This week, the BBC World Service show The Forum is on Bertha von Suttner (Prague 1843-Vienna 1914): one of the most consequential writers of her age, in that she used the popular medium of her day — the novel — to advance her great cause. Her fame rests on Die Waffen nieder! (1889), a novel which attracted champions across Europe: soon it became Abbasso le Armi! (Italian), Abajo las armas! (Spanish), Bas les armes! (French), and Lay Down Your Arms! (English). Only the second woman to win the Nobel Prize, she won it largely for having written this novel, and in the category of Peace, which she seems to have lobbied Alfred Nobel to institute.
This was an example of her other technique: where writing made an appeal to the masses, persuasion put a case to the influential, and Suttner used both. She lobbied the Emperor Franz-Joseph I on the need for an International Court of Justice, and when a bid by the Tsar Alexander I led to the Hague Convention of 1899, Suttner was there. She had to contend with being a woman, of course, even if a well-connected and famous one: Tolstoy's remark that whereas Harriet Beecher Stowe had abolished slavery, Suttner would abolish war, has just a whiff of gallantry about it. All the same, Suttner remains a powerful example of how activism can change the world. Suttner did not abolish war, but she did give the cause of peace a capital letter. You can still win a Nobel Prize for Peace today.
Suttner continues to rally supporters today, and Barbara Burns, editor of our new edition of Lay Down Your Arms, joins the World Service panel to explore her life and legacy. The programme will be broadcast on 18, 19 and 20 June at times to suit all time zones, which seems only appropriate for a novelist translated into sixteen languages.