she was being led away from the National Gallery, Richardson said: “You can get another picture but you cannot get a life, as they are killing Mrs. Pankhurst.” Dora‘s magazine The Egoist, Volume 7 Number 1 (April 1st 1914), wrote about the iconoclast…

A few days after Miss Richardson’s performance at the National Gallery I read the following appreciation in a French newspaper: “You have seen their two portraits, haven’t you? Reports by photography tell more than the best articles. There they were this morning, face to face, the voluptuous and perfect Venus by Velasquez and Miss Richardson who cut the masterpiece up. Perhaps it is not very courteous to make a comparison, but, after all, Miss Richardson had only to keep quiet! The sight of her long, flat face and that boy-scout costume explains why she struck the adorable, beautiful and feminine Venus. This would kill that, to be sure.”

Women in Britain achieved suffrage in 1928. Dora had dismissed democracy fifteen years prior in The New Freewoman Volume 1, Number 3 (July 15th 1913)…

Democracy viewed on its own merits of course reveals itself almost as a mathematical error. Starting from an aversion towards the tyranny of One – the historic Tyrant – the impulse towards democracy has spread tyranny – i.e. government – through a wider area, through oligarchy, and plutocracy, the Few, and the Rich, and presses onwards as to a desired goal, to the government of All by All.

Richardson joined the British Union of Fascists (BUF) in 1933, and became the Chief Organizer for the Women’s Section of the BUF in April 1934. Sylvia Pankhurst, another daughter of Emmeline, called for the arrest of all fascists in June 1934. Richardson responded in the June 29 1934 issue of the fascist periodical Blackshirt:

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How can she forget so easily and conveniently that the Suffragette movement, when she stood in the vanguard, was proud of its use of “force and bludgeons,” of dog whips, truncheons (carried and used by Mrs. Pankhurst’s bodyguard), stones in their multitude, and bricks and the hammers? Does she remember how for years her reply to her accusers was: “We are attacked, we must hit back!” “Paid hooligans break up our meetings; we are right to retaliate!”

Richardson resigned from or was thrown out of the BUF in 1935. That year she spoke critically of the BUF before the Welwyn War Resisters.

In 1953 Richardson published her autobiography, Laugh a Defiance.  I like to think that just as one shoots a bullet, or throws a punch, or detonates a bomb, one laughs a defiance.

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Mary Richardson died on November 7th 1961 in her home.


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Filed under 1845-1945, Dora Marsden, Historical Work