Virago Ventures

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Various Viragos bought in charity shops over the last few weeks.

Viragos  are addictive. I’m talking (mainly) about the old green-spined VMCs with reproductions of paintings on the front covers. They are so alluring I cannot resist them, and wherever I go I end up scouring second-hand book stores and charity shops in search of treasures. Fortunately, the Man of the House is never averse to browsing book shelves, but he occasionally wonders if I should work my way through a list of Viragos I Haven’t Got, ordering them online, possibly on a weekly basis. I do order online, when there’s a title I’m desperate to read, but it’s the thrill of the hunt I love, and the random nature of the finds.

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I’m really pleased with these two Miles Franklins. I’ve got a more recent edition of My Brilliant Career, which is one of my favourite books, but I prefer the cover on this. That’s the danger with becoming obsessive about Viragos: you end up buying books that you already have.

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And you end up buying books that you’ve read but didn’t really like. Precious Bane is an example. The words ‘purple prose’ spring to mind when I think of Mary Webb, and I’ve always found it difficult to understand why she was so popular. But I’m happy to give her another go. Edith Wharton’s style is as far from Mary Webb as you could get, but both these novels centre on women on the margins of society.

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Virago produced quite of lot of themed anthologies, with excerpts from women writers. The ones on gardening and travellers are brilliant, and the one on convent girls is interesting, so I got these.


This one I have never come across before. It is, apparently, the story of Vita Sackville-West’smother and grandmother.  Her grandmother, Josefa (known as Pepita), was the half-gypsy daughter of a Spanish pedlar who sold old clothes and became the mistress of an English nobleman. Her illegitimate daughter Victoria was something of a social outcast, but married her cousin and was in charge of one of the great houses in England. It sounds as if the lives of both women were as colourful and unconventional as Vita’s own life, and I’m really looking forward to reading it.


Then there’s these two, which fell off the stack and aren’t in the main photo. Ena Chamberlain’s 29 Inman Road is another book I’ve never encountered before. It’s an autobiography of her childhood in London during the 1920s, and it interests me because my father grew up in London during the same period. I’ve already got several novels by Kate O’Brien but, I am ashamed to admit, haven’t read any of them, and I feel very guilty. To be honest, if I didn’t buy any more books, and I only read Viragos, they would keep me going for months and months.

Has anyone read any of these? And does anyone else find themselves collecting books, even if they already have that book, or don’t like the author?

8 thoughts on “Virago Ventures

  1. I’m a green cover Virago fan,too … I hope I get to the charity shops before you! And I love the way so may shops put them in with ‘Classics’ . But oh that awful paper that’s turned so brown and nasty; nothing will make me stop buying them, but I do wish they’d used better quality paper. And, of course, the same goes for all my old Penguins and Puffins.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Sometimes I go months without seeing any, and then I find masses of them all at once! You’re right about the quality of the paper, but I think the Virgos have worn better than Penguins and Puffins. The pages in many my old Penguins were very discoloured and brittle, and kept falling out, so I put them in the recycling bags at Oxfam!. I’ve replaced most of them with Kindle editions – luckily you can get free copies of lots of the classics.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. What a wonderful, diverse collection of green books. It occurs to me that Miles Frankin, Mary Webb and Edit Wharton were roughly contemporary and so very different. I have a bookcase full of VMCs and there are only a few I’m still looking out for, but I’d love to find more of the anthologies that Virago did so well and the travellers and the other non fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Jane – glad you like them. The anthologies are wonderful, when you can find them and, like you, I would love to find more of the non-fiction. I’ve got a few travel ones, and a few biographies,and they all seem to be strong, rather unconventional women – a bit like many of the Virgo ‘heroines’!


  3. What a lovely haul of green Viragos! And in such good conditions too. The anthologies look very promising, I must say. And I love the cover of the Mary Webb although it’s a shame to hear that it didn’t quite live up to its cover. I guess I am one of those who would be likely to still buy a book I already own if it is in an edition I love, and likewise, not buy a book with a cover or font that puts me off even if I love the author. Aesthetics rate rather highly on my list, I confess.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lack of cash and space imposes some restrictions, but I usually succumb to VMCs. And I agree that however excellent a book may be, a horrid cover is most off-putting. Years ago, when I was at school and college, I used to re-cover them with pretty wrapping paper!

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    1. A few of mine I bought when they first came out, but mostly I’ve acquired them second-hand. I’m not sure why I find them so alluring though!


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