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7 March 2021

We shall be seeing reproductions of this extraordinary portrait often during the next few weeks: it's of the art collector Ivan Abramovitch Morozov (1871-1921), star of The Morozov Collection: Icons of Modern Art which is about to open in Paris here. It was painted in 1910 by Valentin Serov. 1910! The year, as Virginia Woolf said, ‘human nature changed. All human relations shifted, and when human relations change there is at the same time a change in religion, conduct, politics, and literature.’ The year of Howards End. The year of British political upheaval (you can read about it here). The end of the Edwardian era. The faint foreshadowing of the First World War for those who could see it. The year the suffragettes in Britain really made their mark. Thinking about 1910 suggests a rereading of The Strange Death of Liberal England. How history repeats itself... 

The painting is so memorable because of the expression on Morozov’s face.  And we have chosen to start this Persephone Letter with it because something about his expression rather sums up our national mood at the moment: grumpy, weary, a bit hostile (although for most of us our background would be a computer screen rather than a Matisse). Is anyone feeling warm-hearted and cheery and full of friendship to all and sundry? Sadly, not. Naturally we are thrilled that the UK vaccine roll-out has been so speedy and efficient and this may mean that Covid  gradually becomes a thing of the past. But as far as everyday life goes, it's hard for most of us not to look a bit Morozov-ish. (More details about him in this Apollo article and of course in the biography published last year.)

If only we could go to Paris to see the exhibition! If only we could eat a meal cooked by someone else! If only… If only… And yet we know how fortunate we are. Speaking personally, and obviously this is not so for thousands and thousands of people, we are still extremely well. And so are all the Persephone girls. Our days may be monotonous but they are crammed with work and housework and Zooms and walks and really mustn’t grumble is our absolute mantra.  But… deep down… well, let’s not delve too deep.

And as for Persephone, all is fine and thanks to you, our wonderful readers, our business continues not exactly unimpeded but certainly it continues. And we feel it has a future. So sometimes, when we feel grumpy and Morozov-ish (surely as an adjective that will really catch on) we take a trawl round our website and feel proud. In fact, we have had a lot of these trawls recently because in the rush to migrate to our new platform in July some things on the site were left in rather a rough and ready state. This is now being sorted, in fact we might say has been sorted. But please, if there are things about our website or about our ordering system that are irritating, do let us know. Friendly criticism is madly helpful and we welcome it. How otherwise can we know if people are finding it too annoying to navigate?

The Royal Academy magazine asked some of its contributors to choose a book that has influenced them. Eleanor Parker chose Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love (1670), calling it ‘Medieval culture at its most humane’. The title page is a typographical revelation.

There is always such a mystique about making yogurt but actually it’s terribly easy, you just have to be scrupulous about washing everything in very hot water. Bring a pint of milk to the boil, leave it to cool to ‘blood temperature’, stir in two ounces (about a tablespoon ) of yogurt, leave in the saucepan or pour into a container and put it overnight somewhere fairly warm like a linen cupboard or near a radiator. The same with bread, don’t bother with an actual recipe, just pour roughly a third of a large bag of brown flour into a bowl, add three teaspoons of salt and three teaspoons of dried yeast, stir well before adding enough warm (blood temperature ) water to form a loaf shape.. Put it into a greased loaf tin and leave ditto in the linen cupboard or somewhere warm till risen. Then bake.

Home Front, the BBC Radio 4 serial that we loved so much from 2014-18, is online and here is one of the episodes about Persephone Book No.126,  Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected.

If you are in the mood to go to the theatre please watch this excellent play by Samuel Bailey, it is called Shook and we recommend so highly that if reviewing it we would have given it five stars. Nominated for seven Off West End Awards and The Stage Debut Award for Best Writer, this “startlingly funny” (WhatsOnStage) show was due to transfer to the West End. Then coronavirus hit. But you can watch it on your computer screen for a mere £10 here. Please do. (It takes a few minutes to adjust to all the different accents but stick with it, you won't regret it.)

Meanwhile, the best thing we have seen recently is the Peter Morgan television play about Christopher Jefferies, the Bristol school teacher accused of murder: superbly written and acted, not to be missed. It was made in 2014 and for a long time was absurdly unavailable but now can be seen here. Please could someone recommend something else good? (Bearing in mind that violence is not our thing.) Grace and Frankie has becoming boring and really it would be nice to have something, anything to turn to after supper. It's a bit sad that the greatest happiness has come from re-watching old black and white films.

Look at this marvellous painting.

It was painted in 1914 by Malcolm Drummond and is thought to be his first wife Zina Ogilvie. It was used on the Penguin edition of The Rector’s Daughter by F M Mayor which we are reissuing in October.

And look at the The Silver Locket’s blog about Gwen Raverat, first of all it reproduces several illustrations for A Sentimental Journey and then a few from The Runaway, Persephone Books No. 37.


The Sterne illustrations were for an ambitious Penguin series of ten classics reissued with especially commissioned wood engravings, but ithe series never took off partly because the paper was underwhelming and so the quality of the wood engravings was disappointing. We are tempted to reprint Pride and Prejudice with illustrations by Helen Binyon and could of course freshen them up with our lovely Munken Pure paper. But maybe there are enough editions of Jane Austen...

Finally, we were sent a very interesting email in response to my querying whether the Davies sisters (on the Post the week before last) would really have bought paintings in Paris in 1918, The answer was as follows: '

Gwendoline Davies was certainly in Paris in 1918. The sisters served with the Red Cross during the war (with the Scottish Women’s Hospitals under the auspices of the French Red Cross) {which means they would have worked with Cicely Hamilton] setting up a ‘Cantine des Dames Anglaises’ at Troyes, mainly for French troops. Gwendoline took the opportunity to travel to Paris to buy pictures, even when the city was under bombardment. The two Cezannes she bought in 1918 at Bernheim-Jeune were shipped rapidly back to England, where they went on display at the Victoria Art Gallery in Bath, attracting visitors such as Clive Bell and the 18 year old Kenneth Clark, on whom they made a profound impression. Ultimately though, it was the extreme suffering that the sisters witnessed during the war and in its aftermath that largely brought an end to Gwendoline’s collecting by the mid 1920s, as she turned her efforts to philanthropy with more immediate and tangible human benefits. 

Nicola Beauman

as from 59 Lamb's Conduit Street.

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