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Reviews: When Woman Rules! by a Well-Known Member of Parliament

review | notes

feministsf.org Review

blah blah blah. Not science fiction; just a (rather patronizing) romance, basically, and a criticism of political machinations. -- lq, 8/2001

Notes from the 1st Edition

WHEN WOMAN RULES! A Tale of the First Women's Government


By A Well-known Member of Parliament

Written in bright and entertaining style, this striking novel pictures England under a Women's Government for the first time.  The possibilities of the subject are cleverly exploited and make for very piquant reading.  The hurried resignation of the Prime Minister, because of a divorce scandal in her Cabinet, marks the author's insistence on the complications inevitably arising with men and women working side by side.  Woven through the political events like a scarlet thread, is the love story of the permanent head of a government department and one of his lady secretaries.  The forcing of the eminent civil servant from his post by the scandal-mongering that ensues, leads him to a business career in which he is highly successful.  Before the end is reached the lovers are happily united.  The author (a very well-known Member of Parliament) has elected to conceal his identity for the nonce so that his powerful criticisms and revelations, which have a basis in fact in the light of existing scandals, could be freely presented.

from advertising catalog pages in the back of the book

title page:

WHEN WOMAN RULES! A Tale of the First Women's Government

John Long, Limited
12, 13 &
14, Norris Street, Haymarket
[All rights reserved]

t.p. verso:


Made and
Printed in Great Britain

Copyright, 1923, by
John Long, Limited
All Rights Reserved


Table of Contents


Chapter I The Sacrifice Page 11
Chapter II Alice Considers Page 20
Chapter III Alfred and the Countess Page 29
Chapter IV The Women's Government Page 46
Chapter V The Lovers Surprised Page 60
Chapter VI Down With the Aged ! Page 72
Chapter VII Alice's New Home Page 84
Chapter VIII A Gross Injustice Page 95
Chapter IX Alie Dismissed Page 118
Chapter X The Secret Marriage Page 128
Chapter XI Realization Page 136
Chapter XII Walter Turns Detective Page 148
Chapter XIII A Dinner Party Page 162
Chapter XIV Scandal ! Page 173
Chapter XV Mr. Audrey Busy Page 188
Chapter XVI Alfred Shows His Hand Page 207
Chapter XVII Resignation of the Prime Minister Page 224
Chapter XVIII Basil Makes Good Page 229
Chapter XIX Home ! Page 238

Page-by-Page Plot & Quotes

Chapter I: The Sacrifice

Rose Brown and Ethel Bell, in the Ministry of the Interior, discuss Alice Perak, who is daydreaming.  Does she want a husband?  She is very business-like.  She is beautiful.  Could she be going out with Basil Murray - no, they're only friends - no, they "go everywhere together" (p 13).

Meanwhile ... "In the Ministry of the Interior, in a remote corner of a basement, the State was conscientiously served by Alice Perak. Miss Perak was twenty-six, and a supervisor of younger misses who spent their lives in sorting, docketing and filing papers." (p. 13)

p. 16: Alice Perak is distracted - she had received a note from the Establishment Officer "asking her to see him in his room at five o'clock, and this was enough to disturb the mental balance of any supervisor."

"The Establishment Officer in a government department has an influence that is both concrete [p. 17] and direct. He is the boss ; engagements, wages, hours, rules and regulations, holidays, reprimands, penalties, dismissals, and above all, promotions, are in his hands. If one got wrong with the Establishment Officer, then life became a burden and work a daily terror."

"Amongst the clerical staff of the Ministry of the Interior, the Establishment Officer was known as 'Snooky'" - for his habit of turning up at odd times.  Alice goes up to his office at 5, and is introduced to Mr. Trevine, “the Chief” - who tells her that Basil Murray is being promoted to his position, and any rumours of relationship between the two of them [p. 18] "'would lead to disaster. Marriage is no solution, because you would have to have left the service [p. 19] for at least two years before he could make you his wife.'"

Chapter II

Alice tells Basil they must not see one another; he says they should marry one another.  Alice argues: they can't marry until he's settled because of the scandal.  They agree to not see one another until she leaves the Ministry of the Interior, but to write letters to one another.

Chapter III: Alfred and the Countess

The Ministry of Justice is disorganized and workers are lazy.  Alfred Pompey was one of the principal officers of the Ministry of Justice.  He worked hard to advance his social position.  Pompey desired the position of the Ministry of Justice and so started rumours of the muddle and inefficiency of the department.  Pompey was aided & abetted by the Countess of Strabo, a well-known and popular figure in London.

"She was an emotional slave to the master [Pompey] who had raised her to fame.  In the small circle of the exclusive in London her relations with Alfred were declared to go beyond the freedom that social and political activity extended to a modern feminist leader. It had become the habit for women to practise a new licence over conduct which was covered against convention by the hall-mark of public service." (p. 34)

Pompey and the Countess gossip critically about Basil Murray at the Interior. They gossip about Murray's affair with "one of the lower grade clerks in his own department ; a common girl who is said to be living in a boarding-house." (p. 35) They cynically discuss deluding the masses and winning elections, returning the Countess to Parliament. p. 42: "Some months later Alice Perak was quietly moved from the Ministry of the Interior to the Ministry of Justice, not as a supervisor, but as an ordinary clerk in the Registry." The department was in chaos because of the numerous incompetents, and Alfred Pompey added to the chaos, and blamed the clerks for it. The supervisor "fell in a physical collapse" within a few weeks of Alice Perak's arrival. [p. 43] The Establishment officer promoted Alice Perak to supervisor although she protested that nobody could remedy things, because “The chiefs of the department are to blame” p. 44.  She was persuaded to take the position when promised a letter in her file saying that it wasn't her fault.

Chapter IV - The Women's Government.

In a surprise election the nation voted in the women's government:

[p. 46] "[W]omen candidates were returned to Parliament from many quarters, [p. 47] and when the final result was known there was a large majority of women over all parties of men returned to Parliament.

Mrs. Fairfield was Prime Minister.  She was a white-haired lady of fifty-two, the widow of a distinguished Civil Servant who had died ten years before, leaving a small competence that enabled her to devote her time to public work.  She was a stately woman with none of the characteristics of the feminist.  She always attracted attention, though quietly dressed ; her unusually large head and serene face always set inquiries going as to who she was, in any assemblage.  She had been a masterly organiser and a sane member of many of the less ostentatious social and charitable institutions.  A very [p. 48] reserved woman, she spoke with a crisp directness and relevance that is not the characteristic of the ambitious feminist, but is a feature of the best type of British matron.  This woman would have been a great queen in any age in any land.  She had never pushed or scrambled for position or fame; her weight had carried her there against her heart's desire."

Mrs. Fairfax is consulting with Henry Colefax, a former minister who shrank from publicity. She asks him to give her the "lines of policy that we have to follow as the first Cabinet of women." (p. 49). He tells her the policy can be summed up in three words: "Peace, Efficiency and Honesty." He lays out a legislative program for her; and she tells him that he will have to be her advisor. They decide to set up a ministry of equity.

The Women's Government begins creating efficiency in the Ministries of Justice and Interior. The Countess, now in charge of the Ministry of the Justice, is even enthusiastic for efficiency, and Alice Perak's efforts to follow the shirkers and Pompey, and keep them from "losing" papers on purpose, are beginning to pay off.

Chapter V - The Lovers Surprised.

Basil Murray had arranged with Alice Perak for an outing on a Saturday afternoon in June.  They discuss men and women, and love and marriage.  Then they run into Alfred Pompey and the Countess of Strabo.  Alice worries that Alfred will get them into trouble; Basil doubts it because Alfred is with his own minister, but Alice feels certain that there will be trouble.  Switch to Pompey and the Countess:  Alfred is outraged; the Countess laughs it off and is not interested in getting them in trouble.

Chapter VI - Down With the Aged!

The PM was conferring with Henry Colefax - discussing the problems of the old permanents heads who are holding out on the reforms.  The PM brings in the Countess (head of Justice) and Lady Standor (head of the Interior) to discuss their respective issues.  The Countess complains about the old department head she has, but Lady Standor has nothing but compliments for Basil Murray.  They determine to retire all the chiefs of the Civil Service over 45 years of age and promote the younger men - the Countess had been arguing for that, so that Pompey might get the promotion.

Pompey promptly requests to have Alice removed from the position that she has been annoying him in and moved to another position; Alice refuses because she knows her current job.  The Establishment Officer tells Pompey he can't fire her because she hasn't been incompetent.  Pompey demands that she be fired because of his personal knowledge of an “outside scandal” but the Establishment Officer refuses to fire her without knowing more about it.

Chapter VII - Alice's New Home

notes still in paper

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