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7 January 2021

Here in the UK, or DUK (Disunited UK) as we now call it ruefully, the monotony of everyday life is becoming quite hard to cope with.

This was how the letter began yesterday, before the scenes in Washington. These might, just might, spell the end of Trumpism. What with the heart-warming triumph of Georgia and the criminality of Trump's inciting the protesters, maybe, just maybe there is new hope for America.

We continued yesterday: And yet anyone who has Covid would give everything they possessed for a bit of quiet monotony. We all know this full well and the healthy try hard not to grumble. Or to rant indeed about the government’s incompetence. But the roll-out of the vaccine is a great thing. Here, to remind you, are  the vaccine heroes, Sarah Gilbert, Ugur Sahin and Ozlem Tureci.

Of course there are hundreds more but these are the three we focus on. And in fact we have just had the vaccine, the Sarah Gilbert one we call it (she is named after Gilbert, the office dog, obviously, what a great name that is turning out to be!) so in a week or two we shall be able to hug people. Only joking  – will we ever hug again?

Otherwise,  those lucky enough to be well and (relatively) cheerful keep going with our gentle routines of walks, gardening, cooking, tidying, zooming, reading and watching television, and get joy out of small things – open fires, hyacinths in bloom (at this time of year we always used to have those in the shop, she says wisttfully), homemade bread. But through it all runs the flickering flame of anxiety for family and friends and the unasked question – when will it all end?

On top of everything there is the tragedy of Brexit. The shame and humiliation of what, to take one small example, we put those poor lorry drivers through is incredibly upsetting.  And what about goods coming in to Britain? Will our marvellous German printer (who managed to deliver eight reprints three days before Christmas) be able to print and deliver the April books? Well, if necessary they will have to become May or even June books. But print them we shall, somehow. A reminder: they are The Rector’s Daughter, a wonderfully written 1924 novel which should be reaching a far wider audience than it has been for the last few years. In June 2020 The Times, wondering why Flora Mayor ‘with her impossibly subtle style and her deft eye for character’ is not better known, observed that ‘The Rector’s Daughter is one of the saddest books ever written [but] its 200 or so pages [300 or so in our edition] are alive with compassion, warmth and the sense of human possibility.’ Our other Spring book is the extraordinary, unforgettable The Deepening Stream, Dorothy Canfield Fisher’s 1930 novel about a young girl’s growth to maturity and her life in France during the First World War. 

So what else has kept us occupied during these peculiar and upsetting weeks? Well the best thing on television, by miles, was Uncle Vanya here. It is not just throughly recommended, it is unmissable. So so much better than something like Bridgerton one  can hardly bear to mention them in the same breath/sentence. Of course Bridgerton was fun. But this production of Uncle Vanya is indeed ‘a great work of art’ (Will Gompertz here).

We read the new Jonathan Coe Mr Wilder & Me, which was excellent, and a book about food and class called Scoff    a good title as the very word scoff has two meanings ie. both food itself, and to laugh at, and this book is about how the two meanings are connected, well unfortunately how they are connected because this is a book about food snobbery, about which foods are ‘U’ or ‘non’U’, and sometimes it makes painful reading. (The writer of this letter thinks about food snobbery often when cooking sweet potatoes; her mother was a solicitor in the Portobello Road in the ‘60s and ‘70s and when she emerged from her office to go home sweet potatoes would have been heaped high on the fruit and vegetable stalls. Yet she never bought them. This book is about why – why she would have bought kohlrabi or salsify but not sweet potatoes, even though she was the opposite of a snob. She wouldn’t exactly have scoffed, she just wouldn’t have bought them.) Finally, it is rather cheering that several Persephone cookery books are mentioned in Scoff.)

And we re-read the marvellous The Waiting Years by Fumiko Enchi which we tried for years to reprint without success, now Vintage have published it in this country but, one has to say without being disloyal to a revered fellow publisher, it’s published in a very half-hearted way with no preface and no ‘apparatus’, also the translation is American so they didn’t even spend £300 getting someone to sort out color and honor. Ah well, perhaps we are pedants for thinking these things matter.

Of course we have read several other books but these are the stand-outs; including, for the fourth or fifth time, The Harsh Voice. Do watch this 1976  Rebecca West interview, What a woman!

Also do read this article by Zoe Williams about why an episode of Hancock’s Half Hourhere, defines the culture wars that have riven this country for the last few years – it’s profound. 

The Victorian Chaise-longue was discussed on the always excellent Backlisted Pod here. They had a recording of Marghanita Laski saying : ‘What really has the power to chill and alarm is when real life slips in. In my book, it was a piece of furniture that created the terror – something that was there and real. Or the famous story by Shirley Jackson, the American story ‘The Lottery’ is terrifying because, although it’s an imagined real life, it’s real life.’ (This story is in the first Persephone Book of Short Stories, PB No. 100.)

There was a good article in the Economist about the Christmas round robin/newsletter which pointed out that they provide a rich social history. Never will this be so true as in the time of Covid.

Michael Herbert (who introduced us to Madeline Linford, cf the story in the latest Biannually here) kindly told us that five episodes of the influential and path-breaking Shoulder to Shoulder about the suffragettes is now available on the web free,

details here, here, here, here and here (the second episode has not been uploaded, maybe for copyright reasons). This is required viewing for all feminists. Well, required viewing for everyone.

 It seems that The Home-maker is now an audiobook, here, this would be the best possible listening while jogging or doing  housework.

Lydia was on Open Book talking eloquently about English Climate which, she said, ‘perfectly aligns the domestic and the political.’

And some good news: Fran is going to re-start reading a short story at 11 on Elevenses with Fran (look up Fran's Bookshop on Instagram).

Finally, it was marvellous to read that Biden has picked two excellent people, Jennifer Granholm and Gina McCarthy, to work on energy and climate change. 


Nicola Beauman

as from 59 Lamb's Conduit Street



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