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1st September 2022

A few people have very kindly emailed to ask where we are ie. no Letter since the end of June and no Post since early July.  Well, we have had rather an eventful summer: the Persephone girls have enjoyed/coped with a month in Vancouver, illness (fine now), a week in France, a week in Corfu, a broken femur (mending well), new student digs, the illness of a close relation, and so on and so forth. Only Gilbert the office dog has kept on with his calm routine of two (small) walks a day, two (small) meals a day and quite a few naps. 

So today, September 1st, the Letter restarts. And the Post has a relaunch! It is now called The Persephone Post Mark Two and will be done by Jane Brocket. She has been a friend to Persephone Books for twenty years (ever since the famous day when she came in to the shop and said 'I am going to start a blog' and we said 'what is a blog?'), she wrote the Preface to High Wages (surely one of the top twenty Persephone favourites) and when she offered to do the Post every (week)day we didn't hesitate for an instant before gratefully accepting. (Obviously she would be paid a fee for doing this but for the next few months at least will donate it to the British Red Cross Pakistan Appeal.)

But through it all our marvellous readers continued to order books from the website, to buy books in the shop, to write to us and to put comments on Twitter and Instagram. On the latter, a few days ago, someone said they had very much enjoyed Flush and Patience. WHAT? we shrieked silently. Only two of our books? There are 141 other equally incredible Persephone books waiting for you. What about Laski and Whipple and Miss Ranskill and The Fortnight in September and the short story collections and even The Oppermanns?

This last was often mentioned when, recently, we had a cup of coffee with Miranda Mills  – see her on You Tube and Instagram.  One of her most popular videos is The Comfort Book Club and we had a good discussion about the nature of a comfort read (which The Oppermanns most definitely isn’t). It’s a very interesting subject. For at what point does a good read become a comfort read? Why does Persephone have relatively few (of the latter)? And does it mean a certain amount of, well, shutting oneself off from reality and simply immersing oneself in a good story? 

Yet how can one ignore the reality of the disaster in Pakistan? It's on an unimaginable scale of humanitarian catastrophe. Or, here in the UK, the appalling inflation, the hideous increase in energy prices, and every day some new blow to cope with (40 degrees heat, Liz Truss for prime minister, raw sewage in  rivers, the continuing war in Ukraine). So no, we are not guilty of ignoring reality. But bring on the comfort reads.

So it’s September, Bath is looking dreamily beautiful in the late summer sunshine, the dahlias are marvellous on the allotment (these are the dahlias on the endpaper for The Fortnight in September)

although today in the shop we have Marks and Spencers sunflowers.

And, even more cheeringly, we are bringing out two fantastic books in the autumn: Dorothy Whipple’s memoir of her childhood and John Moore’s ‘condition of England’ novel about the 1950s. So in October there will be a new Biannually. The book groups will restart. A few events are planned. And life at Persephone Books will continue in as positive a frame of mind as we can manage.

So yes, our greatest solace over the summer was reading, most recently Her Son’s Wife by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. This is a book so wonderful that, like The Deepening Stream, Persephone Book no. 141, we were distraught when it ended. Who are your favourite novelists people sometimes ask; and the answer would be (taking for granted George Eliot, Mrs Gaskell, Tolstoy): E M Forster, Elizabeth Taylor, Dorothy Whipple and Dorothy Canfield Fisher. As to the latter: when oh when are Americans going to realise that they have this marvellous novelist who has never had the recognition she deserves? Goodness only knows. 

And there were many other things to enjoy over the summer. Maggie O’Farrell wrote an excellent piece here about Mrs Dalloway. Then the Guardian ran an article about Eric Ravilious by Claire Armitstead to coincide with the launch of the film about him, Drawn to War, which takes its inspiration, and more, from Long Live Great Bardfield. Ravilious died eighty years ago tomorrow, September 2nd, lost in a plane over Iceland. The article concludes: ‘This might be the story of a great man, but it is a tale told by a woman.’ Which is why we would have preferred the film to focus much more on Tirzah. But there we are. If only the heading of the article hadn't been: 'He died in his 30s living the life he had dreamed of.' Please, no.

Do read about Ko Jimmy in the Economist here. He was executed in Myanmar on July 23rd and we wept when we read his obituary. We send every empathetic thought to his wife Nilar and daughter Sunshine.


And do look at the marvellous paintings by Caroline Walker, who paints women doing domestic work. There was a good article about her in the Financial Times here.

And for the travellers amongst us, or at least for readers living in Finland: there is an exhibition in Helsinki (on until January 8th) about the life and work of Wivi Long. The celebration of her 70th birthday on May 20th 1942 was attended by 46 female architects from all over Finland.

This event was the starting point for Architecta, the Finnish Association of Women Architects. Eighty years on the Museum of Finnish Architecture is marking the 150th anniversary of the birth of Wivi Lönn and the 80th anniversary of Architecta.

Having just mourned the death of Shirley Hughes, now we mourn the death of Raymond Briggs. His Ethel and Ernest is one of our favourite books and we are showing the film in the shop on September 21st (tickets still available).


Back to The Oppermanns. We were very pleased that a forthcoming legal book, A Rule of Law for Our New Age of Anxiety by Stephen Toope, will have as a chapter epigraph this sentence (from page 376): ‘One could not go on living and keeping silent and looking on while they stupidly and shamelessly distorted the truth.’                                                   

And finally. We had given up the Today programme on Radio 4 long ago. But happened to turn it on yesterday morning at quarter to nine. What absolute joy that for the next fifteen minutes it was only female voices: Martha Kearney and  Mishal Hussein, a marvellous lawyer called Wendy Joseph, an equally marvellous Auschwitz survivor (Tova Friedman), and then the so-much-missed Bridget Kendall talking about Gorbachev. Five women and not one annoying man. You can imagine the groans when the newsreader at 9 was a man and then they had the voice of – Boris Johnson! Grim. Let’s all re-read Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland about a world without men (says someone happily married to a man with three wonderful sons and lots of male friends, but you get the point).

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings












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