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16 November 2021
This is the sixth Persephone Letter written from Bath: we have been here for six months and it’s been a wonderful adventure. The basement, ground floor and first floor are scrubbed and polished and painted and thoroughly furnished with books, posters, computers and fresh flowers. We have some more to do e.g. the shutters on the ground floor back window, but basically we are in – and feel very much at home.
On Wednesday December 1st we are showing the 1925 film of The Homemaker (the upstairs room has large windows and is big enough for the chairs to be widely spaced) and on Thursday December 9th we have a Christmas Open Day from 10am-8pm when mulled wine and home-made mince pies will be served all day and we shall wrap the books free of charge. Also the book groups are re-starting in January, more details here. Do make sure you are on our email@example.com email list if you want to be kept updated.
The Homemaker, an early Persephone book, which is now in a Classic edition as well as the Grey, is about a couple who role swap: he hates his job and she is bored to tears at home. When circumstances turn the father into a house husband and the mother goes to work in a department store, they and the children thrive. But can it last? The Homemaker must have seemed a curious choice for a silent movie. And yet it is superb: rarely shown (our print was discovered after some searching by the film historian Kevin Brownlow) and faithful to the marvellous novel on which it is based.
Inspired by a visit from Jilly Cooper’s PA (Jilly herself was at home working on her latest book), we have been rereading Jilly’s Preface to her aunt Lettice Cooper’s The New House and of course the book itself. Which is one of the select and curious coterie of books set on one day – think One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, think Mrs Dalloway, think Ulysses, oh there are probably a dozen of them (and of course there is Martin Armstrong's St Christopher's Day which we publish in 2023). We reread The New House in ‘our’ edition but on the shelf was the first Gollancz proof:
How extraordinary that even after the proof was printed the author was allowed to change the title from Removal to The New House; that could never happen nowadays (except for libel or some other legal shenanigan).
And now we are re-reading National Provincial, that great novel about Yorkshire and politics always overshadowed by Winifred Holtby's South Riding but in our view so much better. Btw, just to show we are not shy about writing in pencil in a book we own: here are our jottings as we first read through that phenomenal novel. It’s about a young woman who goes to a fictionalised Leeds to work on a local paper; she gets caught up in local politics and so does the reader. It doesn’t sound much but actually it's a page-turner and also seems to get more involving as it goes on: there are a lot of interesting pages round the 400-450 pages mark, more than at the beginning.
As this is being written, the final episode of All the Frequent Troubles of Our Days, which we wrote about in the September Letter, is on Radio 4. But in fact maybe the last episode is too upsetting to recommend.
Jane Brocket plants her tulips and daffodils as near to November 11th as possible. So this year we are doing it on Sunday 13th. The aim is to grow enough to have bunches in the shop, although who knows if this will happen what with slugs and squirrels. Our bulbs came from Gee Tee, which is both speedy about delivering and very good value. It’s not too late to order: they say that planting can continue into December.
If you are visiting Bath, or live here indeed, you must not miss the Rossetti portrait exhibition at the Holburne. It was rather well written up here by Travel Begins at 40. This is The Blue Bower 1865 (actually a portrait of Rossetti's model and mistress, Fanny Cornforth):
Last month there was a play at the Greenwich Theatre based (but with much additional research) on Persephone Book No. 11 Julian Grenfell. Balliol College wrote here: ‘Into Battle by Hugh Salmon tells the poignant story of a student feud which reflected the political and social divisions that were tearing Britain apart in the years leading up to the First World War. On one side were war poets the Hon. Julian Grenfell (Balliol 1906) and Patrick Shaw Stewart (1907), and Julian’s brother the Hon. Billy Grenfell (1909), all brilliant, privileged Etonians whom Evelyn Waugh later described as “arrogant, rowdy, and exclusive”. On the other were the socially conscious and home-educated Keith Rae (1907), who established the Balliol Boys’ Club to help impoverished boys from the underprivileged areas of Oxford, and his friend the rugby international Ronald Poulton-Palmer (1908)’. Gosh, nothing much changes in this country.
There is an excellent new novel about Vanchinathan (1886-1911), the young man from Tamil Nadu who assassinated Robert Ashe in 1911, more details of the real life murder here; the novel, The Boy from Shenkottai by Stuart Blackburn, is both informative and moving – we have a few copies for sale in the shop. It is interesting to compare and contrast Vanchi with his contemporary, Ramanujan (1887-1920), also from Tamil Nadu. The excellent film about him, The Man who Knew Infinity with Dev Patel and Jeremy Irons, is available on YouTube here. Someone should write something about the two young men from Tamil Nadu, born within a year of each other and in very similar circumstances, so similar and yet so different.
On the last Letter we wrote about the Town House, the new student building at Kingston University. This inspired a Persephone reader to write to us about the new Marrickville Public Library, Sydney, designed by a team from BVN architects, although very special mention must go to another Persephone reader, their then senior practice director Olivia Hyde.
When we Brits look at buildings like these we have to weep since all we seem to do is to close libraries. That is why the Kingston building is so remarkable: money has been spent on creating a building that people enjoy. (On the theme of libraries, and their crucial importance to humanity, do read the excellent The Library: A Fragile History by Andrew Pettegree and Arthur her Weduwen.) And in general other countries seem to be so much more innovative than the UK about art and culture. For example, France has just brought in a law setting a minimum postage amount for books in an effort to stop the dominance of the website-we-don’t-mention. The French culture minister even begged people not to buy books from online platforms. (Persephone Books has always made its own tiny stand against online platforms by ensuring that our books are more expensive when ordered from them ie. £15, not £13 or indeed £11 if you order three. The online moguls will definitely not have noticed, we are like fleas to them, but it makes us feel we are doing something. And there is no denying that their delivery service is startlingly fast compared with ours.)
Thomas Hennell was a marvellous artist. This 1930 painting is called Roof Repairers, it’s at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath and shows Bladud Buildings, a little corner of Bath just over the road from Edgar Buildings. It's where the bookshop Topping’s used to be (they have now moved to the Old Quaker Meeting House).
The excellent book about Hennell is by Jessica Kilburn and Sim Fine Art often has examples of his work for sale.
People frequently ask us where we find our endpapers and in fact about a third come from the incredible V & A archive. Last week they sent an email about textile designers influenced by William Morris and there was one called Allan Francis Vigars of whom we had shamefully never heard, details here on the V & A site. Next time we do a c.1901 book we shall be sure to use a Vigars design.
We have recently installed an Anglepoise lamp in the hallway at Edgar Buildings (so that we don’t have to use the rather ugly neon ceiling light) and are thus paying visible homage to its Bath origins: the first Anglepoise was designed in Bath in the 1930s by George Cawardine at his home in Macaulay Buildings.
Our favourite modern artist, David Gentleman, has a new exhibition which runs next week from Tuesday 16th to Sunday 21st November, here is a film of him in his studio. 'On Location' is at 4 Cromwell Place next to South Kensington tube station, details here. This is Ferrara Cathedral 1996, so typical of David Gentleman's work: the beautiful detailing, the perfectly judged colour – and the frenzy of bicyclists ie. the wit and the humanity.
We were fascinated by an Economist obituary of Anne Saxelby, who died far too young but during her life brought fine cheese to America. There used to be just six cheeses: mozzarella on pizza, blue cheese sauce, rubbery slices of Swiss cheese, an imitation Cheddar, cream cheese (Philadelphia) and processed cheese to melt onto hamburgers. But she introduced people to Jasper Hill Calderwood (a hay-ripened raw cow’s milk cheese), to Vermont Shepherd Verano (an aged sheep cheese) and many others. Then Pamela Rose, a wartime indexer at Bletchley, died aged 103, obituary here. She is on the right in this photograph of a group of Bletchley Park girls.
And we were very sad to hear that Sophia Kitson, Denis Mackail’s granddaughter, and the copyright holder for Greenery Street, died last week. She was always a tremendous support to Persephone.
Finally, the Victorian Society, of which Persephone Books are members (but also of the Georgian Group and of the Twentieth Century Society!), is having a series of lectures on 'Building the Victorian and Edwardian Terraced House'.
Two lectures have already happened (although are of course available online) but there is still time for the last four on the 16th, 23rd and 30th November and the 7th December, details here.
By the time of the last lecture Christmas will be in full swing: we hope to see some of you at the Open Day and btw the shop will be open, as is traditional, until 2 o'clock on Christmas Eve, leaving an hour for the Persephone girl on duty to get home, as is also traditional, for the King's College Carol Service.
8 Edgar Buildings, Bath
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