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7th November 2022
After the publication of the new books, and the arrival of the October Biannually, we have been busy in the office. People are pleased to have The Other Day available, since copies had been very hard to find; and the first readers of (the amazing but rather long) The Waters under the Earth have been telling us how much they loved it. In fact this week we have a lunch celebrating Waters, and naturally we shall be serving coronation chicken since the central event in the book is the late Queen's Coronation.
Apart from the normal shop life of fulfilling orders and serving customers, we had a trip to London to apply for a German passport; met Emily Rhodes (of the marvellous Emily's Walking Book Club fame) for coffee; bumped into – by chance, isn't London fantastic? – the artist William Lindley who has done a beautiful new card for us (it consists of eight small drawings of the shop and will be available from next week).
And we went to the London Library to get books out. What an amazing place this is! You can borrow a book, often a first edition, nobody blinks if you stuff it into a bag with your Pret sandwich, and off you go, in this case with: Hetty Geybert by Georg Hermann translated by Anna Barwell in 1924. It is set in late 1830s Berlin and is almost certainly the only copy in London apart from in the British Library. Has anyone read this and do they think it would make a Persephone book? It was recommended by Lisette, the publisher of Manja in German, and we trust her judgement very much. There is also rather a good biography of Hermann by his great-grandson John Craig-Sharples. (By the way, did you know that the London Library offers bursaries for emerging writers?)
Otherwise, we are enjoying The Romantic by William Boyd; having an E M Delafield re-read; and proof-reading the April books, E M Forster's Two Cheers for Democracy: A Selection and One Afternoon by Sian James.
Many Persephone readers will know that Cambridge is engraved on our heart and when we read this beautiful piece on Jane Brocket’s new blog we had a quiet sob (happiness, nostalgia and sadness all mixed up). This is not just because of the university or the beauty of the town,
but because of values, what you might call Cambridge values. It’s an impossible subject to write or indeed talk about without being contentious ie. causing offence to some. But all the values which shall be nameless are by implication defined in Forster’s Two Cheers for Democracy. And they are implied in Howards End, with the Schlegels and the Wilcoxes defining opposite values and yet they manage to ‘only connect’. Forster anticipated the trauma of Brexit a hundred years before that unhappy vote happened. But then he was a total visionary, cf. his 1909 short story ‘The Machine Stops’ which is about the Internet and Zoom (though they aren’t called that).
Our friends at Ishkar are taking over the first floor room from 18th-20th November. Here they will be selling jewellery, homeware and of course their famous waistcoats (which is how we first discovered them) made by craftsmen and women in Afghanistan, Myanmar, Syria and Pakistan. Late night shopping is on the 19th.
And by the way, as announced in the Biannually, Persephone's late-night shopping is on Thursday 15th December, which follow on from a day of free mulled wine, mince pies and gift wrapping.
We were very sad about the deaths of Theo Richmond, who wrote a marvellous book called Konin; of Carmen Callil, who of course founded Virago and had such a huge impact on all our reading lives; of Ian Jack, whose pieces were incisive, beautifully written and thought-provoking; and of James Roose-Evans, the writer and director who was a huge supporter of Persephone Books. We shall miss them all very much.
The Spectator ran a column by Charles Moore (brother of the more famous Persephone preface writer Charlotte, we are all reading or rereading Brother of the More Famous Jack). In it he said: ‘Persephone Books is an excellent publisher – a slightly more genteel version of Virago, rediscovering interesting books, mainly novels, by women, and reprinting them with lovely endpapers. We possess a dozen of its volumes.’ After these nice remarks (though we could do without the genteel) we were naturally castigated for daring to express a political opinion. But as we have said so many times before: PUBLISHING IS POLITICAL. Ever since our first book, William – an Englishman, about the suffragettes and the First World War, or our fifth book, An Interrupted Life, about a young woman who refuses to save herself and dies in Auschwitz, we have made political statements through the books we have published. Of course it is possible to pick out books like Miss Buncle or The Fortnight in September and call these genteel. But read in a certain way they too are political: Miss Buncle has to earn money through her writing because her dividends aren’t doing well and she can’t get a job; the Stevens family have to stick to their dull work routine for fifty weeks a year or they would starve. But, yes, it is possible to ignore these unpleasant aspects and focus only on the nice, undemanding aspects of each book. It’s exactly the same as the gentleman who said he wanted to go to a National Trust house for a nice cup of tea, a slice of cake and a sit down, not to be confronted by little notices about the slave trade. Well, times have changed, and some things that we took for granted years ago are viewed differently in the 21st century. And what we hope our books do is to give readers a sense of how things were, ie. a historical perspective, and an understanding of how things have changed. Or maybe should change.
Talking of politics, which we are trying not to, The New York Times reviewed The Oppermanns and quoted its own 1934 review which said the book was ‘addressed to the German people, who will not be allowed to read it, urging them to open their eyes. And it is addressed to the world outside bearing the message, “Wake up! The barbarians are upon us.”’ The reviewer, Pamela Paul, then linked the book to today: ‘“Our opponents have one tremendous advantage over us; their absolute lack of fairness,” explains a lawyer at one point. “That is the very reason why they are in power today. They have always employed such primitive methods that the rest of us simply did not believe them possible, for they would not have been possible in any other country.”' Quite.
Our heroine of the week is Melinda Simmons, who is the UK’s ambassador to Ukraine.
Fascinatingly, she didn’t join the Foreign Office until she was in her mid-40s. Which shows it is never too late to change careers.
Our new toy for the autumn is this very small slow cooker.
We bought it in an effort to have Japanese breakfast as often as possible (it’s called a rice cooker) and to save on using the gas stove, but it turns out to be able to slow cook virtually anything, even cake though goodness knows how it does that. It looks slightly odd but is small and somehow we now love it. PS The reason for the Japanese breakfast is: did you know one is meant to eat 27 different things a day? So if breakfast, in our dreams, is a soup of rice, avocado, a couple of vegetables, mushrooms, parsley, smoked salmon, with miso stirred in, then one has already had eight and actually the very keen can add herbs and spices and get up to a dozen. But it's a bit of a faff if you're not used to it and really a bit of toast and a cup of tea is so much easier.
A sad note: there are fewer butterflies than ever and we must all ‘practise wildlife friendly gardening, keeping long grass areas in gardens'.
Indeed we are turning our little yard at the back of the shop into a haven of wildness, although this is more because we don’t have time to garden than an actual plan.
Of course we are hoping and praying that COP27 has some good results. Here is a cutting from a newspaper in New Zealand dated August 14th 1912. What can one say about the last sentence?
Finally, thank you SO much to all the people who last time wrote us marvellous emails saying that they love the Letter. It makes a huge difference.
8 Edgar Buildings
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