Thursday, 3 October 2013

The Silhouette

Mrs. Winifred Banks was the suffragette who became known as 'The Silhouette': a cut-out figure from the movement. After her latest nanny, Mary Poppins, left, she got more involved with her sister suffragettes, and in June 1913 began to dress all in black as a living monument to the deceased Emily Wilding Davison. Since the latter's untimely death, every day was a day of mourning, so every inch of her was corseted in black, even her hat had a black veil. In the winter, she attended rallies wearing a black shawl for extra warmth, whereas in the summer she marched under a black parasol. The only colours allowed to brighten her ensemble were those that symbolised Votes For Women: green, white and purple, and her rule was only one colourful matching accessory, as if too much colour would dilute Emily's bravery. A three-striped scarf might be tied around her throat, or her hat adorned with three dyed feathers, or, as if she were a bride, she might hold a nosegay of white and purple irises, but this aside, she was one solid colour.
Mrs. Banks was not the frivolous Mrs. Banks as she was in the days of Mary Poppins. Her exuberance still shone, but it had been sobered. She still lived at No.17 Cherry Tree Lane as the wife of George Banks and mother of Jane and Michael, but the blue and orange dress, the blue and white sash, and the elegant white gloves had gone. She was no longer as sensitive to the needs of her family and the household was starved of her attention; delicate possessions were not saved from Admiral Boom's twice-daily destruction, and her husband, now a family-man, but still dismissive of the women's cause, had not taken over.
Jane and Michael, although slightly older, had reverted to form and were as rebellious as ever, because despite being indulged by their father, neither of them could understand their devoted suffragette mother. They confided in Bert who still cleaned their chimney and watched his one-man band accompany their mother's solitary, black figure as it paraded up and down the main street. Even Jane's hair and Michael's kite were tied with black ribbons in dedication to this militant suffragette's memory. It was as if with Emily's death their mother outwardly expressed what Mary Poppins had once told them, “I shall stay until the wind changes.” Except their mother had overstayed the wind and changed direction.
The Banks children never forgot that fateful date when their mother had become an ever-present shadow; how she appeared on June 9th shrouded in black at the breakfast table. Ellen, the maid, had to be dismissed due to shock, and their father stayed behind his newspaper. Even after the funeral, their mother could not be reasoned with: she would wear black for Emily and for the movement.
With Mary Poppins and her magical umbrella gone, it was Bert's mission to once again save the Banks family. He befriended Mrs. Banks but when this didn't lessen her depression, he recruited Jane and Michael to bring their mother to the park to see his drawings. Bert was still working in chalk, but now also did paper cutting; sometimes using a model to draw the crowds in. He persuaded Mrs. Banks that dressed all in black she epitomised the perfect silhouette, and it just so happened that day that she had decorated her dark coat with an imitation 1912 hunger strike medal. In capturing her blackness, Bert unlocked a gateway which restored Mrs. Banks to animated colour. She gave up portraying the figure in black and donated her silhouette to the suffragette movement.
These days, it is often displayed as a museum exhibit, where people assume it's the infamous Emily; very few would be able to prove it's Winifred Banks.