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The Third Persephone Book of Short Stories

by Persephone Books
Persephone book no:

149 150

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 978 191 0263 402

Persephone Book no. 150 is The Third Persephone Book of Short Stories and is published to celebrate our 25th anniversary.

The collection offers readers a chance to discover some great, often overlooked writers. And there are stories by Persephone favourites such as Dorothy Whipple, Mollie Panter-Downes, and Siân James and (as yet) non-Persephone authors such as Evelyn Sharp, Carol Shields and Rosamunde Pilcher.

The stories are variously funny, tragic, and perceptive; the tone and style varies enormously between them, while the settings shift from wartime Paris to suburban California to the foothills of an Italian mountain range. A number also reveal the tensions that emerge when comfortable middle-class lives are thrown into turmoil by global disasters like war. The thirty stories appear in the order in which they were published, the earliest dating from 1911 (‘Turned’ by Charlotte Perkins Gilman) and the most recent from 1996 (‘Soup du Jour’ by Carol Shields); there is also a brief biography of each writer at the back of the book.

Our first two volumes of short stories have been very successful. They have been devoured by people who like short stories, and they make very good presents because they provide a ‘taster’ of our books and also are so varied that the recipient is bound to like something among the thirty stories. However, we are always conscious that there are people who do not ‘like’ short stories, and most often the reason given is that if they are enjoying a story they want it to go on and become a novel rather than come to an end. We at Persephone think this is rather like wanting a Chopin mazurka to turn into a full-blown piano concerto. But each to her own etc.

The writer Clare Harman has recently asked the question in her biography of Katherine Mansfield: ‘Why does the short story form appeal to readers, and why has there been a marked resurgence of it in the twenty-first century? Is it to do with changes in the way texts are composed and published? Attention span? Hardware, even? Perhaps the availability in so many people’s pockets of access to limitless texts has helped create a better appreciation of neat, brief fiction and a search for the best practitioners. For it’s certainly not just entertainment that the great short story writers provide, but infinite food for thought, asking the biggest questions in the smallest spaces, producing myriad variations on the human comedy and the peculiarities of human nature…It’s a demanding form; it gives a writer nowhere to hide, for everything in a short story has to have earned its place, even if what you’re reading looks fleeting and insubstantial – perhaps especially then. Shortness is the least important thing about  it and "story" itself is less important than other qualities such as intensity and insight.’

This seems to us an excellent summing up of the joy of a short story: in a very small space (a ten to twenty minutes read) it offers entertainment, food for thought, intensity and insight. Try the thirty stories in PB no. 150 and see if you agree with it.

Stories featured in The Third Persephone Book of Short Stories include:

-‘Pluck’ by Gertrude Colmore (1913): a suffragette upends the expectations of a man in a teashop by saving a child from drowning in Regent’s Canal.

-‘Le Spectateur’ (1939) by Irène Némirovsky: an American leaving Paris at the outbreak of World War Two is bombed out of his complacency by a torpedo hitting the ship carrying him away.

-‘People Don’t Want Us’ by Janet Lewis (1946): a Japanese family living in suburban California experience a shift in the way their neighbours treat them in the immediate aftermath of Pearl Harbour.

-‘An Evening to Remember’ by Rosamunde Pilcher (1985): a man hoping for a promotion invites his boss round to his house for dinner, but he comes on the wrong day.

-‘Anniversary’ by Sian James (1990): a new mother attends a dinner party then begins a love affair with the man who gives her and her baby a lift home.

The Third Persephone Book of Short Stories follows The Persephone Book of Short Stories, published in 2012 to celebrate Persephone’s 100th book, and The Second Persephone Book of Short Stories, published in 2019 to celebrate twenty years of Persephone Books. 


The Third Persephone Book of Short Stories features two different endpapers reflecting the chronological development of the collection. The front endpaper is ‘Greenfinch’, a block-printed furnishing fabric designed by Lotte Frömel-Fochler in 1911. The back endpaper is an early 1990s cotton print designed by Furphy Simpson.

Picture Caption

Girls Outside the Gaiety Cinema, Newlyn by Harold Harvey,1925 (now in a private collection formerly owned by Jessica Mann, a Persephone Preface writer).

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