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No. 1. William – an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton

On BBC Radio 4′s A Good Read, Peter Preston called Cicely Hamilton ‘a terrifically good… lovely writer, very poignant, very evocative and evoking the war is what she does as well as anything I’ve read’; Anne Harvey said: ‘this novel is absolutely stunning. It bowled me over when I first read it…and when I re-read it for this programme I was bowled over all over again. It’s the sort of book that I’ve recommended to so many of my friends, both male and female.’

No. 2. Mariana by Monica Dickens

The Sunday Telegraph described the book as ‘funny, poignant and a perfect period piece…this book is written with verve and exuberance.’

Mariana ‘is so enjoyable that it is impossible to understand how it disappeared from view for so long.’ (The Lady)

The Spectator observed that ‘the contemporary detail is superb… and the characters are observed with vitality and humour.’

No. 3. Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

‘A very good novel indeed about the fragility and also the tenacity of love.’ The Spectator

‘The prose is simple, the psychology spot on.’ Telegraph

‘I don’t know if I’m a complete feminist (or was in a former life) but there isn’t a book in Persephone’s collection that I haven’t liked. Someone at a Distance is another excellent selection, and a brilliant and entertaining novel. Of course the fact that it is the story of a “perfectly happy” family and the eerily before-its-time destruction of that marriage (and happiness) could have something to do with why I enjoyed this book so much. Or maybe it was because the seductress that comes to visit is a young French woman, so filled with sensuality that I just couldn’t help but get drawn in. All the books in the Persephone collection are interesting, engaging, and well written – Someone at a Distance, however, has that special something extra that sets it apart… It’s a rare find.’ Jason Salzenstein, EDGE Publications

Bournemouth Daily Echo’s verdict on Someone at a Distance was: ‘a great, compulsive, melodramatic, page-turning read.’

Sarah Crompton wrote in the Daily Telegraph that ‘Someone at a Distance describes the destruction of a happy home by an affair with such detail and psychological insight that it makes many modern novels look conventional and superficial.’

‘Dorothy Whipple weaves a story that is everything of which a serious reader might dream. It is not only entertaining material, but is also a social commentary. Whipple manages to convey a lesson, or at least an observation, about the damage one’s actions can do if one does not consider them carefully; she does so without “preaching”, and allows the reader to draw their own conclusions. Her gift to her readers, though, is not her ‘moral’ but her story, and the way it envelops them in the most mundane and the most extraordinary sorts of ways. “It is a great gift to take an ordinary tale and make it extraordinary reading,” Nina Bawden says in her Preface, and this describes Whipple’s writing to a tee.’

'Frailty, folly and the fragility of love are brilliantly explored in Whipple’s perfect, engrossing deckchair read.' Val Hennessy Daily Mail

No. 4. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell

Fidelity ‘will no doubt be leapt on eagerly by feminist academics and women’s studies enthusiasts. It is an important early feminist text and, unlike so many so-called “early feminist classics”, it is also a very good read… Intelligent and thoughtful, it does not fall into the obvious trap of preaching free love at all costs, nor does it aim to vindicate small-town morality. There are echoes of many earlier texts dealing with women’s role in marriage. Like Madame Bovary, Ruth discovers in adultery all the platitudes of marriage, and Fidelity‘s deliberately Ibsenite ending shows her finding independence and self-fulfilment outside society’s conventions.’ (Antiquarian Book Monthly Review)

Valerie Grove of The Times wrote in her local paper that ‘women of a certain age…wondered why Susan Glaspell is not remembered in the same breath as Edith Wharton, who could not have told this story better.’

No. 5. An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum

In 2004 Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury, based the Romanes Lecture at Oxford on the life of Etty Hillesum (An Interrupted Life: Diaries and Letters 1941-3, Persephone Book No. 5). ‘She died in Auschwitz in 1943 and left behind her a journal for the two years before her deportation and death, an extraordinarily full and absorbing document which chronicles a complex sexual and emotional life, a deepening immersion in Rilke and Dostoevsky and a religious conversion of a very unconventional order.’

The Diaries of Etty Hillesum were the subject of a feature in the Church Times and were described as ‘an extraordinary mixture of nobility, spirituality and Bridget Jones.’ Emphasising her ‘faith and joy in life’, the piece included quotations form the diaries and an article on the ‘prodigiousness of Etty’s writings’.

No. 6. The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

‘In The Victorian Chaise-longue a young married woman, Melanie, scours antiques shops to furnish her new home and comes back with an old chaise-longue, which is perfect apart from an unsightly reddish-brown stain. She falls asleep on it and wakes up in an unfamiliar house, an unfamiliar time – and an unfamiliar body. At first she assumes she must be dreaming. But gradually she starts to piece together the story of Milly, the young Victorian woman in the last stages of consumption whom she has apparently become, and the nature of the disgrace she has brought on the household run by her fearsomely stern elder sister. Why does the sight of the doctor make her pulse beat faster? And can she find a way back to her own life?’ From The Guardian’s ‘1000 Novels Everyone Must Read’

‘It is the skilful assimilation of 19th and 20th century literary conventions that makes the novel so particularly horrifying – its distillation of Victorian Gothic horror within the stricter verisimilitude of the modern novel.’ (House and Garden – January, 2000)

No. 7. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher

’I relished every minute I spent reading The Home-Maker, which is thought-provoking, heart-warming and immensely readable. It mulls over serious questions like the power relationships that exist between parent and child and whether “even a little boy had some standing in the world, inviolable by grown-ups, yes, sacred even to parents.”’ Moira Richards in Red Room

Amanda Craig wrote in the Independent in 2005 that she was ‘astonished by the power and intelligence of The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher, which tackles the issue of working mothers and the depression caused by thwarted female energies with brilliant perceptiveness.’

The Bournemouth Daily Echo called The Home-Maker ‘way ahead of its time, still bright, observant and relevant today. Persephone have discovered yet another great read.’

Carol Shields ‘read and loved a reprint of The Home-Maker, a remarkable and brave 1924 novel about being a house husband’ (Daily Telegraph Books of the Year).

No. 8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes

‘What a wonderful book. Good Evening, Mrs Craven conjures up a compelling glimpse of the lives of middle-class women left at home during the war years. Men appear, but are not central to the themes of love, longing and loss. There is a lot to think about and certainly a great deal to talk about in these skilfully crafted stories. Although brief, they really do draw brilliant pictures of the time.’ New Books Mag

Good Evening, Mrs Craven is a funny, poignant book indeed. Mollie Panter-Downes has the sharpest of eyes for irony and manners, and she loves to poke affectionate fun at overly stiff characters. Her greatest grace, though, is her ability to capture, in quick flashes, the immediacy of life during the war. Her characters are petty and noble, hungry and brave, solid and silly and true.’ Watermark Books

‘Throughout the war Mollie Panter-Downes sent The New Yorker semi-autobiographical stories collected as Good Evening, Mrs Craven, about evacuees, the Home Guard and Red Cross sewing evenings. Here they are splendidly read by Lucy Scott. This funny, intelligent, deceptively low-key Persephone Audiobook about the Home Counties under siege is long overdue. What Clovis is to Saki, Mrs Ramsay is to Mollie Panter-Downes. Behind her watchful eyes and bright hostess smile she suffers fools venomously.’ Sue Arnold in the Guardian

Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, of The Independent, wrote: ‘The revelation of 1999 for me was boldly published, beautifully designed, dazzlingly written… Mollie Panter-Downes is as profound as Katherine Mansfield, restrained as Jane Austen, sharp as Dorothy Parker.’

No. 9. Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson

‘A gripping diary of wartime London’ wrote Bee Wilson in the Sunday Telegraph in 2010.

The TLS wrote: ‘These diaries capture the sense of living through great events and not being overwhelmed by them; a kind of unspoken edict operated to keep people’s spirit high, against the odds, since low morale was strongly associated with a want of patriotism. Hodgson describes herself and her associates as “ordinary” and “unimportant”, but her diaries display an extraordinary – though widespread – capacity for not giving way in the face of horrors and difficulties. A gift to the social historian, they also, in a general sense, make inspiriting reading.’

In the light of the events of September 11th the Tallahassee Democratic Review ran a review calling it ‘a classic book that still rings vibrant and helpful today. . . a poignant, honest, frightening, yet heartwarming record of one articulate woman’s pragmatic coping with war. . . her book is a testament to the resilience of the British and a reminder of the unimaginable hardship they endured for half a decade.’

No. 10. Good Things in England by Florence White

‘Good Things in England is one of the great English cookbooks and, eighty years on, still remarkably accessible. It’s full of delightful, delicious recipes that actually work.’ Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall

In the Western Morning News Mark Daniel called it ‘a masterpiece published in 1932. This majestic volume contains instructions for just about everything, from making coffee to roasting swan and making wedding cakes.’

Country Living quoted Florence White’s suggestions in Good Things in England for a ‘simple’ menu for May: ‘”dressed crab, poached eggs on stewed cucumber, spitchocked spring chicken and creamed nettles, cowslip pudding-pie, gooseberry fool and Mrs Raffald’s nice whet.” She adds, “It is important to remember that the portions served should be small; it is much more attractive to offer a second helping than a single one that is too large.” So true, so true.’

Bee Wilson in the Sunday Telegraph recommended the source of what is ‘perhaps the most exotic breakfast of all, the one that almost none of us now eat: the true English breakfast. In Good Things in England Florence White lists some of the savoury viands once common on a morning sideboard: oxtail mould, pork cheese, potted beef, fried sprats, devilled kidneys. All that is long gone.’

Good Things in England was Felicity Cloake’s first choice if she had to choose ten cookery books:  'I treasure Florence White’s collection of “traditional and regional recipes suited to modern tastes contributed by English men and women between 1399 and 1932”.’ the New Statesman

No. 11. Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley

In response to an earlier edition of Julian Grenfell, Philip Toynbee wrote in The Observer that ‘Mosley is very good at explaining why Grenfell loved war so much; and why this chronically morose and nerve-ridden man fully accepted that war involved being killed as well as killing… Nicolas Mosley has penetrated a great mass of material, some of it shamelessly doctored by Lady Desborough to suggest that no amount of tiffs could mar the pure love of her eldest son for his mother. If he did continue to love her right up to his death it must have been a desperate and spellbound love indeed. After reading this book it is hard not to feel that the hatred went much deeper. By raising such fundamental issues as these the author has given his subject a pathos and a grandeur which should do much to overshadow…the legend…of the immolated poet; a young man who came second only to Rupert Brooke in the pantheon of the nobly dead who had joyfully ‘given’ their lives in the Great War.’

No. 13. Consequences by E.M. Delafield

The ‘In My View’ column in the Eastern Daily Press was devoted to Persephone Books, for which ‘Thirty cheers! (That’s one for each reborn title.) Persephone has relaunched EM Delafield’s sobering autobiographical novel Consequences, about the plight of girls on either side of the First World War who were allowed no opportunities apart from marriage. It is a useful reminder of why we’re all feminists now.’

No. 14. Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller

Neil Ascherson in The New York Review of Books described Farewell, Leicester Square as a ‘clever and deeply pessimistic’ study infused with Betty Miller’s ‘piercing intelligence.’

No. 15. Tell it to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge

‘From the beginning, [Elizabeth Berridge] was a master of what she herself described as the “tiny, concentrated explosions short stories should contain” and which were so striking in, for example, Lullaby, a horrifyingly haunting story of fewer than three pages.’ (The Guardian)

No. 16. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild

‘As a fan of Noel Streatfeild’s children’s books, I came to Saplings – one of her fifteen novels for adults – with great interest. The novel starts with the Wiltshires enjoying a family holiday on the beach and soon we start to become familiar with each child, and understand a little about their parents, Alex and Lena. As the novel unfolds, their comfortable family life begins to unravel with the onset of the Second World War. Children have to be evacuated, schools changed, grief endured and new relationships formed. Lena struggles to cope with her changing role, and with the absence of her husband her own flaws are exposed. The idyllic and secure seaside holidays seem incredibly distant, almost dreamlike. Essentially this novel is about the disintegration of a middle­class family during the war. Streatfeild keeps you hooked with her aptitude for close, and often witty, observation of children, and her warmth for them shines through. I hope the wonderful Persephone Books will consider reprinting more of her novels.’ Emma Milne-White, The Bookseller

In the Guardian Readers’ Books of the Year, a reader from Belfast chose Saplings: ‘Happy childhood holidays at the seaside are contrasted with the dispersal of the children to various relatives; they narrate their mother’s nervous breakdown and descent into alcoholism following their father’s death. With endpapers by Marion Dorn evoking Matisse’s decoupage, the volume is a triumph of content and form; a delight to read and treasure.’

And in the Guardian’s Summer Reading for 2003 Sarah Waters was ‘fascinated by Noel Streatfeild’s 1945 novel Saplings, a study of the disintegration of a middleclass family during the turmoil of the Second World War and quite shocking.’

No. 17. Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet

In Edinburgh’s Caledonia magazine, Marjory Fleming was called ‘refreshingly free of sentimentality’: it ‘exhibits an intense empathy with its subject and remains a vivid and eloquent memorial to an extraordinary young girl.’

Gerald Perriam commented in the Historical Novel Association magazine that ‘Oriel Malet tells Marjory’s story with sensitivity and astonishing insight. At times it seems as if Malet actually knew Marjory. One cannot help but love her after reading Malet’s sensitive account of her life, so skilfully written.’

The Scotsman called the book ‘a captivating imaginative reconstruction of Marjory’s life, firmly rooted in the actual people and events recorded in her journals’.

Le Nouvel Observateur glowingly reviewed the new translation of Oriel Malet’s Marjory Fleming: ‘Elle sut décrire ses émois, ses caprices et sa soif imprécise d’absolu a l’aube du XIXième siècle victorien. . .l’on d’irait que l’Alice de Lewis Carroll tend la main aux héroines de Jane Austen.’ And Madame Figaro wrote that Oriel Malet ‘a su retracer avec talent, dans ce livre attachant, la vie trop breve d’une petite poétesse précoce et hors du commun.’

No. 18. Every Eye by Isobel English

The Wall Street Journal reviewer wrote: ‘Words like self-effacing, self-critical and perfectionist only begin to describe this remarkably gifted, all but forgotten British writer whose fiction has been likened to that of Elizabeth Bowen, Muriel Spark and Anita Brookner, all of whom admired her work. Although Ms English may have some of Ms Bowen’s deft insight, a touch of Ms Spark’s wry humour and Ms Brookner’s sensitivity to nuance, she has a finely wrought yet cauterising style that is all her own. A good place to sample it is Every Eye (1956), Ms English’s fine second novel… Beyond its literary merits, which are considerable, Every Eye provides a wonderful opportunity for American readers to become acquainted with the entrancing voice of a truly original writer.’ And in another long review of Every Eye in the New York Sun Benjamin Lyal concluded that ‘almost every sentence presents a visual surprise’, yet it has ‘charms beyond language.’

Beryl Bainbridge in the Daily Telegraph wrote: ‘I have just started Every Eye by Isobel English. It is perfect holiday reading, a beautiful account of a young woman looking back on her life while on honeymoon in Spain. When it was published in 1956 John Betjeman wrote in the Daily Telegraph: “Sometimes, but not often, a novel comes along which makes the rest one has to review seem commonplace. Such a novel is Every Eye.” The quality of Isobel English’s writing is incredible.’

Francis King in the Literary Review said that Every Eye is ‘very much of a time when, after the grey confinement of the way years…people felt that they had been intellectually and emotionally transfigured; and [the heroine] is no exception…her physical and emotional journeys [are] evoked with unfailing concision and clarity.’

No. 21. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

‘Why has it taken more than half a century for this wonderful flight of humour to be rediscovered?’ The Guardian

‘Over the course of the day (and the evening and the late, late night) Miss Pettigrew enjoys her first cocktail party, her first night-club visit, first waltz in a very long time, and she makes the first friends she’s found in ages. To read Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is to spend several enjoyable hours feeling that the world is a loving, forgiving place. It’s a flute of champagne after a good filling tea-time meal. It’s a lark and a spree and a little bit of literary therapy.’ Watermark Books

‘Miss Pettigrew follows Miss LaFosse from boudoir to nightclub in a daze of happiness. Drink, dance, drugs, sex; Miss Pettigrew demurs with a spinster-ish blush… then in she dives. She knows her day must end and her dreary life begin again, but when the magical 24 hours have passed Miss Pettigrew is a changed woman. Miss Pettigrew is perhaps the happiest, most ebullient piece of fiction ever written for adults. It takes, sadly, far less than a day to read, but the sparkle doesn’t fade for weeks.’ Newsday

India Knight told readers of She magazine’s ‘On My Bookshelf ’ column: ‘I love reprints of old books like the ones produced by Persephone Books. Its edition of Miss Pettigrew by Winifred Watson is just my favourite; it’s a delight to look at and to hold, and it’s also the one I turn to when I want to be uplifted and cheered. It’s about a mousy little governess who is sent to the wrong address for a job interview and ends up becoming a companion to an exotically glamorous nightclub singer. Miss Pettigrew’s life is transformed. It’s sweet, but not sugary, and just leaves you feeling so happy. That’s what the best books do.’

On BBC Radio 4′s Open Book, Charlie Lee Potter said: ‘It’s a rag to riches, it’s a fairy story, it’s plain transmogrifying into beautiful, it’s Prof Higgins and Eliza without Prof Higgins, it’s divine, it’s a sort of cocktail or mousse or tingle, you start and you’re on a rollercoaster, all in the space of 24 hours and you hardly have time to draw breath.’

‘Persephone struck gold when Miss Pettigrew was made into a Hollywood film. Frances McDormand reads the unabridged audiobook of this charming piece of literary escapism, in which the tart with the heart of gold and the uptight crone reach a happy under-standing.’ Karen Robinson in the Sunday Times, choosing Miss Pettigrew as one of her eight favourite audiobooks of the year.

Miss Pettigrew may not be a literary classic, but only the harshest of readers could fail to be charmed by the delightful heroine… Chronicled to the minute over a 24-hour time span, it is impossible to switch off – I had painted an entire bedroom by the end. It is intelligently read by Frances McDormand, who also stars in the film. Rumour has it she loved the book so much she insisted on recording it. [This is true.] Exquisitely packaged, as ever, by tiny London publisher Persephone, Miss Pettigrew is a treasure.’ Time Out

'A delightful, intelligent, and naughty novel, which reminds us that it is never too late to have a second chance; it is never too late to live.' In 1001 Books you Must Read Before you Die (2008; reprinted 2011 and 2012)

No. 23. Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy

‘Sadder but no less sparkling than last year’s Miss Pettigrew, Reuben Sachs is another forgotten classic by an accomplished female novelist. Written in part as a riposte to Daniel Deronda, this unforgiving insight into the world of the middle-class Jewish community in C19th London was admired on its publication in 1888 by Oscar Wilde but was also widely misinterpreted as anti-Semitic… Amy Levy might be described as a Jewish Jane Austen…this spirited satire is infused with a gentle melancholy.’ Lisa Allardice The Independent on Sunday

‘Reuben Sachs…smacks in the face of modern political correctness with its harshly satirical attitudes and mocking voice… Using narrative technique popularised by Virginia Woolf, Amy Levy introduces the tightly-knit Leuniger family via Reuben’s thoughts; her wickedly accurate portrayal of Londoners obsessed with money and status remains as readable, funny and relevant as it was in 1888.’ Rebecca Abrams New Statesman and Quality Women’s Fiction

The Jewish Telegraph wrote: ‘There is a Jane Austen feel to the story of the fatal attraction between the hero, a Victorian upwardly mobile Jew, and his beautiful poor relation.’

No. 24. Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton

Helen Osborne in The Sunday Telegraph described Family Roundabout as ‘a spiffing pre-war matriarchal saga for grown-ups by Richmal (Just William) Crompton. A world away, maybe, but somehow still only on the cusp of yesterday.’

Richmal Crompton’s biographer, Mary Cadogan, and our Preface writer, Juliet Ackroyd, agreed on BBC Radio 4′s Open Book that ‘what is so good about the novel is that you are left thinking deeply about what is the best way to bring up children, and what is in the end a successful child or a successful mother.’

No. 25. The Montana Stories by Katherine Mansfield

‘This collection of stories by New Zealand-born, Chekhov-influenced writer…includes fragments, as well as the stories completed by Katherine Mansfield while she was staying in a Swiss mountain village, seriously ill with tuberculosis. The psychological penetrations of these writings is remarkable. This edition includes the evocative original illustrations not seen since 1921.’ The Sunday Telegraph

‘The stories Katherine Mansfield wrote in the penultimate year of her life have been collected as The Montana Stories,’ noted The Tablet. ‘The fascinating quotations from her diary and letters in the publisher’s note show how strongly she felt her writing was a path towards moral and spiritual purification.’

‘Katherine Mansfield’s remarkable ability is to reach, in a few pages, the emotional heart of a matter.’ The Times

No. 27. The Children who lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

‘Persephone Books has managed to resuscitate yet another charming classic that has mysteriously fallen out of print,’ wrote Georgia Metcalfe in her review in the Daily Mail. ‘The Children Who Lived in a Barn was a favourite book of Jacqueline Wilson, Britain’s best-selling children’s author after J K Rowling. [For today's adult readers] she has written a superb new introduction to the 1930s story of five children who have to fend for themselves when their parents mysteriously disappear. . . This is a delightful book by Eleanor Graham, the Puffin publishing supremo who brought The Secret Garden and Ballet Shoes to the nation’s children.’

In Junior magazine Anne Harvey recommended Persephone books as perfect gifts, picking out The Children Who Lived in a Barn and ‘Jacqueline Wilson’s warm, accessible, loving introduction.’

No. 28. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski

Nicholas Lezard chose Little Boy Lost as his ‘Pick of the Week’ in The Guardian. ‘When I picked up this reprint of Marghanita Laski’s 1949 novel I offered it the tenderly indulgent regard I would any period piece. As it turned out, the book survives perfectly well on its own merits – although it nearly finished me. If you like a novel that expertly puts you through the wringer, this is the one. [...] Had it not got so nerve-wracking towards the end, I would have read it in one go. But Laski’s understated assurance and grip is almost astonishing… This is haunting stuff.’

Little Boy Lost has the potential to be a soap opera and a sentimental shine would have distanced the action; instead, we feel so close to the characters we can hear them breathing. Hilary is wonderfully complex and a dead-on depiction of a certain type of cold intellectual. Laski’s writing is so deft, we empathise with Hilary while wanting to reach into the book and smack him. This is the third Laski novel that Persephone has had to save from out-of-print obscurity and this lapse in availability is a shame, as Laski belongs in the company of Graham Greene and Elizabeth Bowen. Little Boy Lost is a gem that should, and now can, be sought out and taken home.’ Jessa Crisp on

Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski – a poignant story, describing the post-war search in France for a lost child. The narrative develops into an emotional and moving conclusion.’ (Readers’ recommendation from the Swannington Women’s Institute Book Club, which read four other books – Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks, The Little Friend by Donna Tart, Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey and Landscape of Love by Sally Beauman and chose Little Boy Lost as its favourite.) WI Life

‘I read a sentence of such poignancy that I found myself weeping, and I was able to finish the book only with the aid of a substantial box of Kleenex and many comforting cups of tea. Little Boy Lost is a gem. At its most obvious level, it is an emotional thriller: a literary, early-post-war version, if you will, of Tony Parson’s Man and Boy… Persephone is to be commended on reissuing this wonderful book and on producing such an exceptional novel.’ Jonathan Self in the Jewish Chronicle

Patrick Marnham, in a review of Little Boy Lost in The Spectator, wrote: ‘Marghanita Laski’s description of the scenes in postwar Paris carry the power and simplicity of the best news reporting’; she writes ‘in such a dry and controlled style, eschewing all pathos and cheap manipulation, that it uncovers the story’s true emotional force. One can only hope that the novel never falls into the hands of a big-budget movie-maker.’

‘England 1943: on warleave, Hilary learns that his wife in France is dead and their toddler has been smuggled to safety somewhere near Paris. So begins Hilary’s long search for his son, traced eventually to a bleak orphanage where forty children sleep in iron beds in a cold dormitory, no pictures, no toys. Will Hilary recognise his son? Will there be an instinctive bond? He meets a delightful, malnourished little boy who is overcome with gratitude when this stranger takes him for walks and buys him his first ever gift – some warm gloves. But is he Hilary’s son? You will be on tenterhooks throughout Little Boy Lost, until the final sentence when you will certainly burst into copious tears. Heartbreaking.' Val Hennessy, Daily Mail.

Read a discussion of Little Boy Lost on A Good Read  

No. 29. The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett

In the Observer Rachel Cooke was asked for her ‘best ever beach read’: ‘That’d be a toss-up between The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett (plain girl bags an aristo) or almost anything by Georgette Heyer.’

A Books Etc reviewer wrote: ‘Not only is this a delightful novel, but the production of the book is beautiful, right down to the endpapers and page headers. A sparky sense of humour combined with lively social commentary make this a joy to read and a beautiful item to treasure.’

In the Daily Telegraph Rebecca Abrams called Marchioness ‘a wildly romantic tale, whose hero and heroine are “totally unromantic”. This running joke gives the book a wry edge. Persephone Books is to be applauded for reissuing it in this elegant new edition.’

The Spectator wrote: ‘The singular charm of the book is the way it happily enables the reader to have the story both ways, to enjoy both the Cinderella plot and the comic treatment of the marriage market.’

‘Although the central premise is essentially escapist,’ said The Guardian, ‘this grown-up tale has a touch of Edith Wharton’s stern unsentimentality in its portrayal of men, women and the marriage market.’

The Daily Mail praised the ‘sharp observations in this charming tale.’

No. 30. Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll

In Country Life Leslie Geddes-Brown chose books by ‘Five Grand Dames of British Cookery’: Lady Clark of Tillypronie, Georgiana, Countess of Dudley, Dorothy Allhusen, Lady Maclean and Lady Jekyll DBE. ‘Her Kitchen Essays [which is in fact the only one of the five books in print] has recipes for ‘Edward V11′s favourite boiled mutton and Mrs Gladstone’s egg flip.’

In the Guardian Matthew Fort wrote about Kitchen Essays ‘conjuring up a bygone world of “Country friends to a Christmas shopping luncheon”, “Food for artists and speakers” and “Batchelors entertaining”, dispensing sound advice, wisdom and eminently practical recipes along the way.’

In the Observer Rachel Cooke wrote a column about cookbooks that are read for pleasure not just for utilitarian purposes: ‘The true joy of cookbooks lies not only in whether their recipes work. It also has to do with scholarship, social history, good writing and – most important of all – vicarious pleasure.’ And she recommended some cookbooks that are useful ‘but they also have an extra something that means you’re as likely to be wearing pyjamas as an apron when you read them’; these included books by MFK Fisher, Jane Grigson, Claudia Roden and ‘last, but not least, Agnes Jekyll’s Kitchen Essays, in which she quotes Meredith and thus seems to sum the whole thing up: “When we let Romance go, we change the sky for the ceiling.”’

Country Living wrote: ‘Three cheers to Persephone Books for publishing a new edition of Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll DBE (sister-in-law of the more famous Gertrude). A witty, sharp writer, housekeeper par excellence and society hostess, whose Saturday essays for The Times include topics as varied as ‘Luncheon for a Motor Excursion in Winter’, ‘Supper after the Play’, ‘Food for the punctual and the Unpunctual’ and ‘For the Too Thin’. Nostalgic but unsentimental, humorous but precise, erudite and always elegant.’

The BBC Food Magazine commented: ‘This exquisitely reprinted period piece consists of short essays about social occasions and recipes to go with them. Read them aloud after dinner – they summon up a lost era.’

Petits Propos Culinaires, a food magazine for food writers, said about Kitchen Essays: ‘Persephone Books have performed with their usual grace; each essay, though short, is delicately turned, redolent of its period when servants were in shorter supply and American influences (especially on convenience) were gaining ground. . . It is also interesting because of Agnes Jekyll’s urgings against over-elaboration, and her espousal of earthenware marmites for getting hot food straight from the range to the table.’ thought Kitchen Essays ‘one of the best reads outside Elizabeth David, which almost sings with originality. The recipes sound either surprisingly contemporary like polenta au gratin or profoundly lyrical, like the sole à la Dorothea seved with a “suspicion” of tomato sauce and “a certainty” of mushrooms.’

No. 31. A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

In May 2002 Jenny Hartley in the Times Literary Supplement praised its ‘evocation of the preoccupations of wartime England, and its mood of battered but sincere optimism.’

The Daily Mail reviewed A House in the Country: ‘Set in 1942 at the time of the fall of Tobruk, this elegant elegiac romance captures the fading splendour of an England dragged into ugly modernity by the brutality of war. On the home front is Cressida – beautiful, self-contained, and carrying an emotional burden that threatens to swamp her even as she cheerfully entertains guests at her country estate. And all the while the object of her passion is fighting for his life in battle. It’s an arresting comparison: social niceties, petty squabbles, self-restraint, all played out in a rural idyll, while abroad thousands die defending that very way of life. And it’s a touching love story, of the woman with a sadness behind her smile, and the man who cheats death to come back for her.’

Jenny Hartley in the TLS commented that the strength of A House in the Country ‘lies in its evocation of the preoccupations of wartime England, and its mood of battered but sincere optimism. . . it is full of the kind of details that are such an invaluable source for novelists and film-makers currently reworking WWII.’

‘It wears the guise of a romantic novel depicting the tragedy of an unconsummated love affair but is in fact an evocative tribute to the roles in WWII of those who were left at home. . . Jocelyn Playfair has an enviable ability to evoke a compelling atmosphere with richly apt vocabulary, and a keen sense of humour – some of the lighter moments of social interaction between her minor characters exude comic energy.’ The Tablet

No. 32. The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme

The Sunday Telegraph Magazine published a four-page article by Maureen Cleave about the ‘delightful’ The Carlyles at Home, illustrated with beautiful photographs of Carlyle’s House as it is today.

The Independent on Sunday gave the book four stars: “It is not the purpose of this book to explore the Carlyles’ marital relations” claims Thea Holme in her 1965 study. Thankfully, the author betrays this promise, and we see a good deal of their married life; the picture which emerges is one of huge tenderness. However secluded their life may now appear, it was replete with incident, whether in the form of difficult, demanding neighbours, sullen maids, itinerant geniuses or constant artistic and financial worries. Here were two people utterly unable to detach themselves from either internal or external pressures, babbling in glorious, garrulous prose: two thinking hearts.’

And the National Trust Magazine wrote about the book, and about the painting used as the endpaper: ‘When Tait painted the Carlyles he told them his work would be “amazingly interesting to Posterity a hundred years hence.” The double portrait, which can be seen at the Trust-owned Carlyle’s House in Chelsea, is often cited as a classic example of Victorian middle class tastes. . . fifty pence from every book sold will go to the House.’

No. 33. The Far Cry by Emma Smith

The Far Cry is undoubtedly a small masterpiece.’ Valerie Grove in The Times

‘A second Passage to India‘ was the heading for the Spectator’s review of The Far Cry, ‘a small masterpiece’ that describes Mr Digby and Teresa who are, in today’s parlance, dysfunctional: a pair of brilliantly realised sacred monsters quite unable to engage with each other or anybody else, the one comic and tragic by turns, a cross between Evelyn Waugh’s Mr Enderby and Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army; the other an all-too-sensitive, grumpy chrysalis with little hope of ever maturing into a butterfly. . . The most striking character of the book is India itself. . . I can think of no writer, British or Indian, who has captured so vividly, with such intensity, the many intangibles of the Indian kaleidoscope.’

No. 34. Minnie’s Room by Mollie Panter-Downes

Patrick Skene Catling wrote in August 2002 in the Spectator: ‘The writer is discomfortingly good at anatomising the crudities and subtleties of snobbery, but she is never unkind. Such is her understanding of the vulnerable humanity of her characters that her stories are only slightly depressing…Mollie Panter-Downes would, in spirit, approve of the elegant design of the present volume… publishing at its most thoughtful.’

The Times called Mollie Panter-Downes ‘an unerring observer, with a stunning gift for economy of description; with a few strokes of her pen she could summon a vivid sense of the odd effects of war or display her gift for elucidating what is eternal in human relationships.’

Peter Parker in the Daily Telegraph wrote that Mollie ‘is much more than a mere chronicler of English life: these stories are very well-written, acute, funny and poignant.’

In Minnie’s Room, wrote the Spectator, Mollie Panter-Downes ‘was able, with intimate perceptiveness and without sentimental inhibition, to describe compassionately the habitats and habits of the middle class in the Home Counties. She was sociologically precise and expert on all sorts of status indicators, sympathetic and gently wry, discomfortingly good at anatomising the crudities and subtleties of snobbery, but never unkind.’

No. 35. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail

Slightly Foxed wrote a feature about us, under the heading ‘A Publisher in Bloomsbury’, calling us ‘one of the real success stories of modern independent publishing’. In it Simon Brett reviewed Greenery Street, ‘less a story, more a series of incidents, it has a mock-philosophical leisureliness which can explode with impeccable timing into a sequence of comic moments… It is a pleasure to read, an impeccably crafted, very English comedy of manners; and, at moments, can be something more…’

The Daily Mail called Greenery Street ‘a wonderfully happy book, based on the author’s own first year of marriage, when every detail of domestic life – however minor – is treated as a great adventure; much remains familiar and fresh.’

A reviewer in the TLS praised the book as ‘funnier and subtler than Three Men in a Boat, quite as good as The Diary of a Nobody and fit to set beside early PG Wodehouse, who thought Greenery Street “simply terrific” and “uncommonly like genius.”‘

Greenery Street was probably [Denis Mackail's] best, certainly his most popular book. The conceit which frames it is that this pretty little street has a special magic which draws and enchants the newly wed, but, after twelve months, as soon as the first pram appears in the hall, certainly when a second becomes imminent, no less ineluctably drives them away to larger, more prosaic houses elsewhere.’ The Tablet

No. 36. Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles

Lettice Delmer, according to Home & Family, ‘is a novel in verse – but don’t let that put you off. You’ll be so gripped after the first few pages that you won’t even notice, and later you’ll recall how clever and poetic it is. It won’t be easy to forget the tragic heroine, just as it’s difficult to forget Hardy’s Tess.’

The website recommended Lettice Delmer as ‘a page-turner, a novel that can be read slowly and again to appreciate the fine turnings of phrase and the elegant verse.’

The Times reviewed Lettice Delmer ‘by a vicar’s wife with a passion for radical politics who is a fascinating observer of the period. . . combining social realism with elements more common to a Victorian morality tale, this is far from being a straightforward improving story: Susan Miles was writing at a time when the Victorian age was still intimately bound up with her own; she makes it clear that Lettice’s difficulties are partly the result of her mother’s efforts to keep her mind “fresh and pure”.’

The Tablet praised this ‘extraordinary novel’ in blank verse: ‘I was hooked as soon as I began reading it. Susan Miles writes with such intensity that her protagonist’s unlikely pilgrimage from pampered under-occupied daughter of the upper middle class to humble, discerning attendant in a ladies’ lavatory is absorbing and entirely believable throughout… The terrible hospital for venereal diseases where Mrs Delmer pays brave, bright little visits is brilliantly described. So are the doomed but heartfelt attempts of Lettice and her mother to heal the lives of unfortunates they have rescued… a remarkable discovery.’

No. 37. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart

EDGE publications’ Jason Salzenstein said that The Runaway ‘is more than just a children’s book. As pure and innocent as it is adventurous and fun to read, the fact that The Runaway is written in English long since past only adds to its charm and amusement. With dialogue like “… for a sensible, clever girl, which you undoubtedly are, you are a great little goose”, how could you not be amused? Elizabeth Anna Hart should be recognised for her sprightly, exciting and endearing writing that has an appeal (to both children and adults) that has lasted well past its time. Lucky for us.’

The Runaway ‘provides pure and by no means mindless enjoyment’ wrote the Spectator. ‘This Victorian favourite has been reissued by Persephone with a lovely silvery cover and pretty endpapers and the woodcut illustrations by Gwen Raverat make it even more of a visual treat. Rarely can black and white have been used to such colourful effect. . . The social comedy is exact. It’s fresh and funny and it doesn’t preach, which is perhaps surprising for 1872.’

In its ‘Back in the Bookshops’ column The Tablet reviewer felt that The Runaway ‘made me see Victorian children’s fiction in a new light’ and called it ‘blithe, funny and psychologically accurate… free of pedagogy and satire, it simply sets out to entertain’; and the heroine, Clarice, is described ‘with wry truthfulness’.

No. 38. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

‘As delightful and perceptive today as it was seventy years ago: on her wedding day a girl knows she is about to make a serious mistake.’ The Bookseller

‘In Cheerful Weather for the Wedding Julia Strachey creates an environment of comic high anxiety and unexpected imagery. Metaphors that at first appear whimsical are quickly revealed to be perfectly apt, as when Strachey describes the bride’s forgetful mother, who has just assigned half of the overnight guests to the same bedroom, as having the worried facial expression of someone who had “swallowed a packet of live bumblebees”. Julia Strachey’s sharp eye, playful language and perfect comic timing will have you laughing.’ Jessa Crispin on

In the Guardian’s Summer Reading for 2003: Shena MacKay thought that ‘Julia Strachey’s 1932 novella Cheerful Weather for the Wedding has lost none of its surreal charm. This Persephone reprint would make a subversive present for a summer bride, or her mother. A brilliant, bittersweet upstairs-downstairs comedy.’

At Christmas, the Financial Times chose Cheerful Weather for the Wedding as the ideal present ‘for the Materfamilias catching herself wishing she was far away from all the bustle (she loves it really).’

Virginia Woolf thought Cheerful Weather “astonishingly good – complete and sharp and individual.”

The Times’s audio book reviewer Lottie Moggach called Julia Strachey’s ‘short, sharp-witted Cheerful Weather three parts PG Wodehouse to one part EM Forster. Her deceptively larky, acutely observed prose could teach today’s chick-litters a thing or seven.’

No. 39. Manja by Anna Gmeyner

In 2004 Simon Brett wrote in Slightly Foxed: ‘Manja begins on a note of edge-of-the-seat cinematic tension: 112 pages on, at the end of Part One, which I read virtually at a sitting… the reader is left gasping… What makes the book valuable as a historical record and also successful as fiction is the same: it does not rely on our knowledge of What Was To Come. The writing is quite free of the portentousness of hindsight.’

Plays International wrote about Manja: ‘This magnificent novel… effortlessly connects individual lives to social currents…Gravely sardonic, in a manner not dissimilar to Odon von Horvath, this utterly compelling chronicle reads splendidly in Kate Phillips’s translation.’

No. 40. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple

On the Penguin website Caro Fraser said: ‘I read a lovely book called The Priory by Dorothy Whipple. Reading it was rather like watching an old black-and-white movie. It was a joy, and gives fascinating insights into family life and class structures in the period just before the Second World War.’

Nottingham County Lit magazine said about The Priory that it is ‘the third Whipple novel to be republished by Persephone Books. Each one had my rapt attention. Her sharp eye for detail and the nuances of family relationships together with her wry wit are a delight.’

Matthew Dennison wrote in The Tablet in 2003 about The Priory: ‘Much of the novel is taken up with the disillusionments of love, sketched with wonderful skill. But, though poignant, this is not an unhappy novel. Whipple delivers the ending every romantic reader will hope for in a manner that is both believable and satisfying. In so doing she involves the reader in a central tenet of the novel’s philosophy – that hope is rewarded. Ultimately in The Priory hope and love carry all before them. The reader’s knowledge that war is just around the corner contributes a final, sharp poignancy to a totally involving novel by a writer who deserves to be better known.’

No. 41. Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge

Harriet Lane wrote in the Observer in July 2003: ‘Cambridge’s narrative is shaped by the onset of modern Britain: female education, the buckling of the class structure, divorce. “It’s wonderful to come down here to you. Everything is always the same, and nothing ever happens,” says Catherine’s niece dismissively, but Cambridge’s achievement is to show that quite the reverse is true.’

No. 42. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

‘One of my favourite publishers at the moment,’ Sarah Waters wrote in The Times, ‘is Persephone Books, whose list of reprinted women’s fiction contains some small masterpieces. Elisabeth Sanxay Holding’s tense The Blank Wall is perfect for crime fans. Dorothy Whipple’s They Were Sisters and Someone at a Distance are compelling stories of domestic trauma. The books look great, too.’

The Blank Wall was described by Philip Oakes in the Literary Review as ‘clearly a book with a lasting appeal. What it applauds is a woman’s determination to protect her family, come what may. Strong reader identification perhaps, or just good, civilised writing. Congratulations to Persephone Books for brushing off the latest layer of dust. Good housekeeping, good publishing.’ And the Daily Telegraph wrote: ‘The mix of the everyday and the extraordinary is deft… A most welcome return to print.’

The Blank Wall is on the one hand an illustration of the old adage, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave/ When first we practise to deceive,”’ wrote Lady Antonia Fraser in The Spectator. ‘On the other hand it is a brilliant psychological thriller with twists and turns, both morally and amorally, worthy of the great Patricia Highsmith herself … [although] Sanxay Holding was Highsmith’s senior by thirty-two years. That admirable institution, Persephone Books, has produced an edition, complete with Edward Bawdenesque endpapers, which makes this racy, suspenseful tale a pleasure to read. I certainly feel I have been introduced to a masterpiece.’

In The Observer Gaby Wood devoted a ‘World of Books’ column to The Blank Wall, ‘in my opinion, a perfect thriller – because its thrills arise accidentally, incidentally, and then, in collusion with human nature, conspire to take over the plot… Who really did it, and whether they get caught, becomes almost superfluous. Here the suspense is embedded in a tragedy of manners. The story is mostly conveyed in free indirect speech, so that you are both with Lucia and not with her… The plot engine is Lucia’s noble and protective urge to keep up appearances… a classic of supense fiction.’

In the Financial Times Ludo Hunter-Tilney noticed ‘an unmistakable vein of high camp through the book. But there’s a degree of sophistication here too. The writing vividly evokes the fluttering of Lucia’s panicked mind. Her relationships with those around her are interestingly ambiguous, and through them are refracted themes of race, class, justice and gender… a satisfying noir melodrama.’

In the Guardian Maxim Jakubowski concluded that ‘Sanxay Holding is a striking precursor to the likes of Highsmith and Rendell, and turns the psychological screws with insidious accuracy.’

In The Sunday Telegraph‘s Summer Reading feature Jessica Mann chose The Blank Wall as a ‘highly enjoyable period piece [which] plausibly evokes nightmarish events.’

‘The Blank Wall was like a revelation to me: a rather quiet, unhysterical novel about a respectable suburban woman who, when we first meet her, has no voice of her own, or any real sense of her identity and value. Her husband and her children tell her who she is and what to do, what to think. And then, as events unfold, she falls into this different place inside her where she discovers her courage, her fierceness, her hidden desires. It’s about how ordinary life is scary; about how the self that the world sees and the self that crouches under the surface are so different. A book about not having a voice. A wonderful book. I urge you to read it.’ Nicci Gerrard at the Baileys Prize

No. 43. The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf

'Horribly fascinating ... beyond the biographical interest and subsumed sexual honesty, this sombre, self-lacerating novel still hurts.' David Jays in the Guardian.

The Wise Virgins was reviewed in The Spectator by Kate Chisholm in October 2003. She observed: ‘You have the sense that despite its elegant jacket and endpapers from Persephone this novel is set to deliver an explosive bombshell that will force you to confront all those uncomfortable thoughts you rather wish you didn’t have …there are wonderful moments.’

Dina Shiloh in the Jewish Quarterly praised ‘a vivid slice of history, portraying an England now gone forever. . . Most of all, the book gives a sense of the immense, complicated emotions Virginia aroused in Leonard: why he was so keen to marry this independent, gifted woman… The alternative was marrying a suburban, mousy Gwen.’ And Jonathan Self in the Jewish Chronicle called The Wise Virgins ‘a beautiful, moving and wry novel that should be judged on its own merits and not as some sort of literary curiosity… Throughout the prose is taut and precise, the observation penetrating.’

For ‘A Little Light Reading’ in the Sunday Times Helen Dunmore chose The Wise Virgins. ‘It’s a passionate, cuttingly truthful story of a love affair between two people struggling against the prejudices of their time and place. Leonard Woolf’s writing is almost unbearably honest as he describes Harry, full of ‘desire, waiting and excitement’, yet unable to rouse any answering feeling in Camilla.’

No. 44. Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers

In his review of Tea with Mr Rochester in the Spectator Matthew Dennison wrote: ‘Frances Towers’s writing is full of delicate implications; happily for the reader, each is neatly pinned. Such is the deftness of her touch, her elegant legerdemain, that she conceals the building blocks of her artistry, simply nudging the reader towards recognition of that implication that repeatedly in her stories provides the denouement… Towers’s combination of detachment and brutality is all the more striking in a writer whose prose is so consistently, involvingly beautiful.’

Lucy Lethbridge in The Tablet said: ‘Hers is a tightly drawn, delicately observed world. These stories operate within a narrow social sphere but she sketches the fragile dramas within it with needle-sharp precision. All is cool, precise and airy.’

Valerie Grove said in The Oldie, ‘five short stories by Frances Towers went out on Radio 4 read by Romola Garai, Emilia Fox and Susannah Harker. Tea with Mr Rochester is luminously word-perfect, quirky and original.’

The Bournemouth Daily Echo described the stories in Tea with Mr Rochester as ‘wise and perceptive, containing acute observations of life and love.’

In its review of Tea with Mr Rochester the Independent on Sunday commented: ‘At her best Frances Towers’s prose style is a shimmering marvel, and few writers can so deftly and economically delineate not only the outside but the inside of a character. Her women have layers, and the writer penetrates deep into the core, into the parts of the soul that are barely consciously acknowledged… ‘Don Juan and the Lily’, ‘Spade Man from over the Water’ and ‘Strings in Hollow Shells’ are marvels, novels in miniature. Watch out for the quiet little woman in the corner in Towers’s stories. There’s always more going on there than you can possibly fathom.’

The Guardian noted: ‘Her social range may not be wide, but her descriptions are exquisite and her tone poised between the wry and the romantic.’

And Best of British magazine ran a feature about us in which it called calling the stories in Tea with Mr Rochester ‘elusive, unsettling, almost Gothic – and beautifully written.’

No. 45. Good Food on the Aga by Ambrose Heath

The World of Interiors in 2006 picked Good Food on the Aga ‘to remind you of the wonders of owning an Aga. Organised by month, and headed with illustrations by Edward Bawden, this is the perfect cookbook for those with an old or new model of the classic stove’ (shown in bright egg-yolk yellow).

Good Food on the Aga is an absolute gem,’ said Hayley Anderton in Leicestershire and Rutland Life in 2005, ‘totally indespensable for anybody owning one of these ovens. First published in 1933, this is another offering from the excellent Persephone Books. All of the dishes are particularly suited to Aga cooking but not exclusively so, so don’t dismiss this just because you have the “wrong” oven. It’s a delight from start to finish.’

Good Food on the Aga was published in 1933,’ said This England in 2004, ‘and has since been regarded as a classic cookery book; but the recipes can be cooked on any stove, not just an Aga.’

The Oldie thought Good Food on the Aga ‘a delight for all cooks, not just those with Agas’, as did the Irish Times, which concluded: ‘There are cute books, there are beautiful books, and then there are Persephone books.’

No. 46. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd

The Church Times in 2004 said of Miss Ranskill Comes Home that ‘the writing is spare and sensitive, the humour wry, the situation both comic and tragic.’

In the Spectator Diana Hendry commented: ‘Everywhere she goes, Miss Ranskill encounters closed minds and a kind of awful self-righteous patriotism. No one seems able to listen. But ultimately the romantic comedy deepens to give the book its moral core and with a nicely unexpected twist the romance with the Carpenter is “consummated” in that Miss Ranskill is able to pass love on.’

The Tablet’s reviewer ‘very much enjoyed this ambitious and unusual book,’ calling it ‘warm, satirical, and historically fascinating… psychologically this is, in many ways, a very accurate novel and Miss Ranskill’s character is engaging and almost always convincing.’

In 2004 Best of British magazine thought that the book’s ‘blend of fantasy, satire and gentle comedy packs a powerful message about people’s effect on each other in times of varying circumstances. It entertains from the start.’

No. 47. The New House by Lettice Cooper

The Irish magazine Image commented in 2004: ‘Small and specialist publishing companies that actually survive are a rarity these days, which is why Persephone Books’ fifth anniversary is a real cause for celebration. The secret of their success lies in a happy union of style and content. For devotees the seasons are marked by their quarterly reprints and the latest two do not disappoint. The New House by Lettice Cooper is a hugely enjoyable 1936 novel which, on the surface, is just the simple story of a family moving from one large house to a small one, but is utterly gripping, its tension rising from the apparently simple question of whether likable Rhoda will break free of her domineering mother.’

The Guardian wrote about The New House: ‘It is tempting to describe Rhoda Powell, the 30-plus, stay-at-home daughter of a widowed mother, as Brookner-esque, even though Lettice Cooper wrote this wonderfully understated novel several decades before Anita Brookner mapped the defining features of quietly unhappy middle-class women… Though it is clear where Cooper’s sympathies lie, she does not preach revolution but shows how difficult it was in interwar Britain to escape the expectations of class and upbringing.’

In the Spectator Kate Chisholm described Lettice Cooper as ‘an intensely domestic novelist, unravelling in minute detail the tight web of family relations’ but one who is also ‘acutely aware of what goes on beyond the garden gate… The exposé of a family under strain because of changing times is curiously more vivid and real than in many novels about family life written today, mostly, I suspect, because of Cooper’s masterly use of Chekhov’s “telling detail”.’

No. 48. The Casino by Margaret Bonham

Leicestershire Life described Margaret Bonham and The Casino thus: ‘She married three times, leading a determinedly bohemian life with a love of exotic cars, socialists and gin. The result of this lifestyle is a collection of short stories as fresh as when they were first published in 1948, sharp, wittily-perceptive character sketches drawn mostly with affection, sometimes venom, but always with an eye for the individual.’

The Bournemouth Daily Echo’s wrote about The Casino: ‘Heaven is snuggling down with an elegant book and a box of chocolates. Persephone can always be relied upon to provide the former… An assortment of highly readable stories, both funny and sharp, written in spare, direct prose.’

And Image magazine commented: ‘Margaret Bonham’s writing in The Casino is cool, wry and sometimes touching.’

No. 49. Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton

Chris Power in The Times wrote that ‘the story of architect Martin Lovell and his malfunctioning marriage is affecting, and all the more appealing for Ashton’s irony and wit. The novel, beginning in 1892 and ending in 1931, offers a fascinating portrait of shifts within the class system.’

The Victorian (the Victorian Society’s journal) called Bricks and Mortar ‘intelligent and serious, vividly evoking the period, in parts genuinely touching. One of the most attractive strands is the father-daughter relationship: Helen Ashton conveys well the enthusiasm they both feel for the architectural education he gives.’

No. 50. The World that was Ours by Hilda Bernstein

‘This passionately political memoir is vibrant with the dilemmas of everyday family life, quick-witted dialogue, fast-paced adventure and novelistic detail.’ The Times

‘Most first-hand accounts by those who fought apartheid tend to be detailed, historical and not overly personalised,’ wrote Peter Hain in the Guardian, 2004, in a long review of The World that was Ours. ‘Hilda Bernstein’s is not. It is a very personal and gripping story which shares her emotions with the reader – she tells how it all happened and how it feels when it happens to you. That is why it is so readable, so fascinating and so important an account of one of the truly heroic struggles to end in complete victory.’

‘On holiday,’ wrote Sarah Crompton in the Daily Telegraph, ‘I read The World that was Ours, an engrossing and moving account of South Africa’s Rivonia Trial.’

Nelson Mandela’s biographer, Anthony Sampson, wrote in The Spectator: ‘It’s not just because it’s beautifully written, in a plain, unpretentious style, but also because it conveys, with acute observation, the combination of ordinariness and danger which is implicit in any totalitarian state.’

Benjamin Pogrund in the Journal of Southern African Studies, 2006, called The World that was Ours ‘an exceptional book when it first appeared which is even more so now, offering a personal, contemporaneous account of the lives of anti-apartheid activists… It will endure as a finely written record of the moment-by-moment courage that went into opposition to apartheid.’

In the Jewish Chronicle Anne Sebba reviewed the ‘deeply moving’ The World that was Ours: ‘In this riveting book Hilda Bernstein vividly recreates the atmosphere of post war South Africa and her own part in the struggle to bring about equality and justice… Most accounts of major political events are written by the men who were driving them. Here is an intensely female view.’

Jenny Linford chose The World that was Ours to discuss on BBC Radio London’s ‘Word for Word.’ She said: ‘I was reading it on the Tube and I had tears in my eyes because it was so emotional.’

‘It reads like a thriller page after page… The loveliest of Hilda Bernstein’s works about the ugliest of her times.’ Albie Sachs in The Independent

Read the full text of Albie Sachs' review of The World that was Ours

No. 51. Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper

The Times paperback reviewer Chris Power noted in 2004 that ‘Duff Cooper, a former Secretary of State for War, never wrote another novel, which, given Operation Heartbreak’s understatedly affecting quality and satisfying conclusion, is a great shame.’

Image magazine’s Anna Carey commented: ‘As ever, autumn brings new delectable offerings from the always reliable Persephone Books, including this year the touching Operation Heartbreak.’

No. 52. The Village by Marghanita Laski

In the Glasgow Herald, 2006, Christopher Lee’s books of the year were ‘reprints from the wonderful Persephone Books: Marghanita Laski’s The Village. Love life and station in life. Forget studious histories. Here’s upstairs having to make do with downstairs.’

The Village,’ wrote Julian Margaret Gibbs in The Tablet, ‘is a novel of ideas but it is warm and readable because Marghanita Laski is good at character and relationships too… She looks to the future a good deal and often her views are dated, but this emphasis on the significance of the changes coming to the village seems, from our vantage point, prescient.’

In the Spectator Charlotte Moore reviewed The Village, ‘one of those lovely Persephone reprints with a pearly grey cover and endpapers like the maids’ bedroom curtains in a Victorian country house… This traditionally organised novel of English village life is more than a gentle dig at quirky English behaviour. It’s a precise, evocative but unsentimental account of a period of transition, an absorbing novel and a useful piece of social history.’

Image magazine’s Anna Carey called The Village ‘a delightful comedy of manners.’

No. 53. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

‘Amid the thousands of new novels that come out every year, there must be room for some revivals,’ said Nicholas Clee in the Guardian, 2005. ‘These are likely, if chosen by people of taste and discernment, to be better than at least 90% of the new stuff. Such a discerning publisher is Persephone Books… Ruby Ferguson’s 1937 novel Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary is a curious, affecting confection of high Scots romance and social realism. You may find rather syrupy the early chapters, in which Lady Rose enjoys an idyllic upbringing on a grand Scottish estate in the 1860s and 70s, but stay with it: you’ll come to see that this is a romantic novel that does not deny the inequalities of Victorian mores or the shattering of illusions that the 20th century will bring.’

Matthew Dennison in the Spectator, described Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary as ‘a fairytale for adult readers with a sting in its tail, a bite in the telling… Perhaps for Ferguson’s contemporaries of the interwar generation the novel’s lush, unabashed romanticism invited willing surrender. Present-day readers similarly prepared to suspend cynicism and surrender to its vintage charms will find in Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary unexpected depths, wisdom and even social protest, though its escapism is incomplete, its portrayal of human nature still red in tooth and claw beneath the trappings of Victorian grand luxe.’

Susie Maguire commented in the Glasgow Herald’s ‘Book of the Moment’ column that Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary ‘is written in a style which fits somewhere between the witty satire of Susan Ferrier’s Marriage (1818) and the innocent gaiety of Daisy Ashford’s The Young Visiters (1919). The novel so captivated the late Queen Mother, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, that she invited the author to dine at Buckingham Palace.’

‘Perhaps the Queen Mother was moved by Ruby Ferguson’s encomium of all things Scottish,’ said Matthew Dennison in the Spectator; ‘perhaps the novel’s lush unabashed romanticism invited willing surrender. Present-day readers similarly prepared to suspend cynicism and surrender to its vintage charms will find unexpected depths, wisdom and even social protest.’

No. 54. They Can’t Ration These by Vicomte De Mauduit

In a 2006 article in the Guardian the ‘food for free’ pioneer Richard Mabey referred to Vicomte de Mauduit’s ‘splendidly titled’ They Can’t Ration These (1940 and the Ministry of Food’s own pamphlet, Hedgerow Harvest (1943), both of which ‘moved the Home Front out into the wild, with recipes for the obligatory rose-hip syrup, and sloe and marrow jam: “If possible crack some of the stones and add to the preserve before boiling to give a nutty flavour.” An epicurean touch, but prefaced by the first strictures about picking etiquette: “None of this harvest should be wasted, but be exceedingly careful how you gather it in… don’t injure the bushes or trees. When you pick mushrooms, cut the stalks neatly with a knife, leaving the roots in the ground.”

‘His book,’ says Mary Blume in The New York Times, ‘includes not only advice on food, but also on how to make black ink from oak twigs and how to preserve roses with candlewax: “Arrange a vase and admire the picture for weeks and months,” the vicomte debonairly suggests. A nice touch in adversity: He clearly had the very prewar French mix of pessimism and panache.

In the Independent Books of the Year 2005 Charlie Lee-Potter chose They Can’t Ration These, ‘a whimsical forerunner to Food for Free, packed with recipes for stewed starlings, sage toothpaste and hedgehog pate. I pore over it late at night and cheer myself with the thought that the recipe for snail consommé need never be used again.’

The International Herald Tribune commented, in a long piece on the Vicomte de Mauduit’s book: ‘He was trying to make the best of a rotten situation and could not have guessed that his coping strategies would become part of today’s affluent society. The salads he recommends are now found in supermarkets along with olive oil, which in his day was only found in chemists. The pumpkins and squashes which he praises are replacing the beet on modish menus. Perhaps the biggest star of de Mauduit’s book is the good old nettle.’

No. 55. Flush by Virginia Woolf

Anna Carey for Image magazine described Virginia Woolf’s Flush as ‘a very enjoyable retelling of a famous love story as as well as a smart feminist critique of gender roles… it is a seriously witty, angry examination of the way Victorian women were treated like petted lapdogs.’

The Virginia Woolf Bulletin praised our ‘beautifully produced’ edition of Flush with its ‘excellent preface by Sally Beauman… what she is demonstrating is that there is much autobiography in the biography – there are notable parallels between Barrett’s and Woolf’s illness, their domineering fathers and their watchful husbands.’

No. 56. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple

Elizabeth Day wrote about They Were Sisters in Stylist: 'It is the most extraordinary and brilliantly subtle but moving look at three sisters, and the interplay between them as they grow into adulthood. They Were Sisters is the kind of book that doesn’t get published much anymore, because it doesn’t seem very high concept or thrilling. But it’s such a wonderful character study – and for women who are sisters, as I am, it’s got a particular resonance.'

In the Independent on Sunday in 2005 Charlie Lee-Potter reviewed They Were Sisters: ‘It exerts a menacing force from start to finish. I eavesdropped on the lives of Lucy, Charlotte and Vera, compelled to go on but with a sense of simmering dread… By the time Dorothy Whipple came to write her final novel in 1953, the appetite for her subtle, acutely psychologically observed novels had gone but it is satisfying to think that the woman who believed how important it was to live your life well should be enjoying a posthumous triumph. She deserves it.’

In The Spectator Salley Vickers wrote about ‘the sparkling achievements of this accomplished novelist, not the least of which is the ability – rarer today than it should be – simply to entertain. I read this diverting novel on the plane to Australia and the journey flew by… The most original, and compelling, part of the story concerns Charlotte’s treatment at the hands of her husband, Geoffrey. The subtle way in which a misplaced devotion will often fuel its own destruction, and fire its object to renewed cruelties, is a truth revealed by Whipple with chilling accuracy. A moralist, in the line, if less augustly, of Jane Austen and George Eliot, in her universe unkindness and selfishness and, above all, self-centredness do not escape retribution.’

In Image magazine Anna Carey commented: ‘Although this compulsively readable novel was first published in 1943, its depiction of an abusive marriage feels unsettingly modern. Dorothy Whipple has the ability to make her readers care about almost every character.’

No. 57. The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff

In the Glasgow Herald in 2006 Christopher Lee’s books of the year were ‘reprints from the wonderful Persephone Books: ‘The Hopkins Manuscript is nothing like his haunting play Journey’s End. If you think global warming, then read it.’

The Sunday Telegraph called The Hopkins Manuscript ‘intensely readable and touching.’

The Tablet described its hero as ‘a self-important little man called Edgar Hopkins, whose chief passion, apart from membership of the British Lunar Society, is breeding poultry: it is his reaction to the coming cataclysm, which is announced to the Lunar Society some seven months in advance, that forms the main interest of the novel…. After the cataclysm, we are strangely taken by surprise, and it would be a great pity to reveal just what Sherriff does with his plot. Devotees of science fiction will like this book for its importance in the history of the genre, and those who enjoy a well-crafted novel will admire it for its panache. In addition (and the excellent introduction by Michael Moorcock makes this point), despite the fact that the moon crashing to earth is fantastic, most of its observations on human nature are timeless, and many aspects of its ending give us a parable for our times in the post-9/11 world. Sherriff is not just an artist but perhaps also a prophet as well.’

Fay Weldon chose The Hopkins Manuscript as one of her two books for Summer Reading in the Observer. She wrote: ‘RC Sherriff wrote this spectacular, skilled and moving novel in 1939. It is supremely and alarmingly relevant to our life today.’

‘When the Royal Society of Abyssinia discovered The Hopkins Manuscript two years ago in the ruins of Notting Hill it was hoped that some valuable light would at last be thrown on the final, tragic days of London.’ Now that’s an opening line. Western Europe’s civilisations are dead, their lands deserted and drear; this volume is all that remains. And how did the world end? The moon fell on it. The premise sounds laughable. The science is laughable. (The beautiful Persephone edition includes an afterword by the eminent physicist George Gamow, who gently demolishes the book’s entire theoretical foundation.) And yet RC Sherriff’s novel, like all great speculative fiction, rests not on its plausibility, but on the glimpses it shows us of our own face. The novel’s framing device is fabulous. A magnificently disparaging preface, written eight centuries hence by a snooty Abyssinian scholar, informs the reader that, due to the narrator’s breath-taking self-regard, the book – practically the last remaining British document, barring a KEEP OFF THE GRASS sign and a stone reading PECKHAM 3 MILES – is “almost valueless to the scientist and historian”. This aspect is precisely what sets The Hopkins Manuscript apart from most apocalyptic fiction: it’s (frequently) a comedy... Sherriff had seen Europe smashed once before – he spent four years in the trenches – and his dread of it happening again shines through. What a weird and brilliant talent he had. Hopkins wasn’t Sherriff’s first sci-fi outing: he had already written the screenplay for HG Wells’s The Invisible Man. Today he’s remembered principally for his play about the First World War, Journey’s End, but he seems to have written whatever he pleased. (His first novel, The Fortnight in September, concerns a family going to Bognor for a fortnight. That’s it. It’s riveting.) Hopkins, however, was his finest hour.’ Andrew Hunter Murray in The Times.

No. 58. Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson

In the Spectator Charlotte Moore described Hetty Dorval as ‘a psychological journey’ that is ‘reminiscent of Edith Wharton or of Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier, but is clearer and prettier than either. Ethel Wilson sketches people and places with marvellous economy… Hetty Dorval has one of the most resonant and suggestive concluding sentences I’ve ever come across. It’s a strange little treat.’

Elena Seymenliyska in the Guardian thought that Ethel Wilson’s ‘charming’ novel ‘told in a lovely sing-song voice… is immaculately written, and the author’s letter to her publisher, politely rejecting most editorial changes, provides a fascinating appendix to a beautifully produced edition.’

No. 59. There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult

In The Tablet Isabel de Bertodano praised There Were No Windows’ ‘strangely contemporary air… In spite of her grim subject, Hoult’s story, though sad and raw, is never gloomy and often funny… In spite of her eccentricities the reader falls slightly in love with Claire, a romantic character who is here exposed in all the vulnerability of old age. It could easily become too depressing, but There Were No Windows has a lightness of touch, is beautifully written and Norah Hoult has produced an honest, compelling account of Alzheimer’s without ever betraying her friend.’

There Were No Windows, was chosen as one of his Spectator books of the year by Alan Judd. He called it ‘intelligent, unsparing, generous, ironic and funny… Written with nice social observation, it deals with sadness but it’s not depressing.’

In the Spectator Cressida Connolly said ‘Despite its grim subject (an old woman, Mrs Temple, losing her memory) There Were No Windows is a quite extraordinary book… unflinchingly, blackly funny, brilliantly observed and terrifying… The book is set during the Second World War, in the London Blitz; servants are thin on the ground and, to Mrs Temple’s dismay, fail to behave with the deference of yore… As well as describing Mrs Temple’s demise, the novel thus gives a sly account of the end of an entire way of life.’

No. 60. Doreen by Barbara Noble

Jane Rye in the Spectator called Barbara Noble’s Doreen ‘a gentle, serious story in which, rather disconcertingly, everybody behaves well… The author’s argument is scrupulously fair; she is observant, sensitive and intelligent.’

No. 61. A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes

In Metro Nina Caplan called it ‘not a story of Victorian repression but a joyous recounting of a delightful childhood… Molly Hughes is lively and unassuming, allowing for neither boredom nor condescension.’

No. 62. How To Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw

Anna Carey highlighted How to Run Your Home without Help in The Irish Times Magazine: ‘Calling all undomestic goddesses. Does your daily cleaning routine consist of wiping a few crumbs off the kitchen counter? Does your kitchen bin overflow, does your kitchen floor lurk under a layer of grime and and do your bookshelves go undusted for weeks? Then you might need Kay Smallshaw’s How to Run Your Home without Help, a 1949 guide that has been reissued in a typically stylish edition by Persephone. Aimed at middle-class housewives who were faced for the first time with the challenge of living without servants, Smallshaw’s book is still surprisingly useful. It is also very amusing, a snapshot of a world in which the front steps should be scrubbed every week but your hair will be fine if you brush it every day and get “a shampoo every ten days or so.” The perfect present for the slovenly.’ In House and Garden Matthew Dennison chose How to Run Your Home without Help as one of the ‘seven books published in 2005 which, though not aimed at the generalist reader, are quirky, unusual and noteworthy’: Kay Smallshaw ‘conjures a vanished world, where housework for the wife grappling with a new lack of domestic staff is continuous and standards rigorously high… Like many titles reissued by Persephone, this is a period piece, but one that combines insight with charm.’

In the Daily Mail Alice Smellie recorded her experiments in living as a 1950s housewife using How to Run Your Home without Help as her guide. Also in the Daily Mail Val Hennessy said: ‘Dusters ahoy! For a laugh and a half, do read this gripping reprint… of a slice of social history which unwittingly offers a fascinatingly detailed picture of the household duties and everyday skills once expected of women. The tedious lives of our mothers and grandmothers are wonderfully revealed in her pages, and, as we read, we experience uncomfortable little twinges of shame about our own slovenly attitude to house-keeping.’

In the Independent Christina Patterson called How to Run Your Home ‘a salutary, and comic, reminder of an age when wifely duties were as strong to your house as your husband.’

The Church Times described How to Run Your Home as ‘another delight from Persephone Books’.

No. 63. Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan

‘A subtle depiction of the claustrophobia and melancholy of thwarted maternal ambition. It addresses the loss of a mother who realises she’s raised children she doesn’t recognise, since “the kingdoms she had won for them had been rejected.” Published in 1938, this surprising novel addresses the contemporary premise that motherhood is absolutely not the definition of a woman.’ Clover Stroud in Waitrose Weekend

‘Mere excellence will not secure the survival of a work of fiction,’ wrote Nicholas Clee in the Times Literary Supplement. ‘Novels that fail to attain classic or cult status disappear rapidly from view; their only chance of resurrection is to enter the radar of an enterprising firm such as Persephone. Princes in the Land is a happy discovery: while it has no claims to be considered imperishable, it is astute and skilful, and is certainly as well worth reading as most of the new fiction on the market today. It opens as a cool, sharp social comedy… The narrative changes tone as it reaches the heroine’s married life in the 1920s. This is not a proto-feminist novel; Cannan has no critique to make of the roles of men and women. But she does give an affecting account of the suppression of personality that her heroine undergoes in order to adapt herself as a wife and mother. She focuses her thwarted desires on her children – who of course do not turn out as she hoped.’

In the Cumnor Parish News Harriet Bretherton wrote about Princes in the Land, ‘set largely on Cumnor Hill [near Oxford]… For the local reader the themes of social change and the role of women in the ‘30s are played out against the familiar backdrop of Botley and North Hinksey…The bus already ran from Carfax under the railway bridge to Botley; on the bus Patricia reflects on her need for false teeth and on the children’s growing independence. Now they no longer need her, she asks herself, what was the point of it all?’

No. 66. Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart

Compass (for garden designers) said that ‘anyone who is an enthusiastic gardener’ will enjoy the ‘quirky and whimsical’ Gardener’s Nightcap.

‘Muriel Stuart’s enthusiastic championing of a vanished style of small-scale English gardening is both charming and historically interesting,’ wrote Matthew Dennison in House and Garden. ‘Gardener’s Nightcap is, as its title suggests, a series of essays, nuggets, even single paragraphs, on all aspects of gardening, intended for reading last thing at night in the shadowy minutes before sleep. It combines determined practicality with a strongly poetic even fanciful streak. Last century it delighted its first generation of readers: for different reasons, it will delight again.’ And Image magazine in Ireland called Gardener’s Nightcap ‘a witty and beautifully illustrated collection of gardening advice.’

The Good Book Guide recommended Gardener’s Nightcap as ‘an ode to everything garden, written in beautiful prose. Inspiring and educational in equal measure, the book is a quirky mix of ‘how-to’ gardening advice and insights into life in twentieth-century England. Covering everything from boarders and beavers to winter decorations and trees in spring, this gem is a unique little gift for every garden enthusiast. Beautifully presented, with illustrations by Philip Gough, the descriptions are humorous and a lasting insight into Muriel Stuart’s England.’

In The Bookseller Caroline Sanderson chose Muriel Stuart’s Gardener’s Nightcap as her top gardening title for June: ‘This bedside gardening book, full of horticultural advice and other delightful prunings, is dedicated to “my husband, who led me down the garden path.” First published in 1938, it is now available in distinctive Persephone grey.’

No. 67. The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff

'The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff is just about the most uplifting, life-affirming novel I can think of right now', wrote Kazuo Ishiguro in the Guardian in July 2020. 'Published in 1931, this is an exquisitely subtle account of an ordinary lower-middle class family from south London, preparing for, travelling to, then enjoying their modest summer holiday in Bognor Regis. At one level totally undramatic, Sherriff magically re-calibrates our norms of what is and isn’t wonderfully exciting till we become utterly tuned into the rise and fall of this family’s emotions. Sherriff never patronises, nor does he attempt to exalt these people beyond what they are. He respects them for all the right reasons – for their instinctive decency towards one another and to those they encounter, and for the unselfconscious – perhaps unconscious – way they function as a happy family, despite their individual insecurities and frustrations. The Great English Seaside Holiday in its heyday, and the beautiful dignity to be found in everyday living, have rarely been captured more delicately.'

Matthew Dennison in the Spectator wrote that “Sherriff introduces elements of small-scale tragedy. He does so with a completely assured touch, without sentiment, archness or coyness, lacing the novel with passages of pathos that are almost unbearably moving. The Stevenses are wholly believable and, as intended by their creator, wholly ordinary. But their goodness and decency — revealed consistently in little things — raise them to heroic status…It remains a masterpiece — and one that surprises through its understated but irresistible power to move.”

Val Hennessey wrote in the Daily Mail: 'This mesmerising literary treasure is almost beyond praise. It’s about an ordinary suburban family’s annual trip to Bognor, their utter happiness during a brief freedom from the daily grind. Each year they stay at the same shabby guest house, spending precious days enjoying simple delights such as beach cricket, sand castles, brass bands, deckchairs, strolling on the pier. Ginger beer is a treat, a teashop splurge a pleasure. Dad may be a loveable bore, mum a timid worrier, but their small adventures, private ponderings and regrets, their contentment and enjoyment, are almost heartbreaking.'

'The best book about seaside regularity was published in 1931: The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff. It concerns the Stevens family of London, who always go to the same guest house in Bognor. "They had often talked of a change – of Brighton, Bexhill, even Lowestoft – but Bognor always won in the end. If anything it held them stronger every year.' Andrew Martin in the Independent

'This is a masterpiece of gentle understatement, an insight into quiet people living unassuming lives. Almost nothing happens, yet it is the most absorbing book I have read in a long while.' Michael Morpurgo in The Telegraph's 'Best books for summer'

‘Sherriff, better known for Journey’s End, refers, during the family’s rail journey to the south coast, to “a full hour of unexpected pleasure”. It does service for the book, and the beauty of reading. Full marks to Persephone Books. You won’t be disappointed.’ Michael Henderson the Telegraph

No. 68. The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes

In the Guardian Maxim Jakubowski reviewed The Expendable Man: ‘Dorothy B Hughes is best remembered for The Fallen Sparrow and In a Lonely Place, both of which were made into cult movies. This reissue of her final novel, first published in 1963, is most welcome, an exhilarating no-holds-barred semi-political noir thriller denouncing racial abuse in the American southwest. A doctor picks up an attractive teenage female hitchhiker and runaway on an Arizona road and begins a slow, systematic descent into an American hell. It took real guts to write [this novel] at the time of the Goldwater presidential campaign, Governor Wallace’s declarations and much simmering racism. The book still grips like a vice, and hasn’t dated one bit.’

Her brilliant descriptive powers make and unmake reality.

‘In Dorothy B Hughes’s 1963 The Expendable Man, a young doctor drives from Los Angeles to Phoenix and along the way picks up a teenage hitchhiker. Though he never makes an untoward gesture, he quickly becomes anxious to be free of her. The paranoia that we think is troubling him turns out to be rooted in something very different. “A nigger doc driving a big white Cadillac brought Bonnie Lee to Phoenix,” says one of the cops and we understand that the young doctor (whom we’ve assumed to be white) isn’t paranoid at all: he’s simply black in America where, no matter how successful, sober, and moral you are, you are never good enough. Now, however, America has turned away from that mindset with the election of Barack Obama.’ Charles Taylor in Dissent.

The Literary Review called The Expendable Man ‘a painfully vivid portrait of the American South in the Sixties, deftly written and interesting. Blink and you’ll miss the one vital piece of information.’

‘Today Dorothy B Hughes is remembered for In a Lonely Place (1947) but my personal favourite is The Expendable Man (1963). Hughes lived in New Mexico and her love of its bleak landscape comes through in carefully painted details. She knows how to use the land sparingly, so it creates mood. The narrative shifts from the sandscape to the doctor, who reluctantly picks up a teen hitchhiker. When she’s found dead a day later, he’s the chief suspect, and the secrets we know he’s harbouring from the first page are slowly revealed. Hughes’s novels crackle with menace. Like a Bauhaus devotee, she understood that in creating suspense, less is more. Insinuation, not graphic detail, gives her books an edge of true terror. She’s the master we all could learn from.’ Sara Paretsky, Guardian

No. 69. Journal by Katherine Mansfield

In the Journal of Katherine Mansfield, said Hermione Lee in the Guardian, her ‘startling, vivid, intimate voice still comes pouring off these pages… She is always driving herself along, with the utmost rigour. These are formidably self-lacerating, self-critical diaries.’

The Daily Mail said about the Journal: ‘You’ll find none of the vanity, score settling or tittle-tattle that mars so many journals. Though Katherine Mansfield bemoans the rain, her persistent illness, even her writing, it’s impossible not to love Mansfield’s candour and be drawn in by her impassioned voice. An elegant reissue of an essential writer.’

No. 70. Plats du Jour by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd

Rachel Cooke in the New Statesman chose as one of her books of the year ‘Persephone Books’ lovely new edition of Plats du Jour by Primrose Boyd and Patience Gray. When it was first published in 1957, this sold 100,000 copies. It was also one of Jane Grigson’s favourite cookbooks, which should be recommendation enough for anyone.’

Tom Jaine in the Guardian thought that this ‘remarkable description of bourgeois cooking as it should be from the 1950s leaves current [cookery book] authors standing.’

Country Life called the recipes ‘delightful and full of period charm. Plats du Jour did not deserve to disappear, and Persephone has done us a service in rediscovering it.’

In the New Statesman Kate Taylor admired its historical value, seeing it as an early example of the lifestyle cookery book: ‘it can feel inaccessible – for one thing old measurements such as gills have not been updated – but if you persevere, the plat du jour principle yields some wonderful food. My first efforts, poulet a la savoyarde (chicken braised with ceps) and la garbure, a thick Basque soup, were not half bad.’

No. 71. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Anne Sebba described the novel as ‘hard-hitting’, putting its power down to the idea that ‘Of all the novelists who captured the clash of cultures at the turn of the 19th century… Hodgson Burnett was supremely able to take a view of both sides since she had direct experience of both.’

‘Like Frances Hodgson Burnett’s children’s classic The Secret Garden, The Shuttle is a novel about regeneration through caring for the land. Its spirited American heroine, Bettina, suspects something is gravely wrong with her sister’s marriage to an aristocratic fortune hunter, and sets out to save both her sister and a ruined country estate. A gripping adult fairy tale for feminists of both sexes.’Amanda Craig in The Week

No. 72. House-Bound by Winifred Peck

On BBC Radio 4′s A Good Read in October 2011 Michael Morpurgo described House-Bound thus: ‘Beautifully written. I thought it was supremely funny. I mean, really funny. I had reservations to start with. I thought, this is going to be a book with one joke, it’s going to be all about middle-class people without servants and how you manage… But then I found myself losing myself in her world… There’s a wonderful description of the first breakfast that she makes and the chaos that ensues, and she was completely hopeless. So you rock with laughter, and then of course it gets serious because there are interesting relationships in the family… I was completely captivated. I thought it was a terrific read.’

‘In the opening pages of House-Bound we are plunged into a vein of rich social-class comedy in the tradition of EM Delafield. The novel traces Rose’s initiation into the domestic arts, as she grapples with such questions as whether one cleans potatoes with soap or not. But, although comedy runs through the book, this extraordinary war novel is also about ageing, grief, friendship, how to survive disasters, how to cope with change. Rose has no illusions. She has “no hopes that her old world would ever return”. She finds housework roughens her hands, but need not toughen her gentle heart.’ Terence Handley MacMath The Church Times

No. 73. The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler

‘Charlotte Mitchell, in her thoughtful and well-informed introduction,’ wrote Juliet Townsend in the Spectator, ‘points out that although The Young Pretenders is about children, and views the bewildering grown-up world through their eyes, it was written with both a child and adult audience in mind. Part of the enjoyment for the older reader lies in the merciless light the innocent but tactless candour of childhood sheds on the shallow pretension of the sophisticated world. Edith Henrietta Fowler casts a bright light on a particular kind of Victorian home at a particular moment in time, with a mixture of humour, perception and sympathy…Edith Fowler casts a bright light on a particular kind of Victorian home at a particular moment in time, with a mixture of humour, perception and sympathy. She leads the way up the steps of the tall house in Onslow Square and ‘a long, long way up to the funny little nursery,’ and it is a pleasure to follow her.’

No. 74. The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

How to explain Dorothy Whipple to those who aren’t already fans?’ asked the Oldie. ‘In The Closed Door she tells moral, old-fashioned (some would say unfashionably old-fashioned) tales in straight-forward prose, with the emphasis on story – and yet they are utterly gripping. These stories, despite their ‘quiet’ plots – Ernest and Alice oppress their daughter, a woman is divorced by her husband and only allowed to see her children once a month – are page-turners just like her novels.’

‘In The Closed Door, the compass of Dorothy Whipple’s concerns is apparently small,’ observed Matthew Dennison in the Spectator. ‘Her focus is the domestic life of a certain sort of Englishwoman at a given moment in time. Her heroines are unremarkable, distinguished only by anxiety or unhappiness. That they suffer is the result not of Grand Guignol or seismic events in the world at large, but the petty malevolence of the dysfunctional family. Whipple’s work has a strong period flavour, but the problems it unravels – the fragility of lifelong emotional fulfilment or the cruelty latent in relationships defined by love – remain constants of human experience. Her sense of place is as vivid as that of Doris Lessing or William Trevor – although in place of Lessing’s Africa or Trevor’s Ireland is a series of smarter residential streets in unnamed provincial towns, all tall trees and painted railings. Dorothy Whipple wrote with a story-teller’s instinct, so that each of these compelling short stories is a richly satisfying page-turner.’

No. 75. On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg

‘On the Other Side contains the unsent correspondence Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg wrote to her adult children during the war, when they were all living abroad,’ said the Independent on Sunday. ‘They show a woman desperate to maintain a link with those she loved but thought she might never see again. It’s difficult to read what are obviously very personal, private documents, but they contain a kind of truth that can only be read with a strong degree of discomfort. Testimonies like Tilli’s illustrate why war should always be unthinkable.’

In The Independents You Write the Reviews, On The Other Side was described as ‘a riveting glimpse of civilian life in war-time Germany.’

‘Frederick Taylor (author of Dresden), wrote in the Literary Review about On the Other Side: ‘These are the unvarnished, often raw, impress-ions of a decent, intelligent woman living through impossible times. When she rails against Allied bombing (Hamburg was attacked scores of times between 1940 and 1945), it is with the emotive immediacy of someone who has experienced the death and suffering it has caused and who naively resents the fact that her family, who never supported Hitler, are forced to share their Nazi compatriots’ fate. When she complains that the British, whom she and her husband so admired and were initially delighted to see occupy the city in May 1945, reveal themselves as vengeful, pettifogging conquerors, it feels authentic (and even more naive – a fact she has the sense to recog-nise in a later entry). Persephone Books has yet again performed a great service in publishing a handsome new edition of a neglected treasure. The afterword is a model of concise and erudite contextualisation that makes clear how urgently we need to read and reread such revealing tales from “the other side”.’

No. 76. The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby

The Crowded Street is a family saga,’ wrote Matthew Dennison in the Spectator, ‘a comedy of manners and roman a clef. It tells the story of Muriel Hammond, from schoolgirl to maturity. The Hammonds inhabit the genteel Yorkshire village of Marshington, its confines narrow, its mindset small. Muriel leaves school to embark on Marshington armed only with a determination ‘so much to be good’ and a naive certainty that excitement beck-ons. Her disillusionment is slow but inexorable. Marshington values a single quality in women: marriageability. It is a quality Muriel lacks. The Crowded Street contains moments of terrific comedy and is punctuated by a quietly mordant wit that ruthlessly exposes the pretensions of Marshington’s intensely snobbish provincial society. The novel is well-crafted, elegant, intelligent and persuasive.’

No. 77. Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting by Penelope Mortimer

Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting is so sharply written, so observant. It’s beautifully pared down: I think Penelope Mortimer was a brilliant novelist and it’s time she was revived. The emotions are timeless and she deals with them in a way that’s applicable to women anywhere; the mother-daughter relationship is beautifully done, mainly because she feels that her daughter does not understand her.’ Valerie Grove on A Good Read BBC R4

‘In her brilliantly written, painfully honest novels, Penelope Mortimer turned her unflinching gaze on women’s lot in a pre-feminist age. Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting, the chilling but compulsively readable story of a middle-class houswife trapped in a loveless marriage, is a fantastic book – unsettling, at times, blackly comic.’ Anna Carey, The Gloss

No. 79. Round about a Pound a Week by Maud Pember Reeves

Polly Toynbee wrote in the Guardian: 'Few social studies shift attitudes and even fewer change government policy, but this revelation of hardship among ordinary working families in 1913 helped to lay the political foundations of the welfare state. The Fabian women produced a precise record of the everyday lives of families on the standard manual wage of £1 a week, visiting them over the years from 1909-1913, and meticulously counting everything each family spent. The mothers in these households joined in by keeping accounts of their own weekly outgoings, explaining their choices down to the last farthing on a little soap or soda. Treating the mothers as equal participants in the survey, not as an alien species, Pember Reeves let the household accounts tell the stories of how these families lived and died.'

‘In 1909 Maud Pember Reeves and her colleagues in the Fabian Women’s Group started something extraordinary… a sort of Edwardian Sure Start. The breathtaking aspect of their work was not their intervention but the data they captured in the process. Round about a Pound a Week is a fascinating read full of heartbreaking detail. It was hugely influential to the pioneers of the welfare state.’ Dr Frances Wedgwood in the British Medical Journal

No. 80. The Country Housewife’s Book by Lucy H Yates

‘Despite its original publication 75 years ago, The Country Housewife’s Book is full of sound advice that many of us would love to spend long summer days following – picking and bottling fruit, making jams and jellies, drying herbs and making medicinal use of them. There are also useful tips on how to dispatch “the mischievous mouse” and cherish ladybirds since they are the “the unpaid helpers of the country housewife”.’ History Today

No. 81. Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson

‘First published in 1934, Miss Buncle’s Book is a hilarious romp that pokes gentle fun at publishing and at the claustrophobia of village life. Miss Buncle, frumpy and 40, writes a risqué bestseller (nom-de-plume John Smith) based all too obviously on her neighbours. Outraged, they threaten libel suits if only they could identify Mr Smith. Miss Buncle has the last laugh – all the way to the bank.’ Val Hennessy in the Daily Mail

‘Miss Buncle is a long-term resident of a cosy English village. Waking one day to discover a sharp dip in her dividends, she writes a novel. It lays bare the lives, loves and eccentricities of a certain, badly disguised English village and the mayhem that ensues when the locals take umbrage at portrayals they deem “spicy descriptions of well-known persons”. Never once does the village realise that the pleasant little brown wren in their midst is the cause of all their scandals. Great literature this isn’t. But the frothy romance is great entertainment, a bit like “reading” an episode of ITV’s Miss Marple. Barbara Buncle and her neighbours have charm in spades, making them ideal companions for even the most wet weekend.’ Lee Randall The Scotsman

No. 82. Amours de Voyage by Arthur Hugh Clough

‘I am currently reading Clough’s wonderful narrative poem Amours de Voyage in a charming edition. It has a soothing grey cover with a satin finish and warm blue and green endpapers. The paper is thick, creamy and sweet-smelling. I would happily give this lovely thing a smacking great kiss.’ Rupert Christiansen Daily Telegraph

No. 84. A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell

‘Mrs Rundell was the Nigella of her day – a domestic goddess whose book sold thousands in Regency England. This Persephone edition of A New System of Domestic Cookery is a great chance to discover what mattered in the kitchen in 1806. Many of the recipes still appeal – “shrimp pie, excellent”, apple jelly, quaking pudding, pound cake. Even more fascinating are the oddities such as jellied pigeons and artificial ass’s milk (good for invalids, apparently), showing how much has changed in British kitchens in the last two hundred years.’ Bee Wilson, The Daily Telegraph

No. 86. To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski

To Bed with Grand Music is… a corrosively authentic and daring novel about the goings on of a silly young wife in wartime London. In it we are very far from the sagas of rationing, chicken-keeping and evacuees that have earlier featured in Persephone’s list, and even further from lachrymose tales of wronged womanhood. Deborah, whose amiable husband is stationed in the Middle East, gets bored looking after her small child in a wartime country village and when the temptation of a job in London is dangled in front of her she takes it. Her naivety initially leads her to be angry because the first man she falls into bed with won’t pretend to be in love with her. But the first Yank leads to another one, and then to the next lover and the next, the transient nature of most wartime London postings forming a toxic mixture with Deborah’s own greed and lack of character. Soon she is living in a heady world far beyond her means, not only financially but also in terms of her own fragile sense of reality. Leaving much food for thought… much of this utterly convincing book makes for hilarious reading…’ Gillian Tindall in the Literary Review

No. 87. Dimanche and Other Stories by Irène Némirovsky

Dimanche and Other Stories is a useful addition to Irène Némirovsky’s growing corpus in translation. She cited Chekhov and Tolstoy as her models; in practice, these stories lack the bite and originality of the former and the overtly transcendent ambitions of the latter. Their fascinated probing of implicitly simmering bourgeois discontents has far more in common with Flaubert and early French cinema. Indeed they are all, bar “The Spell” (a nostalgic evocation of rural Ukraine), very pointedly French. Despite a few too many stock characters, Némirovsky achieves her own vision here: a singular combination of thoroughly absorbed Parisian mores offset by an outsider’s sardonic perspective. The slow-burning title story is a beautifully paced depiction of wet Sunday evening ennui and the sort of post-prandial family bickering that uncovers immense sibling animosities. There are also two critical contributions to the ongoing controversy surrounding this Auschwitz victim’s supposedly excessive assimilation and concomitant anti-semitism.’ Chris Ross in the Guardian

‘The astonishing posthumous success of Suite Française launched a revival of the hitherto forgotten author. And Némirovsky’s latest work to be published in English, Dimanche and Other Stories, affirms her newly won reputation. “Flesh and Blood”, one of her many reflections on family relationships, with a dying old mother at the centre of her four miserable, squabbling children, is The Death of Ivan Ilyich transported to Paris – a reminder that although Némirovsky wrote in French, her work most strongly recalls the writers of her homeland, particularly another exile in France, Nina Berberova. Yet if her themes are often dark, and if our knowledge of her fate casts its shadow over our readings, her characters and stories are so vibrant and involving that the dominant impression her writing leaves is one of happiness.’ Benjamin Moser Harper’s (USA)

No. 88. Sill Missing by Beth Gutcheon

In a discussion on BBC Radio 4′s A Good Read, Harriet Gilbert calls Still Missing: ‘the most page-turning novel. But what I find interesting is that we can all describe this as a page-turner when it is about something unimaginably painful.’

‘Persephone Books has found in Still Missing a quite remarkable book. It is a novel so gripping and completely imagined that you dread putting it aside. The story is that of 34-year-old Bostoner Susan Selky. She has recently separated from her husband but, in the private world of her narrow brick house, is happy enough to make a life around her son. Until, that is, 15 May 1980 – the day when six- year old Alex disappears. What follows is not a detective story, although Gutcheon supplies a first-rate cop. Al Menetti is a family man, and cannot quite fathom the artsy preferences of Susan’s ilk ( “where the Selkys lived, it looked to him that what people thought about was abortions and yoga and eating out in restaurants”). Nevertheless, he throws himself into the Selky case, following it down paths that grow increasingly dark. Yet this is not a thriller, although it will have you hooked. Nor is it (as it could so easily have been) an enervating study in emotional torture and suspended lives. At the end of Still Missing, you feel less as though you have shared an ordeal with Susan than accompanied her through something that is almost beyond words: quiet, profound and life-altering. The secret is Gutcheon’s style: she is, it seems, a fundamentally interested author, genuinely keen to know how her characters feel and will react. This is not to say she is unsophisticated – just the reverse – but that her book is somehow brightly alert to itself. Flaubert thought that the author should be everywhere and nowhere in his work; Gutcheon, marvellously, seems present on every page. All the expected elements of a missing-child story are here, the twists, the turns, the ending that is perfect and piercing.’ Stephanie Cross The Lady

No. 89. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow by Mrs Oliphant

‘In 1887 Margaret Oliphant published Queen Eleanor And Fair Rosamond and three years later The Mystery Of Mrs Blencarrow,’ wrote the Glasgow Herald. ‘Although the former contains fictionalised elements of Mrs Oliphant’s own life – Mr Lycett-Lyndon’s midlife crisis and abandonment of his family mirror events in the writer’s own extended family – both novellas are imaginative works of considerable power on the subject of unsuitable marriages. Mrs Oliphant’s achievement in both of these fast-paced and involving stories is to subvert the reader’s expectations. Each ends, unusually in Victorian storytelling, not with a happy marriage but with the unravelling of a marriage and the avoidance of punishment (at least in terms of public censure) on the part of the stories’ wrongdoers. Part of these novellas’ impact is the manner in which they deliver an unexpected (but unexpectedly satisfying) ending within narrative structures and moral codes which appear wholly conventional. This is familiar 19th-century potboiler stuff. That it still succeeds so well is an indication of the superiority of Victorian publishing over today’s reality TV. If Persephone has taken a risk in reissuing these two forgotten stories by an author who, today, is mostly unread, it is that modern readers will resist Mrs Oliphant’s cliffhanger style and the overwrought emotions which are central to stories of this kind. For those able to overcome these minor hurdles, this double reissue offers a rich and exhilarating reading experience.’

No. 90. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens

‘If Monica Dickens means nothing more to you than horsey books and no-nonsense memoirs of nursing and service, then The Winds of Heaven, an eloquent novel about the genteel poverty of a widow shunted between her three egotistical daughters is a fine corrective’ wrote the Guardian. ‘Louise discovers her husband had lost all their money and she must depend on her children’s charity, moving between Miriam and her home-counties pretensions; Eva’s fragile London world of theatre and treacherous lovers; and a muddy smallholding where the slovenly Anne ignores her. Though Louise is a slight kind of Lear, her tragedy plays out in postwar Lyons Corner Houses and the ill-heated rooms of an out-of-season hotel. Dickens acutely observes the brittle veneer of social conventions; but is never quite acerbic enough in her criticism of the ungrateful children, and perhaps too sentimental about her distressed gentlewoman. But The Winds of Heaven is a worthwhile reissue.’

‘Widowhood in 1955 was not a desirable state’ wrote Matthew Dennison in the Spectator. ‘Not, at any rate, for Louise, heroine of The Winds of Heaven. She is 57 and has a small, inadequate income from her parents. From her ghastly husband Dudley she has inherited nothing but debts. She has lost her house and her possessions, save a few clothes, and with them her way of life and her identity. In middle-age, she has been down-graded to second childhood. None of which is her fault. Within the parameters of Monica Dickens’s mid-century, middle-class world, such is the inevitable result of financial ruin and dependency. At a time of economic uncertainty, this is a troubling suggestion for readers today. So Louise is “like a child who has got lost on a church outing”. During the course of the novel, she will be found – although rescue comes from an unlikely quarter and is, again, none of her doing. Her three grown-up daughters devise a plan: their mother will live with each of them in turn throughout the course of the summer, while during the winter she will stay in a hotel on the Isle of Wight belonging to her oldest schoolfriend, who offers her cut-price rates. A victim of charity, she becomes “a surplus piece of furniture”, a minor element of discord in her children’s homes. But Louise is a universal figure, a sorrowful outsider who, burdened with domestic minutiae, attains the nobility of the romantic heroine at odds with an unfeeling world. The novel invests her with a grace and stature that those nearest her cannot see. And it does so with much style and wit.’

No. 92. Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill

‘The stories in Midsummer Night in the Workhouse describe, in unsentimental though often touching prose, young women, sometimes married, sometimes not, anticipating, enjoying, or just missing out on brief sexual encounters with men, sometimes married, sometimes not. Diana Athill writes in the preface that seeing her stories republished reminds her of how it felt to discover she could write and how it changed her life profoundly. She hopes they will give pleasure. They do, both in their own right and as a coda to a remarkable woman’s life.’ Katie Law in the Evening Standard

‘This beautiful volume of Diana Athill’s stories will delight her existing fans and win her new ones. They reveal the same wry, mischievous and essentially humane sensibility that will be familiar to readers of her memoirs. They echo the struggle to achieve sexual confidence that she has described elsewhere. But their value goes far beyond their potential biographical contribution. In her capacity to calmly and cheerfully record deep sadness she ranks among the very best writers of late 20th-century English short stories.’ Ruth Scurr in The Times

‘Diana Athill’s writing career began in the 1960s with feisty short stories. In this terrific collection each tale is permeated with the sense that all individuals are ultimately alone. The action – and it’s invariably erotic action – is usually seen from the woman’s viewpoint.’ Val Hennessy in the Daily Mail

‘Life, in Diana Athill’s short stories, just doesn’t follow the scripts her protagonists have written for it.Time and again her characters surprise themselves, only to be surprised, in their turn, by events. The results are sometimes painful, sometimes startling, and nearly always extremely funny.Throughout there’s a sense that the author is as intrigued as the rest of us to know how it’s all going to end.’ Stephanie Cross in The Lady

'If you haven't read any of Diana Athill's work, I highly recommend Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, a collection of her short fiction [...] funny, engaging and unexpected.' Sadie Stein in The Paris Review

No. 93. The Sack of Bath by Adam Fergusson

‘It may have been first published in 1973, but reading it again in this elegant re-print, Adam Fergusson’s The Sack of Bath remains a real shocker. The fury of his polemic against the powers in Bath that seemed hell-bent on destroying everything except a few grand Georgian set-pieces in that beautiful city still has a terrible relevance today. Looking at the photographs of acres of modest stone houses being reduced to rubble to be replaced by unbelievably low grade “comprehensive redevelopment” is utterly depressing. Even more lowering is Fergusson’s account of the elevated and titled collaborators who advised the city that to build the “new” and “iconic” was morally superior to repair and restoration. This slim volume exposed exactly how aesthetically uneducated planners and architects were some 40 years ago and they still are today.’ Colin Amery in the Spectator

'It is good to be able to welcome this angry, depressing, inspiring book back into print. It is a sign of the change in attitude brought about by the likes of Fergusson that what is recorded in The Sack of Bath now seems almost unbelievable.' The Betjemanian

No. 94. No Surrender by Constance Maud

No Surrender is a passionate call to arms issued from the midst of the struggle for female suffrage… It is perhaps primarily valuable as a social document: what it lacks in elegance, however, it makes up for in authenticity.’ The Observer

‘As fresh now as the day it was written, No Surrender shows that the women’s suffrage movement had a lot in common with the women’s movement of the 1970s… Constance Maud’s book gives a remarkable insight into the comradeship of women who were determined to change the world.’ (Glasgow Herald)

‘Constance Maud has a message to get across in No Surrender: that women, from whatever class, can find solidarity only among themselves. Maud’s didacticism may deter today’s audiences, but her portrayal of life for suffragettes in prison is a tour de force.’ Independent

‘Maud is no Elizabeth Gaskell and there are plenty of purple tones to her prose, but this is a rare example of a suffragette novel… it is indeed bannerwaving stuff.’ Guardian

No Surrender‘s historical detail has the accuracy of experience and is still shocking: the protest marches, the enforced sisterhood created by women being crowded into tiny cells, the hunger strikes – which were grotesquely lampooned in magazines as novel ways for women to lose weight – and the force-feeding. It is primarily a political novel, exploring socialist ideas and tracing the history of the early trade union movement… its place in history is assured.’ Independent on Sunday

‘The stoicism of the suffragette campaigners in the face of unendurable ill-treatment has become a lodestone of suffragette mythology. No Surrender reeks of authenticity and of stories begging for a hearing.’ Sarah Crompton the Guardian 

No. 95. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple

Greenbanks opens in 1909 as an extended middle-class family with all its repressed antagonisms celebrates Christmas. Letty is bullied by her pompous husband, Ambrose, who believes a woman’s place is in the home, and gives her the same flat, exhausted feeling she gets “when trying to carry a mattress downstairs unaided”. Then war arrives. Old values are blown sky high and Lettie must discover how to fill her empty life once her children have gone. Chosen as the Book Society’s Book of the Month, Whipple’s subtly subversive novel is a good, gripping, old-fashioned read.’ Daily Mail

No. 97. Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

‘Jenkins’s imaginative retelling of the case is as gripping as anything I’ve ever read. And as horrifying… Harriet is a small masterpiece.’ Rachel Cooke in The Observer.

‘[The novel] follows the case so closely, detailing the greed and astonishing barbarity of Harriet’s tormentors and the extraordinary quirk of fate which brought them to justice, that it has brought this cruel episode terrifyingly to life.’ Daily Mail

Read the full text of the discussion about Harriet on BBC Radio 4's Night Waves

No. 99. Patience by John Coates

‘John  Coates created a nimble satire, blowing on the dying embers of Victorian double standards before the permissive society took over’. Guardian

No. 100. The Persephone Book of Short Stories

‘To celebrate having reached their one hundredth volume, here is Persephone’s marvellous collection of short stories by women.’ Guardian

'This collection says it all. From Susan Glaspell's "From A to Z" (1909) to Georgina Hammick's "A Few Problems in the Day Case Unit"(1986)  the writing is fresh, moving, funny and still relevant to women today.' Stylist Magazine

'It’s a fine, sturdy collection which should, even for an avid reader well versed in women’s fiction, provide a few introductions, either to writers hitherto unheard of, or to lesser known works by familiar names. There’s also a good mix of nationalities, so we not only hear from authors born in the US and the UK, but from those born in New Zealand, South Africa, Russia, and Ireland as well.' Scotsman

No. 101.  Heat Lighting by Helen Hull

'The elegant Persephone imprint has unearthed an absolute jewel — first published in 1932, and uncannily foreshadowing Jonathan Franzen’s contemporary classic The Corrections…Sublime.' The Times

No. 102. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal

‘Elisabeth [de Waal] wrote poetry and prose, including this dark, vivid novel… It might be dated and mannered, but this is a rewarding study of loss, and a fine snapshot of a city and society standing ravaged at the crossroads.’ Guardian

It 'shows how many internal and external obstacles a returning émigré had to overcome, in order to regain a place in Austrian society. This is not, perhaps, a new story, but in The Exiles Return it is told with sharpness and authenticity.' New Republic

'By 1954, when the action of the novel begins, Vienna has witnessed not only the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire but the Anschluss and Hitler’s reign of terror against the Jewish population, as well as repeated bombings during World War II and simultaneous occupation by four victorious foreign powers. Written during the late 1950s, “The Exiles Return” has an immediacy that makes de Waal’s readers feel the experiences of its characters in a visceral way.' New York Times

'Elisabeth de Waal weaves a plot that twists the lives of these returning exiles together, by way of love, work, or society. Perhaps it is because The Exiles Return is such an autobiographical novel that she slips so skilfully between the consciousnesses of her various characters, following their different stories and flitting between their perspectives.' Spectator

'There is a distinctly fin de siècle feel to Elisabeth de Waal's rediscovered novel about Viennese exiles, banished by war, streaming back to their native city in the mid-1950s. "The Exiles Return" captures the atmosphere of post-World War II Vienna, with its crumbling buildings, decaying aristocracy, mercantile fervor and ideological denial. But its restrained prose style and preoccupation with the gap between public morality and private behavior evoke even more strongly the novels of Henry James, Thomas Hardy, Gustave Flaubert, Leo Tolstoy and other 19th-century masters.' Chicago Tribune

'A novel at once of its time and pertinent to ours.' Amanda Hopkinson in The Tablet

'It deals frankly with anti-Semitism and the lingering stench of the Holocaust [...] This brilliantly contemporary novel deserves a wide readership.' Erica Wagner in Moment Magazine

'Given the nature of the publishing industry, one has to ask whether The Exiles Return would have ever appeared were it not for the splash made by her grandson Edmund de Waal with his 2010 memoir of her family, the Ephrussis: The Hare With Amber Eyes. Probably not - but that would have been a great loss. For all the drawbacks its author's coruscating self-judgment discerned, it succeeds magnificently on its own uncompromising terms as a work of fiction. And in holding up a uniquely wrought mirror to her Vienna.'  San Francicso Gate

'The poetic distance and simplicity of the writing conveys the undercurrents of unsaid struggles rather wonderfully. There's something in the sparseness that allows The Exiles Return to capture the horro of an alienating home-coming in a way that surpasses its specific context. It poses important questions on whether it is possible to return, and how.' The Grid

'De Waal beautifully particularises the tension between those remaining and those returning within a city shaken by the psychological ruptures of war.' Metro

'Much of the novel feels as if it could have been written by Stefan Zweig in about 1920. The book, by turns trenchand and slapdash, is the product of a fine mind oblivious to appearances. Fascinating in its failure, it is a testament to the dislocations it examines.' The New York Review of Books

No. 103. The Squire by Enid Bagnold

'A daringly frank portrayal of natural childbirth and breast-feeding, ahead of its time.' Daily Mail

'An affectionate hymn to motherhood, inspired by [Enid Bagnold's] own love for her children.' Telegraph


No. 106. Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg

'Sometimes one could wish that there was a little shelf of books that everybody in the whole world had to read, just to get a licence to be human […] Into The Whirlwind belongs on this shelf.  One of the hundred imperative reasons to read this book is so you may ask yourself how safe you feel from such a calamity. It is one of the harshest, most touching, most moving books you will ever read. Into The Whirlwind depicts the terrifying motive force with which a respectable and earnest life was destroyed by the state, in the twinkling of an eye.' Todd McEwen in the Scottish Herald

'So this is what Marxist socialism really is. Within this inevitably grim subject matter we experience extraordinary getures of humanity and the strength of poetry. One wonders hor much the latter enabled the prodigious feat of memory that Ginzburg achieved. A great book, and as usual, beautifully presented.' Stewart Rayment in Liberator

No. 107. Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith

'The story of Eileen and Wilfred is one of the most moving love stories to come out of the [First World] war, Eileen fought desperately to get her husband home after hearing that he had been injured in battle.'  Daily Mail

No. 108. The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray

In The Oldie Charlotte Moore compared The Happy Tree to Vera Brittains' Testament of Youth: 'A valuable testament to social change and personal suffering in those cataclysmic years [around the First World War].'

No. 109. The Country Life Cookery Book by Ambrose Heath

'If you enjoy a cookery book that appeals to both memory and the imagination, Ambrose Heath's The Country Life Cookery Book, first published in 1937 and now reprinted, is a treat. It has delightful wood engravings by Eric Ravilious, and takes the reader month by month through the year.' The Church Times

In the Telegraph Bee Wilson wrote: 'It's interesting to see which ingredients are considered so crucial – or so easily messed up – that they need to be specified. The Country Life Cookery Book is a lovely 1937 collection of seasonal food by Ambrose Heath. Where modern writers tend to specify butter, salt and eggs, Heath was most anxious about fines herbes, which he considered vital to green salad as well as omelette. He insists that fines herbes does not mean just chopped onion and parsley but is a finely chopped mixture of "parsley, chives, chervil and tarragon”.'

No. 111. London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes

The Wall Street Journal chose this as one of the five best books about Wartime Britain. Lynne Olson wrote: 'Panter-Downes's World War II letters for The New Yorker are gem-like accounts of the everyday life of Britons as they coped with everything from blackouts and German bombing raids to shortages of gin and hot-water bottles. Blessed with a lively wit and an eye for the telling human detail, Panter-Downes brought wartime Britain alive for her American readers.'

In the Times Literary Supplement Laura Freeman wrote: [Mollie Panter-Downes] records what is missed by derring-do male war correspondents, capturing instead the stoic humour of blitzed and rationed Britons, and the terror of the nightly bombs on the Home Front': Read the full review of London War Notes

No. 112. Vain Shadow by Jane Hervey

'A beautifully observed portrait of a family funeral and its repercussions. […] brought to the page with a great sense of the ridiculous.' Eastern Daily Press

 'The book is a portrait of a funeral and its repercussions, as a wealthy family gathers at the family home in the aftermath of the patriarch's death... unique, astute and very funny.' The Oldie

‘Jane Hervey’s Vain Shadow,written in the early 1950s, lay in a drawer for ten years. Eventually published in 1963, it received little attention. Now this funny, tightly constructed novel of a landed family on the brink of implosion after the funeral of their patriarch has been rescued by Persephone, and should be gratefully received by every book group in the land.’ Charlotte Moore ‘Books of the Year’ the Spectator

No. 113. Greengates by RC Sherriff

Greengates (1936) traces a retired couple’s move to the countryside at the onset of postwar modernity. As in The Fortnight in September, Sherriff conjures desperation and aspiration alike. The novels are reminiscent of, and superior to, John Williams’s Stoner. Sherriff ’s writing has not dated. His novels are full of poignancy and wit, compassion and imagination. Now is the time to rediscover them.’ Francesca Wade 'Last Word' the Telegraph

‘At once cosy and compelling, Greengates is an adorable story and a fascinating bit of social history. Even as Sherriff pokes fun at the Baldwins' aspirations he never stops reminding us that they are, nevertheless, pioneers: plucky, determined and brimful of sweet ambition.’ Rachel Cooke the Observer

No. 114. Gardeners' Choice by Evelyn Dunbar and Charles Mahoney

'‘Gardeners’ Choice is a delightful find, illustrated with line drawings and word portraits of plants. The writers have an eye for the unexpected and this book makes you look at flowers with a fresh eye.' Mary Keen in the Telegraph

 ‘An unconventional illustrated gardening book first published in 1937. The text continually reveals the authors’ knowledge and their sometimes subtle humour.’ Alison Oldham in the Ham and High

No. 115. Maman, What Are We Called Now? by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar

‘Beautifully printed with an insightful introduction by Caroline Moorehead and haunting photographs by photojournalist Thérèse Bonney.' Anne Sebba in the Telegraph

‘An exquisite book, a dramatic snatch of history, written in the form of a diary – passionate, indignant and beautifully expressed. It is insistently real, more surprising than any artful, fictional account.This is a breathless, beautiful book, in a lovely presentation from Persephone, a perfect piece of written heartbreak.’ Anne Garvey the Jewish Chronicle

No. 116. A Lady and Her Husband by Amber Reeves

'The uncompromising and 'brilliant Cambridge graduate Amber Reeves wrote this beautifully written, pioneering feminist novel in 1914. It explores the compromises women make to keep their men and how they can effectively challege them. This entertaining book is paticularly topical right now with our government's recent introduction of the new National Living Wage.' Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

'A Lady and Her Husband is unashamedly political – when it came out, The Spectator sniffed that it was full of passages "which might have appeared in the most adavnced Socialistic newspaper over the signature of a militant sufragette". Political it may be, but this is no clunking treatise on industrial relations. It turned out, to my surprise, to be a page-turner as witty and spiky as I imagine its author to have been – think Erica Jong in a hobble skirt.' Emma Hughes in Country Life

No. 117. The Godwits Fly by Robin Hyde

'Hyde's writing bewitched me. Lush and unconventional – I want to use the word "jungly" – it is a world in itself. Here are abandoned houses like baby octopi turned inside out by fisherman; small children the colour of crayfish; dried flowers that resemble bony calligraphy. It's all very powerfully odd.' Rachel Cooke in The Observer

'This funny, lyrical and autobiographical novel tells the story of Eliza, growing up in a troubled, working-class family in early 20th century Wellington. The Godwits Fly paints a fascinating picture of the period, detailing what people ate, read and talked about, the clothes they wore and their longing for 'the old country. Enchanting.' Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

No. 118. Every Good Deed and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple

'Dorothy Whipple is adept at convincing, unpleasant and manipulative characters, and situations spiralling out of control. Her stories ring true with acerbic wit and subtle observations. She vividly evokes an era when middle-class women had pretensions, household staff and time for tea: a world of dance halls, boarding houses, fish knives and smog. Unputdownable.' Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

No. 119. Long Live Great Bardfield: The Autobiography of Tirzah Garwood

'I like everything about this book, from its confidential tone to its cast of characters...Most of all I love its author's attitude to life. Affectionately flexible in matters of the heart - she and Ravilious were both unfaithful, but continued to love eachother all the same - she was never prone, even in the worst of times, to self-pity.' Rachel Cooke in The Observer

'Tirzah's daughter Anne Ullmann has done an excellent job of shaping her large, sprawling memoir without losing the sponteaneity and looseness of style that is part of its charm; she has filled gaps with brief explanatory notes and extracts from letter, and illustrated it with family photographs and with Tirzah's rich, humorous, evocative woodcuts.' Charlotte Moore in The Oldie

No. 120. Madame Solario by Gladys Huntington

'Set on Lake Como in 1906 this novel vividly captures a leisurely, lost Edwardian world - the 'voluminous chiffon veils' thrown over women's large hats, silk parasols, the 'almost excessive beauty of the winding lake surrounded by mountains' and 'classical villas standing among cypress trees.' Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

No. 121 Effi Briest by Theodore Fontane

‘Effi Briest is one of the greatest adultery novels of all time, up there on the shelf beside Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina. All are C19th realist fictions in which women are punished, first with social ostracism, then death, for extramarital sex. But unlike Emma Bovary or Anna Karenina, there is something irrepressibly innocent and life-affirming about Effi. The end is still tragic, but as she brilliantly observes, for those who understand life as a glittering banquet, to be called away a little early does not matter.’ Ruth Scurr in The Amorist

 ‘Unsettling and tinged with sadness, Theodor Fontane’s C19th German masterpiece about the charming, vivacious and pretty Effi Briest who is married off to her mother’s old flame is one of the most wonderful novels I have ever read. This is a beautiful new edition of an enduring classic.’ Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

No. 122 Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

'A sparkling, harrowing and emotionally intense read about the unfathomable mysteries of the human heart, with insight into the challenges faced by Jews in the period.’ Rebecca Wallersteiner in The Lady

No. 128 Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski

‘Tory Heaven was first published in 1948 and, as David Kynaston points out in the introduction, just like 2018, that year was a worrying time for the middle classes of this country. It’s something that Marghanita Laski picks up on in this insightful and comedic novel in which it is the Tories, not Labour, who win the general election in 1945 and proceed to recreate a class system with all the trappings of the C18th. The population are now graded into social classes from A to E, with the As paid in gold sovereigns and required to do nothing but live out the lives of the idle rich. The middle classes are Bs, the Cs are servants from domestics to hairdressers, and trade unionists, who cannot now strike, are Ds. The Es include the despised intellectuals. Laski shows that attitudes to class did shift during WWII but the possibility of an authoritarian government was still there. Tory Heaven may be of its era, although watching Jacob Rees-Mogg on television one can see that he would make an excellent A. Funny and ironic, it’s a book that says a lot about the British class system, then and now.’ Bernadette Hyland, Morning Star

‘Imagine a Britain where the population has been rigidly graded into five bands. Dystopian fantasy? Of course. But there is much in Tory Heaven that resonates. It tells of a country in which a right-wing Tory administration embarks on a whirlwind campaign of social engineering. Smocks are reintroduced for agricultural labourers and pubs and shops strictly segregated. And there’s no need for a Labour party now that there is no one left to vote for them – the Reform Act has been repealed and elections reduced to a carnival straight out of Middlemarch. Laski has a deft touch when it comes to describing everyday life in this classridden land. There are some nice comic moments. But essentially this is a dark tale which plays on the class structures and prejudices which seem almost as strong now as they were just after WWII. Laski is ridiculously far-fetched yet somehow strangely plausible.’ Kate Murray, Fabian Review

No. 131 Milton Place by Elisabeth de Waal

This is what Emily Rhodes wrote in Country Life: ‘Milton Place is the second of Elisabeth de Waal’s beautifully composed, keenly observed novels to be published posthumously. The author skilfully brings together a nuanced understanding of human relationships, the English class system, contemporary politics, provincial life and the residual trauma of the war into a neatly plotted, deeply absorbing novel.’

No. 136. The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger

Anna Carey wrote about The Oppermanns in the Irish Times, noting that 'this is a timely reissue of anti-fascist classic...Feuchtwanger’s tale of Nazism and a Jewish family resonates in era of rising nationalism.'

No. 139 Random Commentary by Dorothy Whipple

‘For decades, Dorothy Whipple’s books – eight novels, two volumes of autobiography, a novella and a plethora of short stories – lay out of print. Thanks to Persephone Books, however, almost all of Whipple’s work is now available again. The latest of her books to be reissued is Random Commentary, first published in 1966. It is an assortment “Compiled from note-books and journals kept from 1925 onwards”, as the original subtitle has it. We first meet Whipple in the mid-1920s. After her first love was killed during the First World War, she marries her employer, Henry Whipple, the director of education for Blackburn. She also struggles to establish herself as a writer, failing to sell a short story for five years. Modesty regarding her writing abilities and gentle wit suffuse these diaries. Whipple repeatedly berates herself for not working hard enough. Procrastinating, staring out of the window, or poking the fire – anything but writing: “When I have time to work, I don’t want to. When I haven’t time, I want to”. Whipple begins new drafts before finishing previous versions. Working on one book, she always wants to be working on another; “shaping and polishing” is her favourite part of the writing process. When her first novel, Young Anne (1927), is accepted for publication, the relief is palpable: “I’m not lost any more”. Domestic life, meanwhile, is getting in the way: “I was desperate, thinking of my story and the steak that should go into the oven”. Everyday life plays out against the backdrop of impending war; an author “crushed by the horror of it” is left wondering if she should write at all. Always looking forward and making the best of things, however, Whipple understands that the fact she has time to write makes her better off than many women. A snapshot is provided here, too, of the contemporary publishing world – of David Higham setting up his agency and Michael Joseph founding his imprint, both in 1935. One of the first books Joseph commissioned was Whipple’s first volume of autobiography, The Other Day (1936). We also meet the inimitable Miss Head of Hearst Magazines, who must herself be worthy of a screenplay, and who published some of Whipple’s work. There is a humour and kindness to such vignettes in Random Commentary that make it a deeply beguiling account of a writer’s life.’ Ellen Rossiter in the Times Literary Supplement.


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