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4th October 2022
Autumn has arrived in Bath but very pleasantly, and after the heat of the summer we are enjoying wearing socks and cardigans again. Funny to think that those days when the first thing we did every morning was pull down the awning (it’s grey but has the name of the art gallery that was here a few years ago, however we decided it was too expensive to replace) – those days will not come again for many months. By which time… Readers abroad: the UK is in such a mess at the moment that really there is nothing to say. It’s unbelievable to think that since we wrote the last Persephone Letter the Queen, whom we all admired and loved so much, has died aged 96; and we have a new prime minister. Read this furiously angry piece by Stewart Lee about the last one, whose name will never, ever cross our lips. And have a giggle about Two Soups Truss. She’s been christened this because of the little bob she gave the late Queen, cf this hilarious Victoria Wood sketch. But the question everyone asks is: why? Why does she do something so socially divisive as to reduce tax rather than impose it? No one can understand it and we read the news in horror.
But there is one bright spot: the recent bounce in the polls for Labour, and the speeches by Keir Starmer, Angela Rayner and Rachel Reeves. The latter is one of our preface writers, so we felt a special thrill of pride. The novel she wrote about for us, National Provincial, focuses on politics in 1930s Leeds and about the divisions within a small community. (Of course no novelist could ever have envisaged the vast divisions caused by Brexit.)
Meanwhile (and you can hear the sigh of relief from the Persephone readers who hate it when we mention politics – yet how can we not?), meanwhile we serve customers in the shop, we fetch fresh dahlias from the florist in Milsom Street, we cook autumn fruit and vegetables (marrow! apple sauce! victoria plums!), we read, and we walk the dog. Also last week we went to the inimitable Noises Off at the Bath Theatre Royal, it was starring Felicity Kendal but actually the whole cast was superb and how good it was to laugh!
Naturally Bath is beautiful in the autumn sunshine. So, from mid October, to tempt people to come here for a day trip, we are offering, for £10 a) a copy of the new Persephone Literary Map of Bath and b) a cup of tea and a Bath bun. The idea is you come to the shop to get the map, walk round for an hour or two map in hand (there are 45 addresses in total but probably 20 could be visited in an afternoon) and then return to the shop for said tea and bun, or should it be bunn.
Other news: the new Biannually will start to reach readers in the UK around October 18th (and be available online for readers abroad), which is when our two new books are published. One is The Waters under the Earth, a 1965 novel by the naturalist and conservationist John Moore about the destruction of the Gloucestershire countryside with the approach of the M5 from Birmingham and the attempts by the family at the centre of the book to evade, or accept, modernisation, and to keep their comfortable way of life as it always was. The second new Persephone book is The Other Day, alas the last Dorothy Whipple we shall ever publish: it is a delightful and perceptive memoir of her childhood.
And in even more exciting news: Lydia, who used to run the shop in Lamb’s Conduit Street, has had a second baby, a boy called Gabriel. We sent her this quilt.
The prize for the wittiest (but perhaps least kind) review of the year must go to the Bristol-based writer Johanna Thomas-Corr for her New Statesman review of a memoir by another of our preface writers, A N Wilson. While shrieking with laughter, we did have to feel sympathy for Wilson. (But perhaps he is immune to criticism.) She says: 'We have here the full 24 piece dinner service of upper-middle class clichés: bombastic father, nanny attachment issues, Dickensian schoolmasters, boarding school abuses, by ‘eck caricatures of the working class, three-piece suits, Staffordshire pots, misty-eyed memories of Oxford, religious wobbles, wicker-basket bicycles…’ etc etc through to ‘a tendency to repeat Latin phrases ad nauseam.’ This is fabulous writing, and also brave.
The Financial Times magazine had a rather moving article about some Ukrainian ‘creatives’ fighting to save their culture, who have chosen to stay in Kyiv for as long as they can. ‘All are united in their opinion that preserving Ukraine’s culture is crucial. '"In Kyiv, it’s easier to be free,” says one creative. “It always was, and still is a melting pot of Ukraine.”’ Details of ways to support the Ukrainian Emergency Art Fund can be found here.
There are two plays on in London which, according to the reviewer in the Financial Times, we should make every effort to see. One is the ‘restlessly clever and thought-provoking’ Eureka Day at the Old Vic and the other is Jews. In their Own Words at the Royal Court which is ‘theatre as powerful public forum: a chance to focus with rigour and honesty – and humour – on our society… a stark and important warning about the insidiousness of prejudice.’
The marvellous Beth Orton has a new album out called Weather Alive, extract here, and she is touring the UK and the US this autumn. Nilanjana Roy, who first alerted us to the brilliance of The Oppermanns five years ago, wrote about Maus: A Survivor’s Tale (1986) here and if there is anyone reading this who has never read Maus, you must; our edition of The Oppermanns has been reprinted in the US, although sadly without Richard J Evans’s Foreword and Notes; and Claire Messud wrote about the American edition in Harper’s. And if, like us, the tears for the Queen only came during the slow walk from Westminster Abbey to Wellington Arch, you might want to know that the music played by the marching bands was Mendelssohn’s Funeral March, Chopin's Funeral March, and Beethoven’s three Funeral Marches .
The Story of Art Without Men is the title of a new book by Katy Hessel asking the perennial question – why are there no great female artists? There are of course, but you only have to be told that one per cent of the paintings in the National Gallery are by women to realise that it will be many, many years before painters like Gwen John, Anna Airy, Winifred Knights or Evelyn Dunbar are allowed near the National Gallery, let alone be called ‘great’.
The Guardian’s Charlotte Higgins mentioned Mollie Panter-Downes when she wrote about the media and the death of the Queen. She said that, in contrast to our 24/7 coverage, ‘on the day of the King’s death in 1952 the BBC simply stopped broadcasting, with the result that “in many remote rural districts, householders … sent for the local repair man,” according to Mollie Panter-Downes in the New Yorker'; do think of giving £3 a month to Book Trust, which buys books for children who don’t have any, it is such a worthy cause; and the cheering news from Bath is that Britain’s oldest open air lido, the Cleveland Pools, reopened this month.
Finally, for those of us who need cheering up, which is probably everyone, the answer is to go and see Mrs Harris Goes to Paris. The trailer reveals that Persephone readers who adored the film of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day (trailer here) will love it just as much.
8 Edgar Buildings, Bath
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