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20th March 2024

Here at Persephone Books we have recently learnt a great deal about (previously) neglected women composers. First there was a concert at the Wigmore Hall featuring piano music by women. It was given by Susan Tomes, who has also written a book on the subject, review and details here.


And then Trio Paradis gave the March Persephone concert and they featured women composers. It was such fun – the wonderful 1770s piano nobile where people have been enjoying themselves for 250 years; a glass of champagne; unobtrusive lighting; the 1847 ‘Erard’ (as used by Chopin); and an hour of fantastic music. Both of the concerts featured short introductions to each piece, because it’s nice listening and thinking: this composer influenced Chopin, or that composer abandoned her family in order to tour Europe. Trio Paradis are playing on the last evening of the Persephone Festival and there are still tickets. (The next  Persephone concerts are on April 11th, May 9th, June 13th and July 11th: at 7 o’clock just for an hour and we promise they will be marvellous. Details here.)

In the shop there has been much hard work on various projects to do with the Persephone Festival and our 25-year celebrations (and there are still some tickets available to attend the Festival in case you are thinking of joining us.) We are reprinting/re-working the Persephone Catalogue (the old one had an embarrassing number of phrases like ‘this is now the fourth novel by Dorothy Whipple we have published’); we are issuing some of our Instagram posts about Diary of a Provincial Bookshop for 2023 as an 88 page pamphlet; we are printing two postcards; reprinting the Literary Map with a couple of additions (Sarah Scott and Mary Wollstonecraft); and of course finalising April’s Persephone Biannually. However, another negative (marketing-speak demands that one is always relentlessly positive, but if one is honest about what’s going on that is not always possible) we feel the Biannually (after 34 issues, and 32 issues of the Quarterly that preceded it) is coming to the end of its natural life. People just don’t send out hard copy so much: most people in the UK would surely agree that nowadays there is very little post coming through the letterbox. However, we haven’t decided how to proceed: whether to send an A5 leaflet, a smaller Biannually, or something quite new yet to be thought up. It’s ironic that just as people now go to the post office less and less, so the name ‘post office’ has become mud, because of the way its bosses treated its employees, the sub postmasters.

Meanwhile, the office is filling up with things for the Festival: grey gingham for the tablecloths, disposable (but eco) grey paper cups, the clutch bags made in India that every ticket-holder will receive, and so on. The china tea cups and saucers are on order, as are the tea urns, and we are busy trying out cakes. Our favourite is Waitose’s lemon drizzle but we have no idea how to source 200, if anyone is reading this who can help please let us know.

So let us salute Lucy Moore, who has just finished a project aiming to add a woman from every country in the world to Wikipedia, where biographical entries are  currently 80% men. Her work followed on from the Women in Red project which aims to turn red links (marking a mention of someone for whom a page does not exist) into blue ones (that gives them their own entry). There are now 200,000 people who have been ‘turned’, for example Dinah Whipple, an emancipated slave who created New England’s first school for black children. More details here.

We rewatched Julie and Julia, which is definitely one of our top ten films (although we discovered the very sad fact which is that the real life Julie died in 2022 aged only 49). Here are Meryl Streep and Amy Adams (star of Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day) in the film.


The film was also interesting about Julia Child’s editor Judith Jones: we are very much enjoying reading her cookery books, one about the joys of cooking for one, the other about bread.

Who knew that people used to have two sleeps ie. the concept of the eight hour night is a modern construct? 

We resolved that this month's Letter would be politics-free, but we need to point you in the direction of two shocking pieces, in case you missed them: first of all George Monbiot on the way doctors will insist on treating people with ME as though it's all in the mind; secondly, the batch of letters from the parents of children arrested and imprisoned for joining the 'stop the bill' protest in March 2021. This is utterly appalling! That in the UK children are given lengthy prison sentences merely for joining a protest demonstration is really, really terrible and could any lawyer among Persephone readers explain why this has been allowed to happen and what we can do to free them?

The Wall Street Journal reviewed the American edition of PB no.51 Operation Heartbreak: ‘Kudos to the iconoclastic reprint house McNally Editions for unearthing Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper [they meant of course kudos to Persephone Books!], a 1950 work that pulls off the trick of revealing the fascinating hidden workings of the British War Office within a supremely moving and well-wrought tale . . . A perceptive and fondly comic study of an orphaned aristocrat named Willie Maryngton . . . like Bertie Wooster cast in a tragic role . . . it is this hopeless, supererogatory soul who, in a freakish turn of events, becomes central to the secretive military mission known here as Operation Heartbreak . . .  I strongly recommend.’

We were very moved by Kavita Puri’s series about the devastating Bengal famine of 1943, Three Million, listen to it here. The FT called it ‘impeccably written and presented, a triumph of research and reporting that should be heard far and wide' as indeed it should.

Jane Brocket's substack is as wonderful as ever, on Sunday it was about sewing boxes/drawers/ the paraphernalia of sewing. She has this lovely 1908 Harold Gilman painting

and also a C19th tablecloth which is in the Carlyles' House in Chelsea.

This is what it should be (in the plural) rather than the singular Carlyle's House, and indeed one day Jane Carlyle will be seen as more interesting and important than her husband. We especially love her because she was sent a Havanese puppy in a box (by train) from Manchester. He was called Nero and must have been a distant ancestor of the Persephone Books office dog Gilbert: if you look at the painting on the endpaper of PB no. 32 The Carlyles at Home the two dogs look very similar.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings

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