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28th April 2022

Here at Persephone Books the book of the moment (apart from the two new books, of which more below) is Duff Cooper’s Operation Heartbreak, PB no. 51. Although it did not directly inspire the film of Operation Mincemeat (here is the trailer), or the musical that we adored a few weeks ago, it has surely been read by everyone involved in making the film. The main difference between Mincemeat and Heartbreak is that the former knows who ‘the man who never was’ (the title of the previous film) really was, whereas Duff Cooper was imagining him. Also, Churchill had let him into the secret of the dead body and its significance, but the ‘operation’ was still top secret, and remained so for many years; in case, presumably, they ever wanted to use the same trick again in another war. How totally unbelievable that, as we speak, Russian and Ukrainian forces are dreaming up military tactics in order to defeat the enemy. How can this be happening? And in this context, though we are trying to keep off politics more than glancingly, the most incredible thing we have seen for weeks is Navalny. It's unmissable. The bravery of Navalny and his wife and family and their colleagues and in particular the man from Bellingcat is, well, humbling. And what a wonderfully made film! It is here on BBC I player. This morning the Guardian called the film 'one of the most jaw-dropping things you'll ever witness' and we can only echo that.

So this week we published As It Was and World Without End by Helen Thomas and A Well Full of Leaves by Elizabeth Myers, more details in the new Biannually (which should be dropping through UK letterboxes this week) and on the website here and here. We had a little launch party last week and we all tried on the overall from which we took the endpapers and (now) the napkins for A Well Full of Leaves. Now the orders are flowing in and the postman will leave every day this week with half a dozen bulging mail bags.

 

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There was a programme on television called Novels that Shaped the World focusing on women writers – all the obvious suspects plus No Surrender, PB no. 94. They called this ‘a crucial document of the woman’s movement … a political novel that shows how ordinary women turned activist.’ In 2011 the Guardian called our edition ‘a powerful and authentic social document of its time’. (Btw, we have sold nearly 5000 copies of No Surrender and shall be reprinting another 2000 copies soon; and in the autumn it will apparently be reissued as a graphic novel, which should be fun.)

So life in Bath stumbles on: we despair about Ukraine (especially one of the Persephone team who was/is a Steel expert and can well remember the steelworks in Mariupol), we despair about the present government (but things must improve), and we try not to despair that so many people are still in thrall to Covid. Through all this, is it acceptable to cling on to the simple pleasures (rhubarb on the allotment, the office dog, sunshine)? It has to be.

During lockdown we did an interview for the Boston Atheneum (now on vimeo) which explains quite a lot of what we are about at Persephone.

Here is a beautiful piece of work.

It’s by the Roma artist Malgorzata Mirga-Tas and is in the Polish pavilion at the Venice Biennale (where female artists outnumber men by 9 to 1 which is – well, surprising). 

We have been commemorating the 400 people who died in the Bath Blitz eighty years ago today. An article in the new Biannually concludes that it was completely pointless and then asks, topically: ‘Can the bombing of civilians ever be justified’?’. 'Lest we forget', this is a picture of 17 Catharine Place (one of the city’s hidden gems) as it was a few days after the raid.

The picture is taken from the Bath Blitz Memorial Project website here.

In Beverley in Yorkshire there have been couple of performances of a play about two of our very favourite artists, Fred and Mary Elwell. We have never been able to understand why somewhere like Dulwich or indeed our very own Holburne doesn’t have an Elwell exhibition. We once travelled up to Beverley in order to see the paintings. But they should be much better known.

Quote of the week ie we have just found it: William Morris ‘had a sense of place so acute as to be almost a disability’ (in the words of his biographer Fiona MacCarthy) and of course by place she does not mean a physical location, she means placing, placement, a sense of order, the convenable, aesthetic seemliness. Very thought provoking.   

An excellent new company called Spiracle has just launched an audiobook of PB no. 103 The Squire by Edith Bagnold, details here.

Marian Keyes has discovered Dorothy Whipple! She said on Twitter that Someone at a Distance held her hostage for three days. ‘Such forensic analysis of human beings. So little seemed dated and I cannot TELL you how much I loved it.’

In the Times Literary Supplement Craig Raine wrote a short piece here comparing Chekhov’s ‘The Grasshopper’ to Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Marriage a la Mode’ (one of the stories in The Montana Stories, PB no. 25). He thinks the Mansfield story is much greater. Of course we would agree, with the proviso that you can't really compare things when one is translated because it depends so much on the translator.

Finally, this marvellous painting, 'An Interior with an Oval Mirror' by Vilhelm Hammershoi (1864-1916) is to be sold in New York in May. The estimate is a mere one and a half million pounds.

Nicola Beauman

8 Edgar Buildings

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