Wednesday 9 July 2008

Mostly Persephone

More Persephone chat today - because the other day I went to the event I forewarned you about, at Mostly Books in Abingdon. Nicola Beauman, doyenne of Persephone (is doyenne complimentary? It's meant to be) gave a lovely talk on setting up Persephone in 1999, the highs and lows, and the Persephone Classics venture. The room was full with interested people - it was especially nice to meet Moira and her husband, so hello to you both! - and I am never happier than when surrounded by bookish folk. Such a joy to be able to hear and talk about a publishing house which I love so dearly, and books I cherish.

I've heard Nicola talk before, but it is always a pleasure. (Something I note is that, whilst when I was 18 and had loooong hair, people didn't want to catch my eye at a Persephone event, here I obviously looked a lot less off-putting!) If you ever have the chance to hear about Persephone from the driving force behind it, do take it. From Nicola's time with Virago and her book A Very Great Profession (recently republished by Persephone), to setting up Persephone Books, to the surprise bestseller of Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day t
o the Persephone Classics, it is a fascinating journey which I hope to see in her biography one day...

Persephone Classics is where Persephone lovers form two factions. They are further, slightly cheaper, reprints of Persephone's bes
tsellers. The iconic dove grey covers, concealing beautiful endpapers using fabric from the year the book was published, are replaced with pictures of the covers. The content inside is identical. I confess, I was a little wary when I first heard about the venture - but then I saw this cover for Dorothy Whipple's Someone at a Distance.

It is a wonderful book, both very well written and also addictive, which don't always go hand in hand - and what an incredible cover. I think it's the most beautiful book I own, not just to look at, but to hold and to read.

Some of the audience at Mostly Books were resolute that they wouldn't buy a non-grey cover; some were entranced; all were grateful to Nicola for bringing these wonderful books back into print. It's flared up my collectors' instinct again - so many I've yet to own! One of these days I'll give a list of the ones I've read and those I own, and will await your recommendations...

Thank you Nicola, and thank you Mark for organising such a wonderful evening.


  1. Hello Simon,
    It was lovely to meet "Stuck in a Book" in person at Mostly Books. Thank you for producing such an interesting blog.
    Moira and David

  2. Isn't it funny how hair affects the way people treat you? I shaved my hair off once at university, but my (very feminine)dress code remained exactly the same - you wouldn't believe the grief I got from complete strangers! Someone verbally attacked me on a bus until the driver threatened to throw him off, "feminist dyke" was yelled across the street at me etc. A most interesting experience.

    How lovely that you got to hear Nicola speak - all things Persephone very good. My favourite is still SOMEONE AT A DISTANCE, although I just finished HOUSEBOUND and really enjoyed that too.

  3. I've only just found Persephone books, and already I feel a hunger for them .... I think that in some way buying books has absolutely nothing to do with reading just, just the pleasure of a well turned out copy. These look beautiful, and as such, must go on my shelves!

  4. Please, please stop buying books you already own. Please.

  5. Don't listen to your brother - buying books you already own is part of the charm!

  6. Simon, I'm afraid I've tagged you in another meme. Of course, don't feel obliged!

  7. Simon, as far as I know, and I am cautious in offering an opinion here amongst so many who will know more, "doyenne" is neutral and simply means the oldest/most senior female member of a group.

    Dark Puss

  8. I am anxiously awaiting the reprinting of Miss Pettigrew...I so want the dove blue copy.

    I am currently reading "They Knew Mr Knight" - brilliant.


  9. Lovely write-up Simon - thanks. If I can keep my eyelids open I'll publish some pictures of the event this evening!

    It was a wonderful event, and the chance for a chat with Nicola on the way back to the train station was a nice bonus (for me).

  10. This sounds like such a lovely evening Simon! I am jealous. My hope is that someday I get to walk into the Persephone bookshop, let alone go to an 'event'. I do like these new covers, the images are just the most beautiful I've seen on any book. If I didn't already own Someone at a Distance, I'd buy this one since I agree with you about it's beauty completely.

    Do share your collection. Were those stacks you posted recently yours?

  11. I belong to the Grey cover group Simon, partly because the end papers are in them and not in the Classics. Ignore the Carbon Copy -I have about 6 copies of DPL. six copies of a Secret Garden, duplicates of Edith Wharton, the list is endless!

  12. This sounds wonderful! I didn't realize she worked with Virago in the past. I would love to visit her shop someday. And I personally love the new classics--not the least that they will be available in US bookshops! I can't imagine Persephone not publishing a very elegant book dovegrey covers or not.


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