Persephone Ponderings

Jessie at Dwelling In Possibility is, as I’ve said before, hosting a Persephone Readathon from February 1 to 11, and has set up some daily prompts for people to use if they wish – but I thought it wold be nice to use them altogether, as a kind of meme, if that’s the right word. 

Day 1, First Impressions Challenge: Tell us how you first discovered Persephone Books and/or the first Persephone book you read. I first discovered Persephone Books from Lynne at Dove Grey Reader or Simon at Stuck in a Book – or possibly both, at around the same time! I think the first one I read was Mollie Panter-Downes’ Good Evening, Mrs Craven – at any rate, it was the first one I reviewed on the blog, way back in December 2011.

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Good Evening, Mrs Craven is a Persephone Classic edition, so dove grey cover is replaced by a detail from The Queue at the Fish Shop, by Evelyn Dunbar.

Day 2, Photogenic Persephones: Share a photo of your Persephone collection and/or your readathon TBR stack. The Persephones are double stacked, beneath three shelves of Viragos (also double stacked), and next to the last half shelf of Viragos. There are fewer of them, but I’ve had less time to accumulate them. Occasionally we get the odd Persephone in Oxfam, and sometimes I find them in other charity shops, but I think Persephone owners love their books too much to give them away! Luckily, my younger daughter lives in London, so I when I visit her I try to squeeze in a trip to the Persephone Shop and treat myself to a book or two. Currently I think there are 26, but it’s difficult to keep track because I have quite a few other titles from other publishers – green-spined Viragos, old hardbacks, and ebooks in other edition. Maybe I’ll gather these together and do another photo.

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When you look at the shelf you see these. 
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Behind them are Persephones from  the first part of the alphabet. On the left is a Virago copy of A Very Great Profession, by Nicola Beauman, which is now published by Persephone.

Day 3, Time Travel: Tell us which decade you are currently ‘visiting’ and share your favorite historical period(s).  The 1940s – Miss Ranskill Comes Home, so it’s specifically about the war years, which I find interesting, especially the domestic detail. I’m not sure I have a favourite period, but I enjoy books set in the 1930s, the Edwardian era and the Victorian age.

Day 4, Author Shout-out: Shine a spotlight on a neglected woman writer you wish more people knew about. If we’re talking Persephone (and this is a Persephone Readathon), I’d probably say Dorothy Whipple. Or Rachel Ferguson. Or Mollie Panter-Downes. Or Winifred Holtby.. Widen it out and you could include almost any of the ‘old’ VMC authors – Nina Bawden, Violet Trefusis, Edith Olivier, Pamela Frankau, EH Young, Margaret Oliphant, Margaret Kennedy… Widen it out even further and what about Pamela Hansford Johnson… Oh, I’m no good at chosing favourites!

Day 5, Read This: Give a book recommendation/readalike based on a Persephone title. William, by EH Young. Strictly speaking it’s not a readalike, but I think it would appeal to anyone who enjoyed Dorothy Whipple’s Someone at a Distance. It explores family life, and the (in this case enduring) relationship between two very different people. I think if you enjoy Whipple’s writing you would enjoy EH Young.

Day 6, In Six Words: Describe your current Persephone read in 6 words. Miss Ranskill Comes Home, by Barbara Euphan Todd: “Shipwrecked woman returns to war-torn Britain.”

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Endpaper for Miss Ranskill comes homenter a caption

Day 7, Quote This: Share a quote from one of your readathon books. Here is the opening paragraphs from Christine Longford’s Making Conversation, which I have just read (a review will follow in a day or two). It’s a little long, but it made me laugh, and it sets the tone beautifully, and tells you a lot about Martha (the main character) and her mother, as well as the social mores of the day, and Martha’s difficulties in making conversation.

‘Here is a little present for you, Ellen,’ said Martha Freke. ‘We got in on the pier.’
Ellen, the cook-general, undid the wrapping, which revealed a small cardboard box, and in it, on a bed of cotton wool, a brooch, which said ‘Ellen,’ in bright gold, written in a cursive hand, with a lie below it and a full stop after it. ‘It will help her to remember,’ Mrs. Freke had said; for Ellen had been christened ‘Beatrice,’ which was an unsuitable name for a cook-general, and had to be dropped.
‘Yes, it’s real gold, too, and they were making them up in any name. And only sixpence each!’
Martha could not understand why her mother was frowning and shaking her fist behind Ellen’s back.
‘I’m sure I’m very much obliged,’ said Ellen, ‘no matter what it did cost,’ and went out.
‘You little idiot,’ said Mrs. Freke. ‘Now she won’t think anything of it. People like that don’t, if you tell them the price. Never do it again.’
This was the sort of thing that happened, thought Martha, after a really nice day. She had absorbed all the sights of Compton-on-Sea: shopping in the morning, lunch in the Geisha Cafe, where the mock-turtle soup had a taste unknown at home, and an afternoon on the pier, where they had listened to Braun’s Band. … Anyway, the day had been delightful, and there had been no need to make conversation; but as usual, as soon as she had opened her mouth unnecessarily, there had been a disaster.

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Bookmarks! I’ve lost one or to, an a couple of books were second-hand and didn’t have one.

Day 8, Page to Screen: Share the Persephone title you would most like to see adapted for the screen. Include your dream cast if you’d like. I’ll pass on this one – films of books so rarely live up to expectation. They never seem to get characters or places as I imagine they should be. And the tone is rarely right.

Day 9, Beautiful Endpapers: Show us a photo of your current book’s endpapers/your favorite Persephone endpapers/or design your own endpapers.  You want me to choose? Those lovely Dahlias that I always think are sunflowers, from RC Sherriff’s The Fortnight in Sptember. But ask me tomorrow an I’ll say something completely different! So here’s a picture of three current favourites.

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Three of the best: Bookmarks showing three of my favourite endpaper designs.

Day 10, Reader’s Request: Name a book or author you wish Persephone Books published. Mmm… Tricky… I would say Nina Bawden, because I love her work, but I think most of it is a little too dark to slot easily into the Persephone oevre, and the period isn’t right, but A Little Love, A Little Learning might fit the bill, and the period (Coronation Year) would be OK. A better choice, I think, would be EH Young – almost anything of her’s would fit the Persephone cannon, but William would be an excellent choice.

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Author Emily Hilda Young: Does anyone still publish her books? If not, why not?

Day 11, Too Many Persephones: List the top three Persephone titles on your TBR/wish list. Unusually for me, the top three on the Wish List at the moment are all non-fiction – Long Live Great Bardfield, A London Child of the 1870, and The Carlyles at Home. 

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13 thoughts on “Persephone Ponderings

  1. I love this post, Chris! William by E. H. Young sounds interesting and I should really give Nina Bawden a try. I recently bought a secondhand copy of Miss Ranskill Comes Home and can’t wait to read it.
    Which book does the first bookmark in your “Three of the best” photo belong to? Those are beautiful endpapers indeed!

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    1. Thank you – I don’t usually do things like this, but they were fun questions, and most of them could have been worked up into a post on their own. The bookmark on the left is from How To Run Your Home Without Help, by Kay Smallshaw, which is a household manual first published in 1949, which may sound dull, but it’s very readable, has the most adorable line drawings and is an absolute hoot. The design is Riverside, a 1946 dress fabric in rayon crepe and I think i’ts fabulous. It reminds me of the houses and landscape alongside the Thames where I was brought up – not, alas, in a posh house like these!

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  2. Great post. You and I love many of the same writers, I too love Nina Bawden and E H Young, I definitely think Chatterton Square would fit nicely between dove grey covers. I do get excited if I spot a Persephone book in a charity shop, it’s happened quite a few times but they are usually ones I have got already.

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    1. Glad you like the post! I have Chatterton Square but haven’t read it yet. It’s a really revolting, dirty, smelly, old hardback that I ordered online under the impression it was a Virago – I should have complained.

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    1. I think they go together because the aims of Virago in the early days were very similar to what Persephone is doing now – resurrecting forgotten female authors! And quite a few of the books were once published by Virago, and have now been issued by Persephone, and some authors have some work with Virago, and other books with Persephone. Which Mollie Panter-Downes are you reading?

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  3. I enjoyed reading your answers. You’ve mentioned a lot of authors I love, but also some I haven’t read yet and am looking forward to exploring, particularly EH Young. Your collection of bookmarks looks beautiful. 🙂

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