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.