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.
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.
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.
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?