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Tell It to a Stranger

by Elizabeth Berridge
Persephone book no:

14 15 16

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A Well Full of Leaves
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ISBN 9781903155042

'One of my favourite Persephone books,' said Charlie Lee-Potter on Radio 4's Open Book, 'is a collection of short stories by Elizabeth Berridge first published in 1947 when she was 28. They are a revelation to me, I was transfixed by the quality of the writing. It seemed to me that they are quite radical stories, they were quite sharp and hard and disruptive as ideas.' 

The collection makes a wonderful duo with Good Evening, Mrs Craven: the wartime stories of Mollie Panter Downes, not just because they are set during the same period but also because both writers are witty and perceptive and have an ability to hone in, almost brutally, on aspects of human behaviour that most people, tactfully, ignore: Mollie Panter Downes's wife wishing her husband's leave had not been deferred because she is too weary to say goodbye to him all over again. Elizabeth Berridge's Lady Bountiful who will not admit to herself that she chooses to put her Red Cross duties before the needs of her soldier son.

AN Wilson writes in his Preface: '[Berridge] is a novelist of distinction who is also - and this is a rarity - equally at home in the quite different medium of the short story, with its need for an iron discipline and control. Many of the masters of this genre, carried away by their cleverness, either convey or actually possess the quality of heartlessness. Others - and one thinks primarily of Chekhov - are able to retain the discipline of the medium but suffuse its tight confines with warmth. This is the quality of Elizabeth Berridge's stories which sends us back to them, which makes us read and re-read until they have become friends.'

And in The Tablet Isabel Quigly described Elizabeth Berridge's 'remarkable capacity for taking one inside the world of her short stories and showing what happens to the people, where they belong, what they feel.' She too invoked Chekhov: 'It is there that she should be seen, at the highest level of short-story writing, without stereotypes, without foregone conclusions, with deep humanity and a recognisable voice.'


'Web', Graham Sutherland's screen-printed rayon crêpe fabric, was a 1947 design for Cresta Silks. It has a period austerity, while the jagged web imagery suits stories in which many of the characters are trapped - by other people's preconceptions or by the rigidity of their mindsets.

Read What Readers Say


There are eleven stories in this collection: my top pick is ‘The Prisoner’, the type of short story you wish could go on for another hundred pages. This book is a must-read for anyone interested in WWII fiction.

Categories: Short Stories Single Women WWII

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