When young women arrived in England from the Caribbean aboard HM Empire Windrush, their hope for new opportunity must have been palpable. Determined, driven, fuelled with agency, action and ambition to see more of the world. And specifically, to see what Motherland held for them once they crossed over into Britain’s borders.
Eunice is the first episode of a series titled Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle. Fourteen minutes in length the monologue narrative is a story filled with all the hope and passion of a young woman fulfilling her dreams. A character of sure and certain mind – Eunice is unquestionably in charge of her own destiny. Bold, fearless and unafraid of the dramatically different environment England offers compared with the comfort of Jamaica. Eunice embraces change with all the enthusiasm of a woman in pursuit of her goals. She is alone, but her appetite for all that is new is what keeps her company, despite the pangs for home.
Image taken from Eunice.
But in 1946, this female independence hung delicately in the balance, easily knocked by the ambitions of men. There must have seemed a distinct vulnerability in the women and girls who arrived fresh-faced, and wide-eyed from across the North Atlantic ocean. Although to many this would have been endearing, heartening, to meet people who breathed life back into a place that felt so lacking. To the beaten-down working clubs that became a stage for a new sort of music, to the shabby dance halls filled with new faces, new culture. But for the patriarchy, for a certain type of man of position and power, these young women were more commodity, an exotic love affair without commitment.
Like Eunice, so many girls were promised the world by these sorts of men, only to be left trapped in one they didn’t know, alone. The fictionalised script rings with reality, “I never thought under all the fog, and dirt, and ugly people, England could hide so much beauty,” laments Eunice, on recalling the first encounter with her beloved. In the chaos of change and loneliness, a voice of affection, promising love and compassion must have been so welcomed. Only to be courted, to be shown the very best of Britain, before the rug was swept from under her feet – left pregnant and pining for someone who never had any intent on staying around for longer than a month’s romance.
Of course, some will say it was naivety, we’re sure others said much worse, but isn’t it innocence? Innocence in wanting to have the most honest and simplest of pleasures, wanting to love and be loved. Isn’t that what made these girls overlook warning signs of deception and falsehood? The dream of building a home and belonging to a place that more often rejected them, than it did welcome them. Placing so much investment in the pursuit of this marital ambition, in delivering the news to family of their fully realised integration into English society. It’s that which tipped the scales. The weightier prize of belonging to a man of position and power, offsetting the desire for independence. Almost as if the latter was made totally redundant by the former. Because of course, the possibility of having both an unimaginable equilibrium.
Image taken from Eunice.
Left alone with a baby, stranded in a strange purgatory, shamed into not belonging back home or in England, these Windrush women, these girls, were tricked by a country and its patriarchy. From innocence to experience, their lives were rushed into an adulthood they hadn’t imagined. And yet for all they have been robbed of, for all the heartbreak and unfairness, there remains a resolute defiance. Not only to make the situation work, but to continue to realise the ambitions they set out to. A feminist cry to be heard, to be seen, to be acknowledged.
As a feminist book box, we always want to ensure that we are sharing the stories of women, women who, because of their gender, were marginalised even further within in underrepresented group they belong to. Pulled into circumstances or situations their male counterparts wouldn’t have been. And this was the case for our current collection, Windrush. These Windrush women, those with stories like that of Eunice. Enthralled by the invitation to someplace new, only to be entrapped by someone new. To then be left alone.
And so, in the same week as International Women’s Day, this is our ode to those women. Who arrived with agency and fought hard to keep it. For despite the trickery, the deceit and the trauma – there was a power too. A power to remain, to rebuild and resist. Here’s to those bold girls.
About the series
Set in the front room of an Afro-Caribbean home, the series explores the highs and lows of one family from the 1940s to the present day through their hopes and desires, challenges and shattered dreams.
Curated by Young Vic Artistic Director Kwame Kwei-Armah, the series of eight 15-minute monologues is led by four female directors and has been developed by eight leading British writers.
Can love overcome fear? Can perseverance overcome ignorance and racism? What does it cost to belong? Soon Gone: A Windrush Chronicle challenges our collective understanding of what it means to be part of the Afro-Caribbean community in modern-day Britain.