Book Review: Jacqueline Kent’s Vida spotlights a determined woman’s campaigns for social justice

Vida

Vida Goldstein’s surname might have been used to denote a federal electorate, but she’s hardly a household name. This trailblazing woman was a steadfast women’s rights advocate who toiled away in Australia and abroad in the early 20th century. Jacqueline Kent‘s new biography chronicles this inspiring lady’s work in the social justice and political spheres.

Kent is an award-winning biographer. Her book about publishing magnate, Beatrice Davis was incredible. She has also written a biography about former Australian Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. In this latest offering, Kent draws many parallels – although some of these are tenuous – between Goldstein’s work and the misogyny that Gillard and other female politicians endure today.

This book is an entertaining read and Goldstein is an interesting character. A suffragette, she was one of four woman (including Selina Anderson, Nellie Martel and Mary Moore-Bentley) who stood for election in Australia in 1903. They were among the first women in the Western world to do so. Goldstein although defeated, was left undeterred. She made several other attempts to get elected over the years.

Goldstein was a renowned orator, teacher and writer. She also published two journals, The Woman’s Sphere and Woman Voter. She was a spiritual person who believed in Christian Science. A progressive and a pacifist, she campaigned against conscription and helped secure “No” votes at two plebiscites. She was a social justice champion but also a product of her time. Like many of the period, she supported the racist White Australia policy, but Kent does not go into too much detail about this. In short, Goldstein was a complex character and Kent does a nice job of capturing her essence.

Kent offers up some historic context and describes several of Goldstein’s contemporaries, including Stella Miles Franklin, Adela Pankhurst, Annette Bear-Crawford and Constance Stone. This book isn’t as strong as Kent’s other works because she has had to rely on some speculation at times. As a reader, it is not as satisfying to read about things Goldstein “may” have “possibly” done or enjoyed. Granted, this may be due to the fact that there is a lack of primary resources in existence, but it can be a tad frustrating to read this at times.

Vida is an informative book, which will appeal to readers who enjoy Australian history stories. Goldstein’s principled nature and steadfast work make her a compelling character whose influence can be felt in politics today. Vida is a detailed – though not always comprehensive – look at an accomplished thinker, teacher and leader.

 Vida Vida

THREE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Vida by Jacqueline Kent is out now, published through Penguin Australia. Grab your copy from Booktopia HERE.

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