Updated: Jul 5, 2020
One of the protagonists of IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH is World War heroine Edith Cavell. Born in England in 1865, Cavell trained at the Royal London Hospital and became a nurse in 1907.
A British citizen, Cavell was in Belgium when World War One broke out in 1914. Although neutral at the outset of the war, Germany nevertheless invaded Belgium in August, 1914. During the German occupation, Cavell felt it her ethical duty to treat soldiers from both sides, including from the resistance movement sheltering British, French and Belgian fighters. Cavell even assisted over Two Hundred British and French troops escape occupied Belgium during the war.
In August 1915, Cavell was arrested and charged by Germany with treason for her assistance of British soldiers. She was convicted and, despite intense international pressure, shot by a German firing squad on October 12, 1915. Edith Cavell was only 49 years old at the time of her execution.
Although seen by Germany as treasonous, Cavell was hailed in Great Britain as a national martyr. The week after her execution, military enlistments in Britain doubled. Posters and political cartoons were published depicting Cavell as a martyr, which she undoubtedly was.
Cavell’s heroic life and tragic death have come to symbolize both the best and worst of humanity. Although the events of IT GIVES YOU STRENGTH largely occur in 1926, Cavell is a pivotal character in the novel.