Tuesday, January 12, 2010
I'm going to write the occasional post about an author or publisher or journal that has changed the way I read. The first one just has to be about Nicola Beauman's Persephone Books. One of the luckiest internet searches I ever did was about 10 years ago. I was looking for the Virago website (turned out there wasn’t one then) & found Persephone Books instead. Nicola Beauman had started Persephone just the year before to reprint the books she wrote about in her book A Very Great Profession, published by Virago in 1983 & reprinted by Persephone last year. Middlebrow novels, books that were sneered at when they were first published by some critics & had fallen out of favour since. Books that were incredibly popular & much loved. Books written mostly by women & mostly in the period 1900-1950. Books that have a less stridently feminist tone than the Feminist novels reprinted by Virago. Domestic novels - & short stories, diaries, letters & non-fiction as well. There were maybe 10 books published when I found Persephone & I couldn’t wait to get my hands on them. I ordered my first three, Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes, William : an Englishman by Cecily Hamilton & Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley. I gobbled them up & bought three more, & three more... Now I have them all & a standing order for the new titles. The books themselves are beautiful. I probably don’t even need to describe them as a Persephone has become proverbial for a beautifully designed book, lovely to look at & hold. The plain dove grey covers with cream panels, the endpapers chosen to match the period of the book, the creamy paper, the introductions & afterwords written by distinguished writers & critics. Still, none of this would matter if the contents weren’t so exciting, so unputdownable. Persephone Books has broadened my reading & given me the most pleasure in my reading life over the past 10 years. I’ve discovered Dorothy Whipple (my favourite Persephone author), Susan Glaspell, Marghanita Laski, R C Sherriff, Vere Hodgson & the adult novels of children’s authors Richmal Crompton & Noel Streatfeild. Reading Persephones has led me down many reading paths & introduced me to the online reading group I’ve been a member of for the last five years & couldn’t live without. They also publish the lovely Persephone Classics, their bestsellers with bookshop-friendly covers. I’m half way through reading To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski, reviewed here & here. It’s a fascinating look at a side of the Home Front we don’t often see in books or movies about WWII. Deborah is a total contrast to the noble Cressida in Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country (Persephone). This is certainly not Vere Hodgson’s spirit of the Blitz but all the more interesting for that.