Today I’m pleased to host an extract from Christina Longden’s book, Imagining Robert, which dramatizes episodes from the life of her ancestor, British muslim convert Robert Reschid Stanley. I’ll leave Christina herself to say a bit more …
Thank you so much, Tim – for this smashing opportunity to share a bit of my life and work with your readers!
My two most recent publications have been ‘His Own Man’ (non-fiction) and ‘Imagining Robert’ (fiction’.’ Both focus on the life and times of my astonishing great x3 grandfather, the ‘Hidden Victorian Muslim Convert’, Robert ‘Reschid’ Stanley. The extract below forms part of a monologue, through the eyes of Robert’s wife of some 50-odd years – Emma Stanley. During my research, I discovered that Emma and Robert knew Emmeline Pankhurst – so using fiction allowed me to indulge in some important flights of fancy. I loved playing around with the juxtaposition of a historical figure such as Pankhurst – a very middle class woman, whom we know an awful lot about – and a woman like my great x3 grandmother, who was a domestic servant from the age of 9 and whom we know next to nothing about.
FROM ‘IMAGINING ROBERT’ – EMMA’S MONOLOGUE
He’d been over at the Liverpool mosque and these horrible lads there had started following him – throwing stones at him – on his way back to the train station. One of the stones hit him – right above the eye. Cut him badly. He’d come all the way back to Manchester on the train with such an awful injury! And when he got in, the silly old swine said that he’d just wanted to get home to his own bed and to sleep it off. But I said – no – I’m not having that, so I dragged him across the road to the Infirmary. Well – if you live practically outside of it, you should make the most of it, shouldn’t you? They stitched him up and told me to come back later when he was steadier on his feet … and … well. It was all such a horrible shock. To see your husband like that. It was the first time I’d ever seen him looking so poorly and so … well. Old. I suppose. He’s never gotten really ‘old’ … not Robert.
So, as I was standing at the side of the Infirmary, trying to get my breath back and all of that, when along comes Emmeline Pankhurst. Rushing past, arms filled with her usual purple and green rosettes and her banners, on her way to one of her disturbances – she’s forever organising her disturbances – but she stopped when she saw me … and I told her that Robert had had a bit of an accident.
She only went and grabbed my hand, all sympathetic and I said, well, it was obviously just a case of some nasty lads showing off she said; “No, would you excuse a girl who behaved like that?” Which is true I suppose. I mean, just look at all the outrage that her and her suffragist friends are faced with, because no one is used to a woman kicking up a fuss in public. She started saying something about how despicable it is, when people do brutal things to others because of their beliefs. But my eyes started welling up, so she stopped talking. I think she realised that I’m not one who likes to be seen crying. And then she said; “Tell Mr Stanley – we’re all this in together. Solidarity, Mrs Stanley, solidarity! We shall overcome!” And with that, she was off again – on her way to throw a placard at a politician or whatever it is that the newspapers like to accuse her of doing.
The next day, she brought those flowers round.
When she arrived, she had a daughter in tow who was yawning her head off – that Christabel it was – who had apparently just had another night in the prison cells for slapping a policeman at the Free Trade Hall – and Mrs Pankhurst said that she wouldn’t come in as no one likes unannounced guests. But she thrust this big bunch of freesias at Robert and told him that a real man would happily accept flowers from a woman and that he shouldn’t look so surprised.
Then she left, telling me to try and not worry too much about the sorts of things that my “very original” husband gets up to. “Very original” she said he was. His face … when he heard her talking about him like that! “She made me sound like one of her fancy, bohemian friends” he said afterwards. Mary-Jane said “Well, if the fez fits, Father…”
But I am worried about him. About it all. How can you not be?
I suppose I’m a bit of a ‘mixed bag’ writer – I focus on politics, history and comedy, so I’m usually to be found trying to balance the non-fiction act with the fiction.
I’ve produced two ‘northern political comedies’ – ‘Mind Games and Ministers’ and ‘Cuckoo in the Chocolate’ and I was recently appointed as Writer in Residence for Kirklees.
You can find out more about Robert Reschid Stanley, how to buy the books (both ppb and eBooks) and the talks that I do across the country at www.robertreschidstanley.wordpress.com
My comedy/humour blog is at www.funnylass.com .
You can purchase Mind Games and Ministers and Cuckoo in the Chocolate via Amazon.
My Writer in Residence work (and access many of the recorded talks) can be found at www.kirkleeslibraries.gov.uk/writer-in-residence