Saturday 29 January 2011

Favourite Viragos

Thanks for your lovely comments on yesterday's post! Let's keep the Virago Modern Classic mood going (thanks again Rachel and Carolyn!) Here's a little bit of serendipity for you - I had no idea that suc
h a thing as Google Docs existed until today at work, when my boss asked me to open it. Lo and behold, not only did my Yahoo address automatically set me up with a Google Docs account, but I had three messages (or files or, I suppose, documents) - the third, sent earlier this month, being a complete list of Virago Modern Classics! Thank you, LALindsay, whoever you are - presumably something to do with the VMC group on LibraryThing?

(some of my favourite covers)

It has enabled me to count up all the VMCs I've read - not the ones I own; that's probably about twice this number, but out of 553 VMCs published, I have read a respectable 59. Scroll down to the bottom of this post for the list of those I've read, if you're interested - feel free to ask me about any of them, or tell me which ones I *should* have read that aren't listed. To be honest, quite a few I read in non-VMC editions. I didn't even know the Brontes and Austen had had the Virago treatment. But there are still a fair few on the list that have found their way to me courtesy of Virago - and it is those I'll be choosing from for my favourite VMCs. So, Provincial Lady and myriad Jane Austen novels, even though I love you I'm afraid you shan't be appearing on this list - because I didn't m
eet you between those distinctive green borders. Fair's fair.

Ok, here are five Virago Modern Classics I love, cherish, and adore. I'm afraid the pictures are of varying sizes; if someone can tell me how to get bigger images of the covers on LibraryThing, that would be much appreciated for future use...

The Love Child - Edith Olivier
(VMC #46)

This one will surprise none of you, I suspect... Olivier's novel, about a lonely spinster who conjures her childhood imaginary friend into life, is short but powerful. Don't be put off by a slightly fey cover - The Love Child is clever, moving, and one I'll be re-reading many times. Well do I remember picking it up on a whim, for mere pence, in the charity shop on Little Clarendon Street (Oxford). For some reason I had no other book with me, or had just finished one, for I immediately went round the corner to a public garden (the one, in fact, pictured) and started it. And was blown away by how good it was.

Mother and Son - Ivy Compton-Burnett
(VMC #394)

I was trying to remember which Virago title was the first I read between those distinctive green spines... without my reading diary to hand, I'm not sure, but it might well have been Mother and Son. My mum loathes Ivy Compton-Burnett, but a lady in our village lent me this, telling me to give Ivy a go. I'm ever grateful to Jay for introducing me to this most divisive of authors - you definitely either love or hate - and her dialogue-packed novels of family intrigue and enjoyably futile, highbrow exchanges.

A Very Great Profession - Nicola Beauman
(VMC #406)

The place where Persephone started, Beauman's very accessible look at many and various middlebrow female authors is bound to have you filling a notebook with ideas for future reads. Chapters are cleverly divided up into topics like 'Surplus Women'; 'Sex'; 'Psychoanalysis' etc. An invaluable resource for anyone even vaguely interested in the sort of books in the VMC line - and now available from Persephone.

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns
(VMC #238)

A title I don't shut up about, this Comyns novel is surreal and domestic at the same time, and takes pride of place amongst my slightly quirker taste in novels. But nobody is quite like Comyns - and while I want to thank Virago for bringing her novels to a wider audience, I also want to ask why they've let almost all of them drop off the VMC list? (Ditto The Love Child!)

The Return of the Soldier - Rebecca West
(VMC #32)

Probably the best novel I have read associated with war - in this case, as the title suggests, the return of a soldier, and the messy familial and romantic tangles which ensue. Also incredibly sensitive about shell shock and bereavement - all packed into one slim volume.

Hope that has given you some tips for further VMC reading! Do ask about any of those below, should you want to know my opinions.

Viragos I have read:
(in order of VMC-publication)

1. Mr Fortune’s Maggot : Sylvia Townsend Warner
2. The Life and Death of Harriett Frean : May Sinclair
3. The Return of the Soldier : Rebecca West
4. The Third Miss Symons : F.M. Mayor
5. The Vet’s Daughter : Barbara Comyns
6. The Love Child : Edith Olivier
7. The Yellow Wallpaper : Charlotte Perkins Gilman
8. The Professor’s House : Willa Cather
9. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont : Elizabeth Taylor
10. The Little Ottleys : Ada Leverson
11. The Tortoise and the Hare : Elizabeth Jenkins
12. Keynotes and Discords : George Egerton
13. Our Spoons Came from Woolworths : Barbara Comyns
14. All Passion Spent : Vita Sackville-West
15. Angel : Elizabeth Taylor
16. Miss Mole : E.H. Young
17. Diary of a Provincial Lady : E.M. Delafield
18. Sisters by a River : Barbara Comyns
19. No Signposts in the Sea : Vita Sackville-West
20. The Lifted Veil : George Eliot
21. Two Days in Aragon : Molly Keane
22. One Fine Day : Mollie Panter-Downes
23. A Game of Hide and Seek : Elizabeth Taylor
24. The Enchanted April : Elizabeth von Arnim
25. The Skin Chairs : Barbara Comyns
26. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead : Barbara Comyns
27. The Stone Angel : Margaret Laurence
28. The New House : Lettice Cooper
29. Olivia : Dorothy Strachey
30. Seducers in Ecuador and the Heir : Vita Sackville-West
31. The Brontës Went to Woolworths : Rachel Ferguson
32. The Way Things Are : E.M. Delafield
33. Thank Heaven Fasting : E.M. Delafield
34. The Story of an African Farm : Olive Schreiner
35. Mrs Miniver : Jan Struther
36. Emma : Jane Austen
37. Pride and Prejudice : Jane Austen
38. Sense and Sensibility : Jane Austen
39. Persuasion : Jane Austen
40. Mansfield Park : Jane Austen
41. Northanger Abbey : Jane Austen
42. Villette : Charlotte Bronte
43. Wuthering Heights : Emily Bronte
44. Agnes Grey : Anne Bronte
45. Try Anything Twice : Jan Struther
46. Jane Eyre : Charlotte Bronte
47. Ethan Frome : Edith Wharton
48. Crewe Train : Rose Macaulay
49. Lolly Willowes or the Loving Huntsman : Sylvia Townsend Warner
50. Mother and Son : Ivy Compton-Burnett
51. A Very Great Profession : Nicola Beauman
52. I Capture the Castle : Dodie Smith
53. Provincial Daughter : R.M. Dashwood
54. 84 Charing Cross Road : Helene Hanff
55. Rebecca : Daphne du Maurier
56. My Cousin Rachel : Daphne du Maurier
57. The Flight of the Falcon : Daphne du Maurier
58. Loitering with Intent : Muriel Spark
59. Excellent Women : Barbara Pym


  1. That's a very respectable number. I wonder how many I've read. Are you counting titles--even though they may have been in different editions--or solely VMC editions?

  2. Any edition will do, so long as I've read it! I just excluded ones I read as non-VMCs from my feature of favourites, to make it a bit more interesting.

  3. Oh I'm glad you mentioned the Rebecca West. She is such a great writer.

  4. Hello Simon! I'm the owner of the Virago Collection Tracker spreadsheet! You're also correct in linking it to the LT VMC Group. It was actually a collaborative effort that created it, and one group member is particularly vigilant about adding new VMCs as they are published.

    For the life of me I can't remember how it would have landed in your GoogleDocs account. But anyone who likes can access the spreadsheet and save a copy for their own use. I'm glad you found it useful !

  5. I love some of your favourite covers, especially the painting by Sargent ('Lily Lily Rose')on the Comyns, as well as The Brontes Went to Woolworths cover, how dashing! Seems more period appropriate than the purple edition I have from Bloomsbury. Those covers remind me that I also wanted to read The Three Sisters by May Sinclair since it's based on the Brontes? (Wikipedia tells me she also wrote another book? the same one? called The Three Brontes and invented the term 'stream of consciousness' to describe Dorothy Richardson's writing, another Virago author. Interesting!)

  6. Hi Simon:
    I read A very great profession years ago, but I'd like to read it again. That's a wonderful list of VMCs read...I've read about 18 of them, though not all in Virago editions.
    I've been stocking up on recommendations though!

  7. I'm very impressed with your number. Perusing the list, if I counted right, I've read 20 of them, but at least 10 are sitting on my TBR shelf, which means my number should go up in this year of reading mostly from home. VRW has been very educational for me - I've found myself reading more author bios as people have posted their reviews. And, thank you for sharing your covers with us -- the internet is about the only place I get to see them. :)

  8. Never heard of Virago before starting to peruse book blogs!
    Can't find them in bookstores or library. I've ordered a couple from Thriftbooks so we'll see. They look like my kind of book--or as my children say "Mother Book"!

  9. Oh, I love the covers you chose and the paintings on them. Especially the right three and even more especially the Stevie Smith. Do you know who the artist is? It almost looks like it could be de Lempicka but it's hard to tell?

  10. Since you're a Janeite, don't miss Emily Eden's The Semi-Attached Couple and the Semi-Detached House - two novellas published together. Virago also published Eden's journal of life in India in the 1840s (her brother was in colonial administration). Virago also published Margaret Oliphant's Chronicles of Carlingford. I love them all, but especially The Perpetual Curate and Miss Marjoribanks. In the 20th century, there's Kate O'Brien (especially The Land of Spices) and Maura Laverty.

  11. I am now going to go away and make my list and see how many I have read. I simply love the Green Viragos - theolder ones that is, whoever decided not to use them any more is a MORON

  12. Just had a little giggle at Elaine's capital lettered MORON - I can hear her saying it!

    Any-way - lovely post Simon and some, as usual, eccentric picks (I would, of course, expect nothing less). You have me tempted with The Love Child but I cannot bear the thought of trying Ivy again. I think The Return of the Soldier is one of Rebecca's best - but have you read The Fountain Overflows?! Sublime.

  13. Good pikcs Simon - as Rachel says, a little unusual. And as you know I picked up a copy of The Love Child only yesterday :) I am happy to report that I have read all of the VMCs that you have.

  14. Nicola - I loved Return of the Soldier, but didn't much like Harriet Hume - so I should read another and see which way the balance tips!

    Laura - thank you, thank you Laura! I have no idea how I ended up with it, but I am very grateful to you for setting it up :)

    Carolyn - isn't the Sisters By A River cover lovely? Most of the Comyns Virago reprints have Stanley Spencer covers - an artist I love, and is very appropriate to Comyns - but it's nice to have that one too. And I *think* (but am not certain) that Sinclair's two books are different - one fic and one non-fic - but I imagine there might well be some crossover.

    Audrey - yes, Virago Reading Week certainly has bumped up the number of recommendations I have! Not to mention the 30 or so VMCs I have unread.

    Susan - the thing with VMCs is that you're unlikely to run out! Especially if, sadly, they aren't available in Texas much. We are lucky here - you'll usually spot one or two in any secondhand or charity shop.

    Barbara - ooo, which books??

    Daniel - I don't have the book in Oxford, so I can't check, I'm afraid... but isn't it nice?

    Lisa - ooo, Emily Eden's book is one I do actually own, and have in Oxford in fact - will make sure to bump it up the tbr pile. I've heard good things about it from several sources - thanks for mentioning Jane in connection with it, as that is one of the securest methods of making me want to read it!

    Elaine - I'm guessing about 150! And moron indeed ;)

    Rachel - oh, I haven't read The Fountain Overflows, but I do have it... maybe that's the West I'll try next. And only a day or so before I wrote this post, I went and re-read your post on Pastors and Masters... maybe you shouldn't bother with Ivy again! Or perhaps you'll have an epiphany when you're 80, and suddenly love her.

    Verity - I can't confess myself surprised that you've read all the ones I have ;) How many have you read now?

  15. I've read some from your list, Simon, but not under the Virago name. I don't think Virago and Persephone books are available easily in this country.

    Of the ones I've read that you listed, one my very favorites is ETHAN FROME by Edith Wharton which I read in high school and still reread occasionally.

    I'm going to use your list to see if I can find the books - even if they are not Viragos - in my library or online at used book dealers.

    Sounds like a plan. :)

    After all, without your recommendation, I never would have found MISS HARGREAVES.

  16. Well, lets see. The ones that have been sent from ThriftBooks are
    Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, A Game of Hide and Seek, Henrietta's War (I know, a Bloomsbury not a Virago), a mystery called Blackbirder, and for gc Tom's Midnight Garden.
    I'll see how these are but it's nice to avoid shipping charges!
    I have a wish list with them and everytime I read a review I say "Oh I have to read that!" Wish they were in the library!
    Realize I've read some and didn't know it House of Mirth, Rebecca, and My Antonia!

  17. Yvette - good luck finding some! I read Ethan Frome about five years ago, but I'm afraid I remember little about it...

    Barbara C - thanks so much for coming back to me with the list. Great choices! I love Mrs. Palfrey and Henrietta. And I really love Tom's Midnight Garden! The list is a good idea - I tend to put things onto my Amazon wishlist now.

  18. This comment is 12 mnths late I know, but I've been googling Virago trying to find a title I read 20 years ago...and this was one of the first posts to turn up.
    I read a lot of Virago books when I was living in Highgate in 1991 - the little local library had a great selection of them.

    There was one in particular that has haunted me all this time, but I can't rememeber any of the details, except for the lush garden overflowing on the front cover and maybe I remember something about a family drama in Jamaica or some other island...?

    Does this ring a bell with you?

    Thank you

    1. Hi Brona - I'm afraid it doesn't immediately bring any Virago title to mind, but there are very many I've not read. Family drama in Jamaica could be High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughes, but I don't think that was ever a Virago title... I will ask some friends!


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