This year we are marking the centenary of the Representation of the People Act, which extended suffrage to (some) women. As a result, there are many exhibitions and books rightly thinking about women’s achievements through history, as activists and social reformers, scientists, writers, artists, politicians, financiers, humanitarians, educators, inventors, actors and athletes.
One thing we tend to forget is just how miraculous it is that any woman – who also wanted to have sex as part of her life’s activities and who lived before the age of the pill – could achieve so much. There were, of course, other forms of contraception before the pill: rubber condoms date from the 1850s, but predating that your options were unaffordable (and unappetising) sheaths made of pigs’ intestines or bladder, or linen. Few people bothered.
You could be forgiven for missing the announcement that 2018 is the ‘Year of Skanderbeg’. The Albanian government made the decision late last year, as 2018 marks 550 years since his death, in 1468. Now an obscure figure outside Albania, for centuries Skanderbeg was lauded throughout Europe. ‘Land of Albania! Where Iskander rose; Theme of the young, and beacon of the wise,’ wrote Byron in 1812. Who was this forgotten hero – sometimes called ‘The Albanian Braveheart’ – and what relevance, if any, does he have today?
Spend your Friday evening at the National Gallery with author Michael Rosen and curator Christopher Riopelle who will discuss the life and work of Émile Zola (1840–1902), the French novelist, art critic and ardent champion of the Impressionists.