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7th December 2022
At Persephone Books we are not great television watchers (being after all print addicts) but we do enjoy something good and are always asking people plaintively whether they can recommend anything as good as Anne with an E (they rarely can). But a programme very much after our own heart, and the best thing we have seen on television for ages, is Simon Schama’s three-part series History of Now. Its premise is that all art is political. And in future, when people urge us, as publishers, to keep off politics, we shall simply direct them to these three programmes or to the FT article on the subject. It's called 'Art versus the Tyrants' and Schama writes: ‘Authoritarians can mobilise their heavy artillery of terror, torture, imprisonment and persecution, but in the end ... they are not that well equipped to fight the asymmetrical battle between lies and truth.’ (In this context may we remind you that when the prime minister before the prime minster before last rewrote the ministerial code he 'removed all references to honesty, integrity, transparency and accountability.')
This is A Parachutist Crash Lands 1946 and was a design for a mural. And here is what we would have bought if there was space on the wall.
Night Nurses is by one Eva Travers and all that is known about her is that she drew during the war. And how she drew!
Talking of forgotten women artists, we are delighted that Katy Hessel has won the Waterstone’s Book of the Year for The Story of Art Without Men. What an incredible statistic that Gombrich’s iconic The Story of Art (1950) mentioned no women at all in the first edition and only one in the second edition. Also it is incredible to think that when some of us originally read Gombrich, we accepted it all. Never once did it occur to us to march, chanting, where are the women artists? Were we asleep? We must have been. (Though Simon Schama is good on 1970s feminism – Kate Millet and Germaine Greer et. al. were certainly not asleep.)
Michael Prodger wrote a good piece in the New Statesman about Norman Wilkinson who ‘had the graphic equivalent of perfect pitch and understood that posters have an emotional function too.’
A reproduction of this poster is available here, it would make an excellent Christmas present. (We always have a few original posters for sale but they are more expensive of course.)
We mourn Hannah Pick-Goslar (Economist obituary here), who twice was one of the last people to see Anne Frank, first in Amsterdam in the late summer of 1942 just before she left for ‘Switzerland’ and then at Bergen-Belsen shortly before Anne’s death.
Persephone Books left a bid for this at the Bonham's sale.
It is from Terence Conran’s Estate and wouldn't it look magnificent in the upstairs room? Also, how wonderful to have something that belonged to the great man himself. Of course bentwood furniture and its aesthetic has been a huge influence on Persephone Books. In fact en premières noces in the early 1970s we ran a shop selling bentwood furniture in George Street in London. It closed after a few months a) because of the difficulty of finding carpenters to do repairs and b) because some of us are so sick when first pregnant that they can do absolutely nothing but groan and try not to throw up. Which is why we have this prurient fascination with women who do not know they are pregnant and go upstairs to the bathroom to GIVE BIRTH. How? What? There's a book to be written about these extraordinary people. Even Chelsea on The Archers seemed to feel nothing at all. Unbelievable. We digress.
More interestingly: two sisters have turned No Surrender into a graphic novel, Guardian review here. Wouldn't it have been friendly if they had acknowledged that we have had it in print since 2011 or even sent us a copy? But hey...
Here is the picture of all the people who have the Order of Merit.
We noticed that Neil MacGregor (second from the right in the front row) is not Sir and has obviously, and admirably, refused it. We approve of the Order of Merit because it was given to E M Forster, although sadly and ridiculously only the year before he died so he didn’t have time to enjoy the annual lunch at Buckingham Palace. Look and rejoice at that marvellous trio in the front row: Tim Berners-Lee, David Attenborough and Tom Stoppard.
We have had some excellent Persephone events, including a screening of the film of They Were Sisters. People who had read the book, which was nearly everyone in fact, were intrigued that the ending is so different, as is the fate of Crusoe the dog. The following week Miranda Mills was in conversation with Clara Jones, they were both eloquent and interesting and made a very good team. Here is Miranda’s excellent video about her visit to Bath, which includes a tour of Marshall Wade's House (a few days staying there would be a spectacular present to give someone); but all Miranda's videos on her YouTube Channel are excellent.
Lydia, who used to run the Persephone bookshop when we were in Bloomsbury, thanked us for the Fine Cell Work quilt we had sent her new baby using this postcard: she knew we would love it. This kitchen is in the Lower East Side Tenement Museum in New York.
The Times featured a London house for sale at a price which is out of reach of 99.99% of us. But look at this picture of the sitting room.
It’s ironic that this should be used to illustrate a woppingly expensive house since one of the things we are proudest of is that our books are not expensive. For £12 (if you buy three) you get a very well-chosen, or should we say curated, book which is meticulously edited and has an excellent preface, a beautiful typeface, good paper, endpapers front and back and a bookmark.
Please try and listen to the Armistice Day episode of Radio 4's Home Front – we have said this before but for anyone with the leisure, we totally recommend the whole four years of the series. Any day now, well maybe next year when it’s five years since it ended, we shall re-listen to the whole thing. The same cannot be said of The Archers – nevertheless we turn it on most days because that is when we are cooking supper. Yet the riff on Chelsea’s abortion was thought-provoking and moving, as is the riff of Ben Archer having a nervous breakdown because of the ramifications of the abortion.
We were quite proud when someone rang up to point out an instance of anti-semitism in Chapter 2 of The Rector’s Daughter (as happens, alas) but it transpired they were reading the unedited Virago edition. And it turned out we had already edited it out in the Persephone edition! There was the phrase "stingy Jew" and we had changed it to "stingy fellow" (quite pleased with the choice of the word "fellow" as it’s very period and fits in so well that no one will notice.)
Anne Sebba did a thrilling trek over the Pyrenees in the footsteps of Anne-Marie Walters (1923-98) and wrote about it in the Financial Times. Walters herself wrote a good book:
There was a piece here about King Charles's Transylvanian 'blue house' in the village of Viscri. It began: 'Of all King Charles's passions – the environment, homeopathy, traditional English architecture and Laphroaig whisky – perhaps the least well-known is his love for Transylvania.' The first three are our passions too, but we would substitute madeira for whisky, however classy. And would dearly love to go to Transylvania.
Finally, to those of you who have not yet received their Christmas orders, we can only apologise. Everything is disrupted here in the UK, the disruptions in our case being: the grey pencils marked Persephone Books being stuck – where? – for coming up to three weeks, and the postal strikes. We refuse to use the loathsome phrase 'sorry for any inconvenience caused'. But we are extremely sorry.
And of course we wish all Persephone readers Happy Holidays, Happy Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Happy Reading.
8 Edgar Buildings
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