shelf by shelf : Persephone to Persephone

In 2009, after about three years of blogging, I discovered a whole world of (mainly British) book bloggers. As I poked around on those blogs and linked to other blogs that they recommended, I kept coming across posts about Persephone Books. I was intrigued by the almost universal, gushing praise they received as well as the publisher’s unique and largely uniform style. Regardless of content, these seemed like books I needed to possess. I soon began to understand why people loved them so much. Not only are they beautiful to look at, but I was delighted by the books they published: mainly middle brow, domestic fiction written by female British authors in the first half of the 20th century. There are exceptions to each of these characteristics, but I don’t think I’m too far off the mark in my generalization.

Much better view if you click to enlarge the picture.
Much better view if you click to enlarge the picture.

SHELF TWENTY: 34 books, 21 read, 13 unread, 62% completed

Bonham, Margaret – The Casino
Wasn’t a big fan of these stories.

Burnett, Frances Hodgson – The Shuttle (completed)
Who doesn’t love Hodgson’s The Secret Garden? And I certainly loved an old copy of T. Tembarom I found and of course the Persephone edition of The Making of a Marchioness, but something about The Shuttle made me like it a lot less than those other two FHB novels. Basically, The Shuttle is a fictional account of the rich American heiress marrying a penniless British aristocrat. And of course he is a spendthrift asshole. It was fun enough to read a bit shallow and not all that compelling.

Cambridge, Elizabeth – Hostages to Fortune

Cannon, Joanna – Princes in the Land (completed)
We follow Patricia Lindsay as she gets a lesson in marrying beneath her. She sacrifices much for her insecure husband and her ungrateful children. In a town and gown story as old as the academy itself, Patricia’s eldest gets the newsagent’s daughter preggers and marries her, much to his mother’s horror. The second son falls in love with his friend Peter–I mean with his friend Peter’s love of the Oxford Movement. This makes his high church, only on Sundays mother openly hostile. And then the daughter…what does she do that is so wrong…I don’t remember. Was it that she loved cars more than horses?

Cooper, Lettice – The New House (completed)
The whole action of the book takes place over the course of just one day as thirty-something Rhoda Powell and her widowed mother who are moving to a more modest house to conserve their limited financial resources. Although the surface action is all about the move, we learn so much more about all the characters through both their current thoughts and their memories of the past. Our heroine Rhoda is in a  bit of a rut, one that threatens to last the rest of her life. Having not yet married or gone into any career, everyone, including Rhoda herself, assumes that she will continue to live quietly and take care of her mother. But things start to rattle around in Rhoda’s mind and we begin to see a glimmer of hope that Rhoda may rebel against her fate. More here.

Delafield, E.M. – Consequences

English, Isobel – Every Eye

Ferguson, Rachel – Alas, Poor Lady

Ferguson, Ruby – Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary (completed)
The Queen Mum was said to have been a great admirer of this novel. I did wonder as I read Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary  if the QM suffered from a little cognitive dissonance when it comes to marrying for love. In Ferguson’s 1937 novel, the heroine marries for love and ends up old and impoverished. Now, the Queen Mum is said to have been a great admirer of this book. So why did she love this book? Was she clueless to the fact that her life-long grudge against the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson was similar to the class-induced opprobrium Lady Rose faced? Or, more sinisterly, did she relish the comeuppance Lady Rose got for marrying below her? If either of these is true I tend to think it is more the former than the latter. Or was she so caught up in this romantic paean to Scottish life that she couldn’t think clearly?

Fisher, Dorothy Canfield – The Home-maker (completed)
Really loved this book. Challenges traditional gender roles at a time when no one challenged them. More here.

Hart, Elizabeth Anna – The Runaway (completed)
This is a bit of children’s book and I must say I found it kind of boring, but I know others have found it charming. I hesitate getting rid of it because it has wonderful illustrations by Gwen Raverat.

Holme, Thea – The Carlyles at Home (completed)
There is lots of domestic minutiae for those of us that like that sort of thing. The Carlyles at Home is a primer on daily life in the mid-19th century. Almost a behind the scenes look at all those costume dramas we love to read and watch. Food (limited selection, always leading to indigestion), gardening (Jane liked flowers, Carlyle like fruits), home improvement (seemed to be constantly making changes to their home), finances (misers with unsteady but overall decent income), and servants (always hard to find and keep). More here.

Hughes, Mollie – A London Child of the 1870s

Laski, Marghanita – Little Boy Lost (completed)
Laski, Marghanita – To Bed with Grand Music
Laski, Marghanita – The Victorian Chaise-longue (completed)
I must say I find Laski a little overrated. I enjoyed reading Little Boy Lost, but didn’t think it was any great shakes. I had this to say about it in 2010: “I also found myself screaming (silently) at Hilary “For god sake man give the kid a sandwich–he can’t live on Raspberry soda thingies alone.” ”

I think need to re-read The Victorian Chaise-longue. It seems to get universal praise and is seen as a bit of a feminist classic. But I disagreed on both fronts in 2011. I wonder what I would think of it now.

Mackail, Denis – Greenery Street (completed)
Really enjoyed this one. Felicity and her fiance Ian Foster find a place of their own in Greenery Street to move into after they are married. It would be wrong to say that Greenery Street is just background, the street itself is as much a character as they are. Just as we learn about Ian and Felicity’s personalities and foibles, so too do we learn about the foibles and personality of the street itself. More here.

Noble, Barbara – Doreen

Oliphant, Mrs. – The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow (completed)
Two enjoyable stories by an insanely prolific novelist.

Panter-Downes, Mollie – Minnie’s Room

Peck, Winifred – House-Bound (completed)
I had mixed feelings about this novel about a woman trying to keep her house going during WWII. More here.

Playfair, Jocelyn – A House in the Country (completed)
Based on my thoughts from 2011, I might think about getting rid of this one. “Parts of it were enjoyable, but overall I was bored and a little annoyed. I didn’t really care for the structure of the narrative and I had a hard time caring about any of the characters.”

Sherriff, R.C. – A Fortnight in September (completed)
Sherriff, R.C. – The Hopkins Manuscript (completed)
Two of my favorite Persephones and, in fact two of my favorite books of all time. The first is a gentle, insightful family drama, the second is cozy, apocalyptic, speculative fiction.

Todd, Barbara Euphan – Miss Ranskill Comes Home (completed)
I sound like a broken record this week, but I loved this book. Miss Ranskill is lost at sea  in 1939 and winds up on a deserted island being cared for by a working class carpenter who is also stranded. The book begins four years into Miss Ranskill’s ordeal and we find her digging a grave for the recently departed carpenter. Not long after this opening scene she is rescued by a British convoy headed back to England. While convalescing on a destroyer Miss Ranskill learns that England has been at war for four years but nothing she learns on board prepares her for what she will encounter when she gets back to England. More here.

Towers, Frances – Tea with Mr. Rochester

Whipple, Dorothy – The Closed Door and Other Stories (completed)
Whipple, Dorothy – The Priory (completed)
Whipple, Dorothy – High Wages (completed)
Whipple, Dorothy – They Knew Mr. Knight (completed) 

Whipple, Dorothy – They Were Sisters (completed)
Dorothy Whipple is the queen of the middlebrow. I love all of these in varying degrees. The only one I haven’t really loved was Someone at a Distance which I talked about last time. I might love The Closed Door and Other Stories the most. Our of the novels, They Were Sisters and The Priory are top faves.

Woolf, Leonard – The Wise Virgins

Woolf, Virginia – Flush: A Biography

NEXT TIME: O’Grady to Roberts


8 thoughts on “shelf by shelf : Persephone to Persephone

  1. kaggsysbookishramblings November 6, 2016 / 9:10 am

    That’s a very nice Persephone shelf! I agree with you about Laski – The Victorian Chaise Longue left me completely cold. But The Hopkins Manuscript is one of my favourite Persephones – love your description of it!!


  2. MarinaSofia November 6, 2016 / 10:00 am

    I haven’t got the time or money to get started on a Persephone obsession, so I’m trying to steer clear of this and other posts like it, but some of them sound mightily enticing…


    • Karen K. November 6, 2016 / 1:55 pm

      It’s dangerous — however, some of them are published as Persephone classics which are reasonably priced. You can also get them via the Book Depository at a discount (and free shipping!) but no matching bookmark. I was able to find some of them in my library in different editions, and I also read quite a few via inter-library loan (usually different editions), but it sometimes took awhile. College libraries may have some also, and if there is one in your town you can probably get a reciprocal borrowing card through your public library.


  3. Karen K. November 6, 2016 / 2:14 pm

    Great shelf! I was also underwhelmed by The Runaway and House-bound, and I never finished Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary, it seemed so saccharine I had to stop. Maybe I should try again.

    From your list, my favorites are also Miss Ranskill, A London Child, The Home-Maker, and Doreen, and of course the Whipples. I loved A Closed Door and I’m really hoping to get the new volume of Whipple short stories for Christmas.


  4. travellinpenguin November 6, 2016 / 7:38 pm

    I also have read about P. books in blogs and finally bit the bullet. I have subscribed for 6 months to get 6 books I chose at random probably beginning in January. I hope they inspire happy reading. I do enjoy these bookshelf posts. Come do my shelves next. I have lost track of what is on them.


  5. Liz Dexter November 7, 2016 / 3:34 am

    Best shelf ever!!! Lots that I’ve loved here. I have a Fortnight in September and a couple of others in pre-Persephone editions so it’s lucky I’m not a completist!


  6. Joan Kyler November 7, 2016 / 8:21 am

    I want to thank you for introducing me to R. C. Sherriff. He’s not someone I would have discovered on my own. I’ve read The Hopkins Manuscript, Chedworth, and Greengates. I have Fortnight in September on my Kindle. I haven’t been disappointed by any of his books so far.


  7. Ruthiella November 8, 2016 / 3:53 pm

    I won my first Persephone, A Fortnight in September, from your “At My Porch” blog and it remains a favorite. I also really love Dorothy Whipple’s writing and own a few of her titles in Persephone editions. I think I love The Priory the most, but I have really adored every title of hers that I have read so far.

    I have also read a few Persephone titles in non-Persephone editions, such as the Miss Buncle books and Diary of a Provincial Lady.

    Liked by 1 person

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