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A Very Great Profession

by Nicola Beauman
Persephone book no:

77 78 79

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The Far Cry
A Well Full of Leaves
Regular price £14.00
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ISBN 9781903155684

Written by Nicola Beauman, the founder of Persephone Books, and first published in 1983, we hope that readers will enjoy a book about the kind of books that Persephone reprints. A Very Great Profession analyses the work of a number of women writers to present a portrait, though their fiction, of middle-class Englishwomen in the period between the wars, along the way illuminating themes such as domestic life, romantic love, sex, psychoanalysis, the Great War and ‘surplus’ women.

'A Very Great Profession was conceived when I first saw the film of Brief Encounter on television' (the book begins). 'In it the heroine, Laura Jesson, goes into the local town every week to do a bit of shopping, have a cafe lunch, go to the cinema and change her library book. This is the highlight of her week. It was the glimpse of her newly-borrowed Kate O'Brien in her shopping basket that made me want to find out about the other novels the doctor's wife had been reading... I wanted, also, to learn something about Laura [who] lived uneventful days and was, like Katherine in Virginia Woolf's Night and Day (1919), "a member of a very great profession which has, as yet, no title and very little recognition... She lived at home."'

Praised on first publication by A S Byatt as 'excellent... a loving historical sociological portrait' and later by Elizabeth Young as 'one of the most compelling and perceptive books of informal literary criticism ever produced,’ A Very Great Profession was both ground-breaking and radical, far ahead of its time in the way it takes the work of these women writers as seriously as their male counterparts. A large number of Persephone authors feature, including Dorothy Whipple, Dorothy Canfield Fisher, Cicely Hamilton, F M Mayor, E M Delafield, Winifred Holtby, Lettice Cooper, Rachel Ferguson, Mollie Panter-Downes, and more. If you like Persephone Books, we are confident you will love A Very Great Profession. It's where it all began.

Picture Caption

The cover for the 1983 edition of A Very Great Profession


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