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'The nearest thing British publishing has to a cult' (Observer)
Persephone Books began in a room above a pub in the spring of 1998. Founder Nicola Beauman’s original concept was to publish a handful of 'lost' or out-of-print books every year, most of them interwar novels by women. The name Persephone was chosen as a symbol of female creativity, as well as of new beginnings (the daughter of Zeus is associated with spring). The company was initially run from a basement office in Clerkenwell and the first book published was William – An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton, with an endpaper named 'Pamela' designed by the Omega Workshop. After three years in the basement, Persephone book no. 21, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson, became a word-of mouth bestseller (and later a film starring Amy Adams and Frances McDormand). Following its success, Persephone moved its office to Bloomsbury, also opening its first shop on the same premises.
Persephone books are all grey because – well – we really like grey. We also had a vision of a woman who comes home tired from work, and there is a book waiting for her, and it doesn't matter what it looks like because she knows she will enjoy it. Our books look beautiful because we believe that, whether they are on an office desk, by the Aga, or hanging in a bag over the handles of a pram, it is important to take pleasure from how they look and feel.
We are often asked how we find our books, and the answer is: in every way imaginable. This includes someone bringing a book into the office (as was the case with Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), finding out about it in a publisher's advertisement at the back of another book (Fidelity, a superb book — was advertised in the back of Elizabeth Jenkins's less wonderful Virginia Water), coming across a book in a secondhand bookshop or a library (too many to mention), realising that a book of classic quality was unaccountably not in print (Mariana, Little Boy Lost, The Expendable Man). Our books are also linked by the idea of 'home', though that doesn't preclude their characters having a career or flying an aeroplane. Mostly, though, a grey Persephone cover is a guarantee of a good read. In fact, by far the most important criteria is that we only publish books that we completely, utterly love.
The founder of Persephone Books, Nicola Beauman (née Mann), was born in 1944, brought up in London, and read English at Newnham College, Cambridge. She is the author of A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914—39 (1983), Cynthia Asquith (1987), Morgan: a biography of E.M. Forster (1993) and The Other Elizabeth Taylor (2009). She is married with five children and lives in London. She likes brogues, daffodils, mattress ticking and madeira.
Our books cost £13 in the UK (or $20 in the US). We sell them mainly via our website, but they are also available in the Persephone bookshop and through a few other bookshops too. For other practical matters, have a look at our Frequently Asked Questions.