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14th April 2023
This is a short(ish) Letter because in a few days time, on Thursday April 20th to be precise, we shall be 'bothering' you again by telling you about the two new books we are publishing then, Two Cheers for Democracy: a Selection by E M Forster and One Afternoon by Siân James. Bothering is in quote marks, because those of you who read the Letter must like it (and sometimes very kindly tell us that you do) – after all, it's so quick to ‘unsubscribe’. Nevertheless, we don’t want to lose you and therefore don’t contact you very often: we are conscious that even the best companies (we are thinking of our favourite mail-order clothes company) email every day and that this is far too often! Well, we think so. So in general we don’t email more than once a fortnight. But brace yourself for another email next week…
Now that the April books are ready to be sent out and the Biannually ditto, we can start thinking about the autumn books. One of them is Out of the Window (1930) by the journalist (the first Guardian Woman’s Page editor) and novelist Madeline Linford. Focusing on the preface means a re-reading of all her work, for example her 1924 book Mary Wollstonecraft. What an incredible biography this is. So beautifully written. So fascinating. And so gripping. Yes, we knew the bare facts of Mary’s life. But Madeline Linford writes about them extremely well. Also, the mention of Bath has become even more interesting now that a local historian, Hugh Williamson, has confirmed (in an essay that we shall publish in the autumn Biannually) that Mary lived across the road from the shop! (See the picture below, it's the house on the right.) Number 25 Milsom Street was the home of Mrs Dawson, to whom Mary was, very unhappily, a companion from 1779-80. It would be twenty years before Mary would write Vindication of the Rights of Women, but it would not be an exaggeration to say that she was plotting it during those terrible walks down Milsom Street, along George Street (with the newly built Edgar Buildings across the road) or plodding up Gay Street to The Circus. As Madeline Linford writes: ‘A few other writers had whispered in the wilderness that women had souls and minds as well as bodies, but no one had shouted it in a voice that by its very clearness and courage demanded attention.’ In Bath, Mary was quietly whispering; by 1798 she was was not afraid to shout ‘her momentous and revolutionary’ thoughts.
Another revolutionary woman has just died: Mary Quant. We felt a real pang when we heard about her death. Here is the link to the V&A collection of Mary Quant clothes. (Alas, the 1963 dress we bought, that did in fact featured in the 2019 V & A retrospective, doesn’t seem to be part of the permanent collection; it was lovely though – pale grey/blue with a thin pinstripe.) On a linked note, the 1965 Sally Tuffin and Marion Foale jacket, which has already featured once on the Persephone Letter and is sometimes to be seen in the shop window, will be worn for the forthcoming talk on Domestic Feminism: to illustrate the fact that being interested in beautiful clothes (or textiles or furniture or paintings) does not make someone less of a feminist.
Someone else has died who in some ways was quite different from Mary Quant but was similar in being a quiet pioneer (well, not so quiet in either case): Beverley Beech, obituary here. She was a maternity rights activist and fought against the medicalisation of birth. For us children of the Sixties, even to think about what we endured when our children were born is enough to make us sob. On the other hand there were two mitigating factors which stopped one being permanently traumatised: we had our children young and therefore had an easier time of it than we would otherwise have done; and then, unbelievably, we stayed in hospital for ten days being pampered, bathed, fed, made to sleep after lunch - on our fronts - and, the best thing of all, being gently instructed how to look after a baby. Compared with nowadays it was all a miracle of kindness and quiet education.
Also, last month Isabel Colegate died, obituary here. What a marvellous writer she was! We have The Shooting Party among 'The Fifty Books We Wish We Had Published' which we sell in the Persephone shop. These, by the way, have been revamped. They now have their own bookcase instead of being piled higgledy-piggledy on the table and also we have decided to stop selling hardbacks, even at £5 off. This is because there are two marvellous bookshops near us, Mr B’s and Toppings, and we think people expect to buy hardbacks there. So we are going to concentrate on eg novels by Elizabeth Taylor and E M Forster, One Fine Day by Mollie-Panter Downes, Vera by Elizabeth von Arnim, The Long View by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and of course Jane Austen – books that we literally would publish if they weren’t either in print with another publisher or in print in so many other editions that it seems mad to do our own.
There was a marvellous article in the Atlantic about Vermeer, we can’t recommend it enough. And we loved Laura Cummings' book Thunderclap (an advance copy) about Fabritius and Dutch Golden Age painting.
Canadian readers will be interested that the artist Amanta Scott, who has two exhibitions this spring, is the extremely talented granddaughter of ‘our’ author Rose Allatini, author of Despised and Rejected.
Finally, a sad note. Despite the outcry about Sheffield and Plymouth, now Cambridge seems determined to add itself to the roll of shame and is planning to cut down hundreds of trees in order to create a bus route. It’s unbelievable. And who hasn’t been watching the latest David Attenborough series and weeping?
8 Edgar Buildings
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