Saturday 17 October 2015

Make Mine an Indie: Persephone Books

Welcome back to Make Mine an Indie, a weekly series featuring independent publishers from the UK and overseas!

I know that a lot of you will already know about the wonderfulness of Persephone Books - both the publisher and the bookshop - but I wanted to feature it as part of this series and with the announcement of the Classics Club Women's Classic Literature Event this week seemed like a good week to do it.

Image result for persephone books logo

Persephone was founded in 1998 by Nicola Beauman and aimed to produce a handful of lost or out-of-print books each year, most of which would be interwar books by women. Persephone books all have beautiful grey covers and each book has different, beautiful endpapers. When you buy one of their books you can also get a bookmark that matches its endpapers, which is just really cool. They find their books through many different avenues but all of them are linked by the idea of home which manifests in many different ways.

The Persephone Bookshop, which we will also be visiting on the London Bookshop Crawl early next year, is a beautiful little space and it's a very interesting shopping experience because all of the covers are the same. It means that you pick your book, as it says on their website, because you know that you're guaranteed a good read. I will be giving away a Persephone title a month between November 2015 and December 2016 to tie in with the Classics Club event mentioned above.

I already own several Persephone books which I am aiming to read in the next few months. The ones that I already own are The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson - Burnett, To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski, Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers and The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay - Holding.

Some others that I'm excited for are:

Consequences by E.M Delafield
From the Persephone website:

Alex Clare is awkward and oversensitive and gets everything wrong; she refuses to marry the only young man who 'offers' and believes there is nothing left for her but to enter a convent. But that is not quite the end of her tragic story. Nor was it for EM Delafield, who also entered a convent for a year; but in her case she was able to find freedom through working as a VAD in an army hospital, 'which was emancipation of the most delirious kind. It was occupation, it was self-respect.'

Like Lytton Strachey's Eminent Victorians, written at the same time,Consequences is a scream of horror against Victorian values; however, its ironic tone cannot disguise EM Delafield's deeply compassionate and feminist stance. The book has provoked strong reactions from our readers. Some have found Alex's naivety implausible, others have been very much moved by the incomprehension of those around her and by the ultimate tragedy of her life.
Alex Clare sounds a lot like me as a younger person and I'm intrigued by the parallels with Delafield's life!
Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
From the Persephone website:

Richmal Crompton created William, the pugnacious anti-hero of thirty books selling over 8 million copies in her lifetime. We publish the best of her forty novels for adults, a 1948 book about the life of two families during the inter-war years. Instead of seeing William at odds with adults, we are shown the matriarchs around whom their families spin; but whether they direct their children gently or forcefully, in the end they have to accept them as they are

We see that families can both entrap and sustain; that parents and children must respect each other; and that happiness necessitates jumping or being pushed off the family roundabout.
Very interested in reading something else by the creator of Just William as I was never a huge William fan!
Mariana by Monica Dickens
Monica Dickens's first book, published in 1940, could easily have been called Mariana – an Englishwoman. For that is what it is: the story of a young English girl's growth towards maturity in the 1930s.We see Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday in Somerset; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion; and her romance with Sam. We chose this book because we wanted to publish a novel like Dusty AnswerI Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, about a girl encountering life and love, which is also funny, readable and perceptive; it is a 'hot-water bottle' novel, one to curl up with on the sofa on a wet Sunday afternoon. But it is more than this. As Harriet Lane remarks in her Preface: 'It is Mariana's artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers.' And John Sandoe Books in Sloane Square (an early champion of Persephone Books) commented: 'The contemporary detail is superb – Monica Dickens's descriptions of food and clothes are particularly good – and the characters are observed with vitality and humour. Mariana is written with such verve and exuberance that we would defy any but academics and professional cynics not to enjoy it.'
I first heard about Mariana when somebody reviewed it during Persephone reading week a few years ago and I was intrigued, and still am. It just sounds like fun really. Also I love the description of it as a hot water bottle novel!
The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein
'This has survived as a South African classic not just because it's beautifully written,' wrote Anthony Sampson in the Spectator, 'but because it conveys the combination of ordinariness and danger which is implicit in any totalitarian state.' The World that was Ours is about the events leading up to the 1964 Rivonia Trial when Hilda Bernstein's husband Rusty was acquitted but Mandela and the 'men of Rivonia' received life sentences. 'This passionately political memoir,' observed The Times, 'is vibrant with the dilemmas of everyday family life, quick-witted dialogue, fast-paced adventure and novelistic detail.' Yet the political background is not dwelt on: it is simply taken for granted that civilised South Africans fought apartheid and the uncivilised propped it up. The main strength of the book is as an outstanding personal memoir; in this respect it bears comparison with autobiographies by Nadezhda Mandelstam and Christabel Bielenberg. 'It reads like a thriller page after page... The loveliest of Hilda Bernstein's works about the ugliest of her times' said Albie Sachs in the Independent.
This sounds fascinating. I studied a little South African history during my GCSEs years ago but didn't really have time to go further than Mandela. I've been looking for books by non British and American authors for the challenge and this looks really good. 
Find Persephone on their website, twitter, Facebook, or visit their wonderful shop, open 10-6 Monday to Friday and 12-5 on Saturdays at 59 Lambs Conduit Street, London, WC1N 3NB.
Catch up with the rest of the publishers in the series here

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