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17th July 2023

The two autumn books and four reprints (Someone at a Distance, The Expendable Man, Into the Whirlwind and The Exiles Return) have gone to the printer. You know us, we try not to blow our own trumpet but really every one of these six books is incredible. Take Into the Whirlwind – the quote on the flap begins: 'Perhaps I'll just stop at Mother's on the way,' I said to my husband. 'No, don't. Go at once. The sooner it's all cleared up the better.' He helped me as I hurried into my things. I sent Alyosha off to the skating rink. He went without saying goodbye. I never saw him again.' You would have to have a heart of stone not to feel that you must read this book.

This coming week the Persephone Post will feature Carl Larsson, who of course had a huge influence on, for example, Charleston and Kettle's Yard, and on thousands of 'ordinary' home decorators. We sell 'Holiday Reading' as a card in the shop (supplied by the excellent RatherGoodArt) and what an unforgettable image it is: a mother and son sitting reading together.

Last week was made marvellous because we had ‘our’ author Tirzah Garwood’s great-granddaughter in the shop on work experience. We hugely admired her competence and friendliness. Tirzah and Eric (below on the left, with Edward Bawden, painted by Michael Rothenstein) would have been SO proud of her.

Meanwhile, Bath is in the grip of a tourist frenzy. Yet somehow the shop manages never to be too crowded. (We are set back from the main thoroughfare, at ‘a slight angle to the universe’ as Forster said so memorably about Cavafy, cf. the essay about him in PB No. 146 Two Cheers for Democracy). And we are open throughout July and August, even if some days there will only be one of us plus the office dog. Here is Gilbert nestling between two cushions, rather neatly the endpapers for our very first book William an Englishman and for our most recent One Afternoon.

This is the point in the Persephone letter where we often mention politics (and urge the politically allergic to turn away). But although worry about the upcoming by-elections is exhausting, even that is overshadowed by anxiety about the climate crisis. Can it be that we really are sleep-walking into this catastrophe? Alas, some of us are not asleep and long to do far more apart from e.g. giving up driving, recycling, reading the right books and supporting XR. Anything. But what? Jonathan Freedland summed it all up here, saying that  because the message simply hasn’t got across we must do more ‘marketing’ and ‘fast, deploying whatever tools work to push a double message: both fear and hope. Fear for all the beauty, life and lives that will be lost from a parched planet – and hope that we still have time to avert the worst.’ Or perhaps we should go and live in France (if they'd have us): George Monbiot wrote here about France's incredible efforts to e.g. eliminate planned obsolescence or protect its water resources from source to sea. 'While the UK remains transfixed by a handful of needy egotists in Westminster, across the Channel a revolution is happening. It’s a quiet, sober, thoughtful revolution, but a revolution nonetheless. France is seeking to turn itself into an ecological civilisation.'

The three part series on the evacuation (or not) of Kabul was unforgettable, a must-watch, as was Inside the Iranian Uprising. But books bring some wonderful escape from real life: the best novels we read this month were by contemporary women writers, Darling by India Knight (a loyal supporter of ours) and The Three Graces by Amanda Craig (one of our preface writers). Darling is a modern rewrite of the inimitable The Pursuit of Love and who knew that India Knight would rework it so brilliantly? Fear not, it is a tremendously good read and it honours Nancy Mitford rather than dishonouring her. And the excellent The Three Graces is about three elderly (but young at heart) women in Tuscany, with a rollicking good plot and lots of insight about being older and the joy of having a dog and  the agony of migrants and Italian food and love and being slightly on the spectrum, oh it’s rich in themes and thoroughly recommended. Otherwise we are rereading Virginia Woolf’s Diaries in the new Granta edition and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

So a trip to Glasgow beckons: to see the Burrell Collection, now declared Museum of the Year. It has this incredible painting by Degas: Edmond Duranty (1833-80). 

If anyone needs cheering up then a trip to Crazy for You (Gershwin) will surely do the trick. Whereas Dr Semmelweis, about the C19th doctor who discovered why women were dying in childbirth (because doctors weren’t washing their hands) will not be cheerful, but fantastically interesting. And we shall watch the second series of World on Fire (harrowing but inescapable) and indulge in Exploring India’s Treasures with Bettany Hughes, longing and longing to go back to India, especially to Tamil Nadu, the subject of the second programme. In fact, to remind us of India we now sell the most fabulous kantha throws/blankets/ bedspreads at £40 each (in the shop only). They are made from old, recycled fabrics, the traditional kantha cloth being an example of 'flat', or unwadded quilting, worked on multiple layers of fabric. Bangladeshi or Bengali kantha cloths were made by women for use in their own homes as bedcovers, mats and all-purpose wrappers. (Other uses: wall hangings, shawls for babies, dog blankets, picnic rugs, tablecloths and, most of all, shawls to wrap oneself in while reading a Persephone book, the brightness of the kantha throw a marvellous foil to the plain, serene grey of one of our books.)

We are looking forward to going to the revamped National Portrait Gallery. It was funny that the director was quoted as saying that ‘artistically Joshua Reynolds’s life-size “Mai” is the most important painting we have’, funny because only a few days after the Gallery’s opening, Jonathan Jones in the Guardian here reviewed a new Reynolds exhibition at Kenwood and absolutely rubbished him: ‘Reynolds has no imagination as painter…he doesn’t have enough empathy with his sitters to expose their souls…his portraits are cynical hackwork… he is a minor talent.’ Well!  In fact the next Persephone Biannually, out in October, will have a Reynolds on the cover and it is absurd to say that he has no empathy with his sitters: the picture we are using is like a novel in paint, whatever Jonathan Jones says. 

We have been reading Flight Paths: how the mystery of bird migration was solved by Rebecca Heisman, which is a subject that partially takes one far away from everyday stresses and is of course relevant to PB No. 117 The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde. In the same vein we recommend Why do Birds Suddenly Disappear by Lev Parikian.

The person we felt envious of this month (yes, we know envy is reprehensible) was Claire Lewis who, along with her partner, is caretaker of Looe Island. ‘The couple, who are nature wardens for the Cornwall Wildlife Trust, have been the island’s only residents for nearly twenty years.’ More here.

We shall be interested to read After Work: A History of the Home and the Gift for Free Time by Helen Hester and Nick Snick, the gist of which is that despite labour-saving machines the time spent on domestic labour has not fallen since the 1870s. We haven’t yet read the book, and of course the over-meticulousness of PB No. 62 How to Run Your Home Without Help is both enraging and funny, yet we obviously do spend less time because of everything else we do. (Although I notice that my grandchildren have clean clothes every day, which I indeed find over-meticulous.) After Work has prompted a re-read of the classic Cooking in Ten Minutes by Edouard de Pomiane. Some might find this dated, but we forgive everything because of the initial bit of advice which is to put a pan of water on to boil before taking off your coat; and in our case putting on Radio 4 at 7 since we pride ourselves in cooking supper during the fifteen minutes allotted to The Archers.

Donald Triplett was apparently the first person to be diagnosed with autism. In the late 1930s his parents took him to Leo Kanner, a psychiatrist, who wrote a paper about Case 1, Donald, and chose the Greek word autos which means self. Donald, he wrote, was autistic. His obituary was in the Economist here.

Finally, this is for Bath dwellers: every Friday for the last few weeks we have had a bag of organic vegetables delivered from Middle Ground Growers. It is heavenly, like having vegetables freshly picked from one’s own garden. Last week we had spring onions, lettuce, chard, spinach, courgettes and potatoes. The only disadvantage is that they have to be eaten pretty damn quick or they wilt, but goodness it is fun putting all this together with grated cheese or mackerel pate or pasta or rice or even just buttered toast. Apparently they need a few more takers for the business to break even, so if you are at all tempted, please give in to temptation.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings, Bath

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