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16 June 2021
A reader wrote to tell us that she had been to inspect the pink rose at our old shop in Lamb's Conduit Street: it is so bare and gleaming that one can see through the front window to the garden at the back where the nameless rose (nameless because we have forgotten) rambles away gloriously; she ended her letter (which, flatteringly but mournfully, said the street simply wasn't the same without us) by saying: ‘Do you know, during Coronavirus my mantra has been “What would Tirzah do now?” Long Live Great Bardfield is my bible.’ Only those who have read Tirzah's book will understand why she is so inspirational. For those who haven't (yet) read it, it was her good humour and staunchness that made/makes her outstanding, just as much as her talents as a painter.
The comment about her was particularly heart-warming as it came only a few weeks after the death of Tirzah’s son-in-law Louis Ullmann, a wonderful man (he was a professional violinist) who will be hugely missed by anyone who knew him and is of course desperately missed by Tirzah’s daughter Anne. The deaths of authors or copyright holders has, over 22 years, been a great and enduring sadness: we think fondly of Winifred Watson, John Playfair, Diana Athill, Nicholas Mosley, Jonathan Miller, Elizabeth Berridge, Oriel Malet, Emma Smith, Sir Michael Jenkins, oh and several others.
At our new shop in Edgar Buildings we have a tiny, tiny garden and are about to plant another rose, as well as jasmine and clematis – and a lilac tree. Robin Lane-Fox wrote here about ‘the lilac in literature’ and picks the sky-blue ‘Firmament’ as his favourite of all of them.
On June 12th, Anne Frank would have been 92.
What a sobering thought. In a quiet way, or in a more noticeable Greta Thunberg way, she could have contributed so much to the growing good of the world. As in: ‘But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs' (the end of Middlemarch).
This is a good sentence to bear in mind when, as at the moment, things are so grim politically in the UK that some of us (ourselves included) have given up reading the paper. Yet many, many people have behaved with decency and honour over the last few months, well year and a half. On the one hand there are people like Kate Bingham and Sarah Gilbert (after whom the office dog is partly named, so maybe after the Birthday Honours last week he should now be referred to as Dame Gilbert) and on the other the thousands and thousands of nameless people (who live faithfully a hidden life) who are actually organising the vaccination programme. Have we said this before? One can’t help feeling that some of the details of the calm, efficient and kind way in which things are being organised were, even if subliminally, learnt from the WVS (which is why we were slightly surprised when we had our jab and were not offered a cup of hot, sweet tea in a white china cup. Perhaps we have been reading too many 1940s novels.....)
So the shop in Bath is beginning to feel familiar, our little routines are well-established and soon we shall start using the first floor, where the beautiful sofa (from Sofas and Stuff) is now in situ and ready for Persephone readers to sit on. A triumph in the last months has been the freeing of the shutters on the first floor. We said to the builder, do you think there might be shutters behind the plaster board and paint? And there were! Painted a marvellous Georgian yellow which we then discovered in a book in the Guildhall archive ('our' yellow is top left).
A Persephone girl, Fran, spent a morning in the archive and discovered all kinds of interesting facts about our building. She was inspired by the chimney sweep saying that because we have two kitchen ranges number 8 must have been a lodging house. Given that the Thorpes in Northanger Abbey had lodgings in Edgar Buildings we wondered if it could be us? Well, there is nothing definite but it seems likely. Fran also discovered the original plans for the conversion of number 8 from a house to a shop in 1923. The art deco decorative panel was obviously hugely important to the architect, W A Williams, and we are very pleased we spent the money having the ugly steel security shutter removed – in order to reveal the beautiful decorative panel behind it.
It was a Bank Holiday in the UK two weeks ago and some of us went to Gurney Manor, a medieval house an hour from Bath. It was so relaxing stepping out of the twenty-first century for three days. And this encouraged the Post to have five days of Landmark Trust houses that are inspired by women since, although women ‘ran’ the houses, they are rarely mentioned in the discussion of architectural detail or layout or the way everyday life was lived. The only one that was actually built for women was Goddards. Beamsley Hospital was built by two women. Otherwise in all 200 Landmarks we simply have to imagine the role of women. (More detail on the Post here.)
The Father is absolutely electrifying and really unmissable.
Yes, it is sad (because it is about someone with dementia) but then King Lear is sad and that doesn't stop people going to see it. There is something about the tiny domestic setting – a flat in Maida Vale which is nice but not so different from the kind of flat many of us might live in – that makes the film incredibly powerful. It's as though you're eavesdropping. And then the fantastic way you see things through the father's eyes (because you, like him, never really know what is actually happening and what to believe). Anthony Hopkins and Olivia Coleman are superb and there is actually a glimpse of everyone's heart-throb, Rufus Sewell. In fact this is great art and how often does one say that?
The Sheila Bownas archive, discovered and curated by Chelsea Cefai, has been purchased by the Leeds Museums and Galleries with the help of the Art Fund. There is an overview of Sheila Bownas’s life and work here and more details of the acquisition here. We of course used one of her textile designs for the endpapers for Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal.
At the Whitechapel Gallery there is a retrospective of the work of Eileen Agar, details here (she will be on the Post next week); there is a new biography of Sylvia Townsend Warner’s lover Valentine Ackland by Frances Bingham, published by our Bath neighbour Handheld Press, review in the Observer here; the two best books we have read in recent weeks are both somewhat depressing but both unforgettable: The Good Germans: Resisting the Germans 1933-45 by Catrine Clay, which had few reviews but we discovered it through the Camden New Journal review by Nicholas Jacobs here. Here are the extraordinarily courageous Julius and Annedore Leber.
And we loved the marvellously readable and incisive Ethel Rosenberg by Anne Sebba. We sell both these books in the shop or can send them and in fact we have signed copies of Anne Sebba's book as she is one of our staunch preface writers: Little Boy Lost, The Shuttle, The Squire.’
There was a play by Susan Glaspell on BBC Radio 3. Inheritors was written in 1921. Sadly, the academic who introduced it was not interested in anything except the one play (which was actually quite dull) and naturally, inevitably, did not mention that Fidelity and Brook Evans have been in print for twenty years. Even in one short sentence. Yet Fidelity in particular is one of the great novels. What is wrong with people?!
Lastly, some exciting news: a handwritten manuscript of poems by Emily Bronte is about to be sold, details here.
8 Edgar Buildings
Bath BA1 2EE