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19th December 2023

So a man came in to the shop. He was about fifty, a little bit chaotic, and had evidently come on a bicycle. Is the person here who is responsible for you publishing Dorothy Whipple? No, we said, reprehensibly, but too weary after a cold then cough (both gone now) to engage. Well, I have come in because I want you to know how much I love her books. She is marvellous. I picked up Someone at a Distance in the Devizes Library and could not put it down. Now I have read four others. She is a wonderful writer and I wanted to thank you for bringing her in to my life. 

We then discussed the ending of Someone at a Distance, how DW cleverly leaves it open-ended but with a glimmer of hope… And he crammed his crash helmet back on his head and departed. Now this is what makes it all worthwhile. Not that we have much to complain about, but if anything not-so-good happens next year we shall remember that encounter. He was such an unlikely Whipple devotee. And we were so very pleased.

This month the news is so frightful on all fronts that for today at least we are just going to live in a bubble. We have a Sunday to ourselves (husband at football match), Hippocrates soup is simmering on the stove, the dog is asleep in his beautiful navy coat knitted by one of the Persephone girls, and we are fantasising that everything is alright with the world. It so isn’t but let’s ignore it. For once. So here, randomly, are a few things that recently caught our attention: the Wentworth Castle monument to Lady Mary Wortley Montagu (who introduced smallpox inoculation to Britain) is now Grade II*, an accolade not given to many buildings; there was a piece saying that we should all be belting out songs more because it reduces blood pressure, heart rate and stress; the FT’s Jackie Wullschlager picked the reopening of the ‘engaging, spirited, must-see’ National Portrait Gallery as the artistic triumph of 2023 ‘celebrating the individual and, in beautifully open, democratic displays, the connections between us’;

upsettingly, in 2024 there are going to be three films about the Holocaust that we shall have to see: One Life, The Zone of Interest and Occupied City (cf Jonathan Freedland here); two less harrowing films will be Tish (trailer here), about the photographer Tish Murtha, and Maestro (trailer here), the film about Leonard Bernstein.

Who doesn’t covet this coat from Gudrun Sjoden? 


(though we would wear it rather more soberly with dark grey trousers); Spiracle has just brought out the audiobook of Flush, PB No. 55, beautifully read by Lydia Leonard; and when we wrote about Out of the Window, PB No. 148, in the recent Biannually we forgot to mention that the title comes from the Watts painting When Poverty Comes in at the Door, Love flies out of the Window:

This is exciting: when the New York Times asked Annie Ernaux to choose her favourite book that no one else has heard of, she said: ‘It is probably presumptuous to think that no one today has heard of Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.’ Only thousands of Persephone readers! But, it's true, very few people in America.

Three obituaries: of the great A S Byatt (who wrote the Preface for PB No. 90 The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens), of Ofir Libstein who was murdered on October 7th, and of Vivian Silver, also murdered on that day.

Finally, the British Post Office scandal is at last becoming widely known about. An ITV drama ‘tells the story of one of the greatest miscarriages of justice in British legal history. Hundreds of innocent sub-postmasters and postmistresses were wrongly accused of theft, fraud, and false accounting due to a defective IT system. Many of the wronged workers were prosecuted, some were imprisoned for crimes they never committed, and their lives were irreparably damaged by the scandal.’ Mr Bates vs the Post Office starring Toby Jones begins on January 1st on ITV at 9 pm and there are three more parts that week, followed by a documentary on January 4th. This really is unmissable. Normally ‘they’ stop us finding out the truth about  scandals like this. Now, because of the excellent book by Nick Wallis which we sell in the shop, and on which presumably the ITV drama is based, we can all understand  - and despair - about what happened.

Although we don't feel madly ‘jolly’, with all the beastliness going on in the world, of course we wish all readers of this Letter an exceedingly Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. Here's to a greatly improved 2024.  And, hurrah, it's the shortest day this week so then very very slowly daylight will begin to return at (UK) teatime. Here is 'Shortest Day', a lino cut  by Clare Curtis which was on the Persephone Post last week.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings




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