The Persephone Eleven

At some point in the past eight months or so I became aware of a publishing house called Persephone Books. Although I don’t remember exactly when it happened, and I certainly don’t remember what bookish terms I punched into The Google, but I do believe that Simon T at Stuck in a Book was my gateway into the world of Persephone. From his blog I clicked my way through a whole new world of links to book blogs. It is not like I hadn’t seen book blogs before, but this particular corner of the Interwebs was chock full of people who had reading tastes remarkably similar to my own. And so many of them were raving about Persephone Books.

Right off the bat I recognized the aesthetic allure of this small publishing house and almost as quickly was drawn to their list of mainly neglected works by authors who are (to a large degree, but not entirely) female and British. Although very curious to see the goods for myself, it wasn’t until I requested and received the Persephone catalog that my interest really began to pick up. I found myself pouring over the beautiful catalog in the same way my partner pours over seed and plant catalogs during the winter months.

As I am prone to do, I went into organization mode, got out a black Sharpie and began to mark up the catalog. For those shocked that I would deface my catalog, I knew I could always get another copy if I needed to. And besides, prioritizing my interests in the books was key to figuring out which to order first. After reading a description of each book I put between one and five dots next to the title. I judged each book individually. In this first round I made no attempt to choose one title over another. Once I had gone through and rated all 82 of them (there are now 86 available) I compiled a list of all of the titles that garnered five dots (indicating a high degree of interest). It came out to about ten books. Since we had a fair amount of travel coming up I forced myself to hold off ordering them until we finished so they wouldn’t arrive when we were out of town. This was probably back in July, and it meant I had to wait until about October 13th before I could place my order. By the time I did get around to filling out the online order form my priority list had shifted somewhat, and grown somewhat. Persephone gives a little price break for every three you order so I had to make the total a multiple of three. Which of course forced the number up to 12 rather than down to 9.

Unfortunately one of them is still missing in action (hence the Persephone Eleven) but here are the twelve I ordered (with the descriptions from the Persephone Biannually):
And for those of you who haven’t seen one in person, they are softcover books with matching dust jackets and beautiful endpapers. The bookmarks that come with each book if you order directly through Persephone match the endpapers. You can look at my collection of bookmarks below to get a better idea of what I am talking about.

No.2, Mariana by Monica Dickens
First published in 1940, this funny, romantic first novel describes a young girl’s life in the 1930s.

No.29, The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A wonderfully entertaining 1901 novel about the melodrama after a governess marries a Marquis.

No.32, The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme
A 1965 mixture of biography and social history which very entertainingly describes Thomas and Jane Carlyle’s life in Chelsea.

No.35, Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
A delightful, very funny 1925 novel about a young couple’s first year of married life in a (real) street in Chelsea.

No.37, The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
Victorian novel for children and grown-ups, illustrated by Gwen Raverat.

No.38, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
A funny and quirky 1932 novella by a niece of Lytton Strachey, praised by Virginia Woolf.

No.40, The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
A much-loved 1939 novel about a family, upstairs and downstairs, living in a large country house.

No.49, Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton (the missing 12th volume)
An excellent 1932 novel by a very popular pre- and post-war writer, chronicling the life, and marriage, of a hard-working, kindly London architect over thirty-five years.

No.61, A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
A classic memoir, written in 1934, about an ordinary, suburban Victorian family in Islington, a great favourite with all ages.

No.71, The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
A 1907 page-turner about Rosalie Vanderpoel, an American heiress who marries an English aristocrat, whose beautiful and enterprising sister Bettina sets out to rescue her.

No.72, House-Bound by Winifred Peck
This 1942 novel describes an Edinburgh woman deciding, radically, to run her house without help and do her own cooking; the war is in the background and foreground.

No.81, Miss Buncle’s Book by DE Stevenson
A middle-aged woman writes a novel, as ‘John Smith’, about the village she lives in. A delightful and funny 1934 book by an author whose work sold in millions.

I haven’t read any of them yet. I am not sure where to start. I think I will probably read No.32 first as part of the November Novella Challenge. But who knows.

I am participating in the Persephone Secret Santa over at Book Psmith.

You might also be interested in checking out the Persephone Post which is a great place for a little visual inspiration.

21 thoughts on “The Persephone Eleven

  1. The Literary Stew November 5, 2009 / 7:11 pm

    Great choices. Of those, I have read three: Mariana, The Priory and the Shuttle…all wonderful! I've read a total of 14 Persephones and have yet to be disappointed. They are really a treat. I'm sure you'll be making more orders in the future.


  2. claire November 6, 2009 / 1:41 am

    Ohh lovely. I'm drooling and so envious. I laughed when you talked about marking your catalog. I didn't want to do it at first, but my baby beat me to it. He drew all over the first four pages. (Just glad he didn't do it on a book!) So then I began crossing out the titles I didn't want to read, which then left me with still a lot. I began to star the titles which I really wanted top priority. My top coveted 12 is way different than yours. Probably only Miss Buncle's Book overlaps. Am also fairly interested in The Shuttle and The Priory. Still, any Persephone would be a blessing to have!

    I've read Mariana but didn't enjoy it so much, it was just okay for me, although I've seen it around blogs and most of them loved it much more than I did.

    Enjoy your beautiful grey books!


  3. Paperback Reader November 6, 2009 / 7:05 am

    How lovely! I have read four of these and have another two of them on hand to read. I adored The Shuttle and spend last Christmas immersed in its pages; it is a real page-turner.

    I love how you systematically went through the catalogue; I think I may need to do that the next time I am ordering more than one as I am always missing books that later appeal to me. When I am buying more than one-at-a-time I find it easier to let impulse guide me and have been delighted that way.

    I'm so pleased that you are participating in the Persephone Secret Santa – I'm very excited!


  4. savidgereads November 6, 2009 / 7:07 am

    Utterly, utterly jealous. I have to say am just finishing The Shuttle and its absolutely wonderful, one of my favouirte books of the year so far without question so you have some wonderful reads coming up.

    I am being taken to the Persephone shop this weekend as The Converted ONe is going to treat me to three. Apparently buying the whole catalogue for £750 pounds is too much! Tut!


  5. verity November 6, 2009 / 7:32 am

    Very envious! I've read all of these except Mariana and own a fair few of them. But how lovely to have them all arrive at once.

    I went systematically through the catalogue, but then looked to see which books were available in my library (often in older editions) which is how I've read, but don't own, lots from your list.



  6. Thomas November 6, 2009 / 8:35 am

    Literary Stew: I will be ordering at least one for some else for the secret santa, but I kind of also thought that the 12 I ordered would last me a year when combined with the rest of the TBR that is. I am going to try and stick to that.

    Claire: I am curious to know what your top 12 turned out to be.

    Paperback Reader: In my ordered world, systematic usually wins out over impulse. But for the Secret Santa, besides the list of what I have already, I decided NOT to offer any suggestions to the person buying for me. I think it will be cool to get something I wouldn't have thought of for myself.

    Simon: Don't think I didn't think about about buying the whole catalog at once.

    Verity: Without even looking I feel pretty sure the the public library system here in DC would not have many, if any, of these titles. Plus I had to own a few of these. Granted 12 seems little more than a few…


  7. Darlene November 6, 2009 / 9:40 am

    Go ahead and mark your catalogue with abandon…I do! It was thrilling to receive a fresh new copy so I can start all over again. Once you've purchased your first Persephone I advise clearing a shelf on your bookcase as more are likely to follow. Enjoy your new books Thomas!


  8. bookheaper November 6, 2009 / 11:03 am

    My favourite Persephone is actually by an American, The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding, which was made into a film (noir) with James Mason in it – The Reckless Moment. The great Raymond Chandler really rated her work and I'd like to get hold of more, but Persephone only publish the one, I think. (PS Thanks for the welcome, Thomas. You have a great blog and you sure read a lot faster than me!)


  9. dolcebellezza November 6, 2009 / 11:04 am

    I love Persephone. I really like your blog. I'll be back with more in-depth comments when I'm not teaching my students who just came in. ;)


  10. claire November 6, 2009 / 11:09 am

    I had put up a post of my most coveted during Persephone Week, but most of it's changed, as we all can attest to. My current list includes Persephone No. 1, the Leonard Woolf, and the last three Laskis. :D


  11. tuulenhaiven November 6, 2009 / 11:38 am

    If I was excited before over my own first dip into the Persephone world, I am doubly so now, after seeing your beautiful stack! I need my books to arrive NOW!! :)


  12. Ti November 6, 2009 / 2:04 pm

    I'm drooling a bit over here. I just got my new catalog and I have yet to sit down with it.


  13. Frances November 6, 2009 / 5:44 pm

    Lovely! Cheerful Weather and The Priory are both on my Persephone wishlist. Can't wait for the gift exchange. Currently, I have no Persephones and am holding off until the secret santa fun is over. Just want someone else to pick my first. The fun of gift-giving.

    Speaking of gifting, I still have your Paris Review Interviews. Meant to email you this week since we are both in DC. Maybe I can hand them to you?


  14. dovegreyreader November 6, 2009 / 6:20 pm

    What a lovely sight! I've read nine of your selection Thomas and over fifty in all and once I'd read The Carlyles I had to visit the house in Chelsea, which is as dark and gloomy as the picture. Everyone has their favourites but others not to miss IMHO are Saplings, Miss Ranskill Comes Home, Manja and having just finished The World That Was Ours by Hilda Bernstein confirms for me that Persephone have some really challenging books on their list too, not all nostalgia. My husband discovered them for me back in 2001, from a newspaper article which he then hid! He then rang Nicola Beauman and asked her to choose six and gift wrap them for me for Christmas. The first one I read was The Far Cry by Emma Smith, by New Year I'd ordered another 6 and by the end of January the rest of the list. The shop is a lovely haven of peace and quiet and in there somewhere is a little quilt I made them for their fifth birthday and to say thank you for giving me such enormous reading pleasure.


  15. Thomas November 7, 2009 / 1:56 pm

    Darlene: Since I still have the old catalog that is all marked up I can keep the new one in pristine condition.

    Bookheaper: There was an American title that interested me, it just didn't make the first cut.

    Dolce: I can't believe you put your students above commenting on blogs…where are your priorities?

    Claire: Isn't it odd how the wish list changes? And not necessarily because new stuff gets added either.

    Tuulenhaiven: Since they arrive in separate envelopes it was exciting to see how many would be waiting for me each day. The elusive missing 12 showed up the day I posted this.

    Ti: Have fun with your catalog.

    Frances: I think the gift exchange is a great way to get going with Persephone. Should be fun. I can't wait to see who I get.

    Dovegrey: The story of your husband hiding the newspaper article is hilarious–and sweet given that he surprised you with 6 of them.


  16. Danielle November 11, 2009 / 3:01 pm

    Such a lovely pile–and so many at once–a very nice treat indeed! I've only read four but I have most of these on my TBR pile. I think my favorite (how to choose??) is Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout. Have fun reading these. I'm supposed to be on a book buying embargo, but I think I will do a little holiday splurge before the end of the year (a present to myself?). And my catalogs have lots of pencil markings, dog eared pages and post-it notes hanging out. That's half the fun!


  17. Thomas November 11, 2009 / 3:30 pm

    Danielle: Well, I am starting with the Julia Strachey for the November Novella Challenge. But after that I don't know how I am every going to choose which one to read next.


  18. StuckInABook November 11, 2009 / 6:44 pm

    Ooo, lovely! Lots of gems there. I loved The Runaway – glad I helped you join this wonderful world!


  19. Thomas November 11, 2009 / 7:10 pm

    Simon T: Funny enough, The Runaway was a last minute addition for me. I was drawn to the woodblock illustration in the catalog. The rest of the illustrations in the book are just wonderful. Thanks again for your part in introducing me to P.


  20. Elaine November 17, 2009 / 4:19 pm

    I have read and own 50+ Persephone books and with the odd exception have enjoyed them all. I am proud that I was the reader who suggested the Making of a Marchioness to Nicola Beauman and bang on about it whenever I can so thank you for giving me another opportunity to do so! My favourite out of all of my Persphone reads is The Homemaker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher


  21. Thomas at My Porch November 17, 2009 / 8:36 pm

    Elaine: I thank you for the Making of a Marchioness. It was one of the first ones to jump out at me from the catalog.


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