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18th September 2023

A triumph in the bookshop is that the Virginia creeper we recently planted in a half barrel on the flat roof outside the back window is the most amazing shade of red. We love to think of the beautiful red leaves covering the whole outside wall in two or three years. Well, unless there’s a drought or a flood or it dies from natural causes. But we are full of optimism.


This week Bath has been full of people dressed in eighteenth-century clothes for the Jane Austen Festival. Sometimes they come in to the shop and we can admire what they are wearing, it’s admirable to see the effort they have made. However, there was no eighteenth-century garb on Thursday at the first Persephone Concert, although it would have been rather appropriate since some of the pieces (by Telemann, William Herschel and Mozart) were written in the eighteenth century. The concert was great fun – an hour of salon or café music played by Sue Lord and David Knowles; forty people drank champagne and ate cheese straws, as the sun went down and our lovely first floor room was gently lit by the Anglepoise lamp (first designed in Bath of course, in 1932) on the piano. This latter, which is an Erard, has come in for some criticism for being elderly (it’s 175) , but it was, we thought, magnificent. (Apparently what it mostly needs is a pedal-replacement and we are going to try and organise this without subjecting it to a two-year waiting list.)

And last night we went to the theatre, to Farewell Mister Haffmann. It was a black comedy about life in Paris during the WW2 but somehow it worked tremendously well – an hour and a half of fun and seriousness which was always intelligent and witty and mingled the tragedy and humour in a perfectly acceptable way. Otherwise the best film we’ve seen this month is She Said with Carey Mulligan, it's unmissable.  On the same theme, we watched The Assistant, which again was thought-provoking and slightly unbearable.

This Letter is going to be virtually politics-free: we are by now too weary to talk about the UK government and even though we know we should be as concerned as ‘Mavis’ (cf. this very good Andrew Marr article about the ‘Middle-Aged, Volatile, Insurgent voters reshaping Britain’s politics…who want to hear more on climate change, housing, civil liberties and the NHS’) somehow we are exactly where the Tories want us to be, which is exhausted, wrung out, depleted by the effects of Brexit, oblivious, longing for it all to be over but when oh lord, when?  We are proud that the shop is a little oasis of tranquillity, indeed, don’t oases have watering holes which is why we are always delighted to fill people’s water bottles.

Sunday morning, when this is being written, is always a joy because there is Jane Brocket’s weekly offering on Substack. It is invariably fascinating and inspiring, she has now done fifty but the one about sewing machines was one of our very favourite. Today's is about Cornwall. We feel so proud that Jane does the Persephone Post every day, last week about the great Harold Harvey.  

Here is an article about New Ground in North London, Britain’s first co-housing community exclusively for women over 50. It sounds pretty magical, rather like living in a woman’s college but with more space and without essay deadlines.

Francesca did a Persephone event at Tetbury, was interviewed by the novelist Rachel Joyce and they discovered, live on air as it were, that the three little girls in One Afternoon are based on Rachel and her two sisters who lived next door to Siân James! What an incredible, almost unbelievable chance is that? And then Rachel revealed that Siân inspired her to be a writer!

Simon Jenkins wrote a piece headed: ‘Ministers are killing the high street. We need a people’s revolt.’ But what can the people/Mavis do? We try and no one listens. In France they have rules about supporting the butcher, the baker and the candlestick maker but here we have 'the free market' and so all we have round us in Edgar Buildings is alcohol, alcohol and more alcohol. (Luckily, this is generally after 6pm, so it doesn't really impinge on Persephone Books.) However, there is some very good news. Just along the road, where there used to be an estate agent, they are opening a deVOL kitchens showroom. Now that is cheering. Not that we’ll be able to buy a croissant there, or English apples, or something nice for tea, or even, as in France, some carrottes rapées. But we love love deVOL kitchens (from afar) and to have them as neighbours is, well, magnificent.

We are so pleased because Charlie Lee-Potter, our dear friend and a great supporter of Persephone Books (she once wrote a preface in about a week when we were stuck) is going to be Writer in Residence at Wytham Woods in Oxford, details here.They are very, very lucky to have her.

The two new books are in and if anyone would like to write about them, either electronically or in hard copy/IRL, please ask us for an advance copy – of either Out of the Window by Madeline Linford, a 1930 novel about an unfortunate marriage by the first woman’s page editor of the Guardian, or Sofia Petrovna by Lydia Chukovskaya, a novella showing a woman slowly and painfully realising what Stalin is doing to the Russian people during 1936-37. More about the new books in the Autumn/Winter Biannually which will start arriving in mid-October and will also be on our website.

Finally, on the email we sent out last week about next April's Persephone Festival we had this photograph of the hen pheasant that visited the shop. We love the photo so much that we are repeating it here.


Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings




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