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17th May 2023

Well, the coronation excitement was felt particularly here in Bath because the first ever coronation, of King Edgar the Peaceful, took place in the Abbey (but it would have looked rather different) in 973 AD and then became the template for all subsequent coronations. It’s odd to think that so much of that rather absurd stuff (the King being changed into a white hospital gown! a huge sword being carried pointing upwards!) was invented, as it were, in Bath so long ago. Now we wait to see if the new king will be able to go on focusing on the things he cares about or will have to sink into being, well, kingly. Cf. a fascinating piece in the New Statesman about his decades-long devotion to Transylvania, as well as an article in the latest edition of the AJR magazine (notice especially the photographs) about his involvement with the Jewish community: ‘King Charles III has been an active friend to Jews all his life and has met hundreds of Holocaust survivors and refugees, usually wearing his own personalised blue velvet kippah.’ Could this have anything to do with the fact, often forgotten, that the new king is a Cambridge graduate and imbued Cambridge values for three years? See, for example, the essay 'Jew Consciousness' in our recently published Two Cheers for Democracy: A Selection by that apotheosis of Cambridge values, E M Forster. Or could it be because of the king's grandmother, Princess Alice, who sheltered a Jewish family in the palace in Athens during the war? We have resolved to find out more about her, to see how much influence she had on her grandson, and will read Hugo Vickers's biography. Also, we wait to see if his sensible devotion to homeopathic remedies gives him the same good health as his parents and his grandmother. Cue jeering laughter from some readers of this Letter, but quiet confidence from actual users of homeopathy. (For the waverer, may we recommend this starter kit from Helios, which comes with a useful instruction booklet; don't use it for serious illnesses of course, homeopathy can’t cure pneumonia or a broken leg, but when you feel sick or have a headache or a bruise or a cold coming on, it’s the first course of action for THOSE IN THE KNOW.)

Oh dear, the stridency of that last phrase makes us sound like the shocking and upsetting Trumpists at the CNN New Hampshire debate. The worst thing was not just the Trump rhetoric, with its devastating echoes of Hitler in the 1930s (the lies! the prejudice! the cruelty!), but the way the audience bought into it. Exactly like Germans in the 1930s. Sort of unbelievable. Even more so when you think there is a real chance Trump will be President again, cf. this Jonathan Freedland article.

But hey ho, on we go, and maybe those who have bought Two Cheers will have been slightly cheered, will be consoling themselves, that history goes in waves and that the good guys will surely have their moment eventually. And not forgetting the 95% of humanity which behaves with kindness and decency; it's just we don't read about them in the papers. In this context, we were pleased to see our Preface writer Rachel Reeves making several excellent interventions in the House of Commons, and it will be nice to raise a glass, well a cup of coffee, to her this week when the morning book group discusses National Provincial, for which she wrote the preface. Some will say it is too long for them to ‘get through’. But in fact it’s curiously page-turning. Even though the focus is local politics, it's a wonderful read, as well as being interesting about life in 1930s Leeds  (admittedly a niche interest).

Still on the subject of political scandals, alas: Lenny Henry’s play August in England, about the Windrush scandal, is clearly a triumph and some of us are planning to go to London especially to see it (it's on at the Bush Theatre until June 10th).

Talking of going to London, the Portraits of Dogs exhibition at the Wallace Collection is a must for dog lovers.

This autumn Persephone is planning a bookshop tour ie. one or two of us will drive round to half a dozen? a dozen? bookshops, giving talks (with cake) about Persephone Books and possibly being a guest at book groups or festivals, if anyone would like us. Could any bookshop owner or book group or festival organiser who might be interested in welcoming us please get in touch?

Persephone tries to give as much as possible to charity. Our last donation was for a Shelter Box.

We are so sad that the author of one of the best short stories in The Persephone Book of Short Stories, ‘A Few Problems in the Day Case Unit', Georgina Hammick, has died. Here is her obituary. And Andrew Motion, who lived with her for a while, wrote a superb poem about her in the New Statesman (but you have to subscribe, we of course think it's well worth it) here.

It was also moving to read this obituary of Traute Lafrenz (1920-2023).

She helped distribute anti-Nazi leaflets and, although she went to prison for a year, the Nazis did not murder her (as they had murdered her friend Sophie Scholl). And everyone at Persephone is sorry Kate Saunders has died, she was a marvellous writer and a warm and empathetic person.

The New Yorker ran one of Mollie Panter-Downes’s ‘Letters from London’ about the coronation (we quoted from it on Instagram).

The political news has been so terrible (for liberals) for such a long time that the UK local elections last week were very cheering. Also the tide is slightly turning about Brexit, but only slightly. We liked the ending to this article in the Financial Times by Simon Kuper: ‘Older Brexiters [he means people who are old and thus more likely to be Brexiters] have learnt that there’s a worse political fate than losing. It’s winning while being wrong.’ Huh!

Also in the FT Janan Ganesh pointed out all the marvellous things that can be watched free on You Tube. He mentioned James Baldwin debating William Buckley in 1965, we would pick Jacqueline du Pré playing the cello.

How excellent that Laura Trevelyan has given up her job at the BBC and is becoming a full-time slavery reparations campaigner. If only she had been appointed by the government. Some hope.

People in Cambridge are enjoying the Lucie Rie exhibition but, hurrah, it is coming to the Holburne in Bath.Then, later in the year, the Gwen John exhibition is also coming to the Holburne (and Persephone is proud to be making a small contribution to sponsorship). Is there any mileage in an event on Gwen John and her influence on women writers...?

Now the weather is better it's time to go and bathe in the hot water at the Thermal Bath Spa (although it is also invigorating in the winter, with one's head cold but one's body warmed by the water). Funny to think how healthy it is although, rather like homeopathy, it is impossible to quantify its good effect; nevertheless ‘taking the waters’ does make one feel amazing, and indeed there is something almost magical about it. Read about 'the waters' here.

People in the UK have been very much enjoying No Mow May. One of the best wildflowers meadows is in Cambridge, outside E M Forster’s old rooms. Here is a photograph of the meadow being harvested last year. Now, in May, it's coming into peak season, then at the end of August or early September it will be mown once more, of course using horses.

Pauline Viardot was Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3. What a star! People have been asking us if we shall major on women composers when we begin the Persephone concerts in September. Naturally we shall try, and Viardot will be one of the first to be featured. Here is the third of six Morceaux for Violin and Piano. Heaven. Why oh why isn't she better known as a composer? Hmmm. Most of us know the answer.

Finally, the best thing we have seen for ages was David Attenborough: A Life on Air first shown in 2002 and now available on BBC iPlayer here. He is wise, clever, funny (so funny!) and generally admirable: basically we cannot recommend this programme enough. Children should watch too because the subtext is  'what a piece of work is man' ie. that all of us should aspire to something of this level of hard work and commitment and kindness and humour.  The good guys are out there, millions of them, it's just sometimes you have to bat away the smog to see them.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings



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