Last Saturday

I awoke to sunshine on the promenade, but that wasn’t where we were going.

I was accompanied through the Morrab Gardens by both fiance and dog, and yet I abandoned them both to go to the library.

Why? The best of reasons!

I’d been gazing at the notice on the kitchen wall for days, not quite believing that it was real. But it was!

Anticipation was in the air as twenty-five or so people gathered in the reading room.

I wondered why somebody was making her way to the front of the room by a rather strange route. And then I realised. She wasn’t a member to know which of three doors was the best to use. She was our speaker!

And what did she say?

She spoke of the great importance of libraries, and we agreed that we were lucky to have both the Morrab Library and the Hypatia Trust in town.

But there was disappointment that so many wonderful works by women writers had been taken from the shelves, removed from stock over the years. Maybe there had been a lack of women’s voices on library committees in the past …

Dorothy Whipple had been a hugely popular author who was completely lost. Many voices were raised in her praise, but there was disappointment that nobody would write a thesis, a learned article about her ….

Delight was tangible when the future publication of Greenbanks was mentioned.

And then there was Marghanita Laski. Why was she not part of the cannon? Surely Little Boy Lost should be there? And who chose the cannon anyway?

Virago was mentioned. What Virago did was hugely important and we must all, our speaker suggested, have at least one Virago on our shelves. I had to smile. Because it was the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing that introduced me to Persephone Books. Because LibraryThing tells me I have 391 VMCs, and that Nicola Beauman’s A Very Great Profession is among them.

But The Whipple Line was roundly condemned.

To not like her writing is fine, but to express that in such a negative, hurtful was is not. An important distinction.

Our speaker told us that she had always had firm views on how Persephone Books should look. Uniform editions with their own distinctive endpapers. That was what made them a little more expensive, and why they were sold by mail order rather than through bookshops. And that was why Persephone Classics had been introduced, to be sold through bookshops.

We learned that the business of selecting endpapers was rather simpler than we might have thought. That there were often few appropriate designs available from a book’s era.

And we learned a little about the Persephone Biannually. Including, sadly, that there were people who thought they should receive it without ever buying a book.

And then there was the whole business of how to choose what books to publish, and just how many suggestions were made. The right title was crucial. Identifying the owner of the right was useful. But, most of all, the book had to be right.

The recent Possibly Persephone event was mentioned, and we learned of a book that was on its way to publication.

Concern was raised that Persephone Books had no working class authors.

Our speaker drew attention to Round about a Pound a Week, but agreed and suggested that for most of the twentieth century working class women lacked the time and spaced to write.

And then there was How to Run Your Home Without Help. There was much praise for the generation who had managed after servants but before modern technology. My grandmother was one of them. How did they do it?

I’m afraid I’ve left out some details. This was far too friendly an event to take notes.

They will come back to me, but I hope that for now I’ve given you a flavour and me an aide memoire.

And there’s one more thing,that left me happy and just a little dazed.

I’m acutely aware that I’m Fleur in the biannually and Jane on the mailing list, and that the two might not have been linked. And so I introduced myself as Jane, and before I could introduce myself as Fleur as well I heard the words, “You must be Fleur …”

8 responses

  1. You must have been so thrilled to be in attendance and I am very envious of your afternoon! And my delight is tangible as well at the prospect of another Whipple to enjoy. Thanks for sharing, Jane.

  2. I’m sorry to say I haven’t read all the archives on the Persephone Website, so I wasn’t aware of the Whipple Line. It’s so annoying and condescending, hmpf. If I’m not mistaken Whipple is one of the most beloved Persephone authors. She has become one of my favorites and I have raved about her books on my blog (I’m currently hoarding her novels and trying to ration them out, since I know that eventually I’ll run out, to my chagrin).

    And what is this novel that will be published? Are you referring to another Whipple? Is it Greenbanks? I’ll be first in line to preorder it from The Book Depository (and I’ve already placed my order from Persephone for the Father’s Day special offer!)

  3. There is so much in this post to explore! I will be coming back to it when I have more time as I’m really interested in the Persophone books and Virago lines.

  4. Thank you for sharing this lovely event with us. It’s always great to find yourself spending time in the company of like-minded people and it sounds like it was really interesting.

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