No. 1. William – An Englishman by Cicely Hamilton
This is a book that has a fire in its belly for the everyman and a passion that is completely reflected in its prose – especially in all the parts of the book where we are at the heart of the war. I thought it was a very skilful and unusual look at WWI.
A stunning, harrowing novel…
This is a short novel, but a very powerful one, with an even more powerful message…
An excellent book and an important one.
I loved this book…It has remained with me in a way that very few books do.
No. 2. Mariana by Monica Dickens
In refreshingly unpretentious prose and in a deceptively simple style, Dickens, like her great-grandfather Charles, gets to the heart of basic human emotions and dramas…
It really is a blissful book,making one feel a little teary in the best possible way.
I loved ‘Mariana’. It has elements of the real social history of the time and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again.
No. 3. Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
A brilliant novel. I wonder if Forster ever read it. I think he would have welcomed this rejoinder to his ‘only connect’.
It could easily have been a soap opera, but for the astonishing perceptiveness of Whipple's insights into the characters and their motivations, which are so startling and so true-to-life that I started feeling like I must never have really read about infidelity and heartbreak before.http://furrowedmiddlebrow.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/dorothy-whipple-someone-at-distance.html
This is a special novel; one that you can return to again and again to remind yourself of the truly important things in life – and in literature.
Whipple draws you into post-War rural England with an artist’s hand, taking you into the lives of the North family with deft, compassionate insight…Whipple explores family relationships, human motives and happiness with the kind of compassion and finesse that you don’t see nearly as readily in contemporary fiction…
The book is also heartbreaking in places. You know from the start pretty much, so this isn’t a spoiler, that Louise is going to wreck the happy idyll of The Norths’ life. I really, really, really enjoyed Someone at a Distance.
Whipple has a gift for creating character psychologies that rivals Edith Wharton’s.
It is Dorothy Whipple who recounts this tale with insight, honesty and clarity which combine to create a unique portrayal of a deceived wife and foolish husband.
Louise’s come uppance may turn out to be one of the most satisfying fictional moments of 2012.
No. 4. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell
And so Fidelity bears the question, “To whom are we faithful?” To our spouses? To the protocols of society? To our families? To the lover with whom we’ve aligned? Or, to our own selves?
A brilliant book, a masterpiece of small-town observation and an absorbing and attractive read..
In this subtle and surprisingly gripping novel in which Glaspell shows such painful empathy with all her characters, we are faced with all the complicated ambiguity of Mildred and Ruth’s differing decisions…it struck me that Jane Eyre is in many ways about the same thing…Two very different outcomes, but really I think the books share the same message of how important it is to have belief in yourself and the courage of your convictions.
No. 5. An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43
An extraordinary account of the gift of forgiveness
She was the kind of woman that transcends time… what is most special about Etty is her astute and poetic observations about herself and the people around her…this simple, but profound wisdom deserves to be shared.
No. 6. The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski
The more and more I have thought about this book the more of an understated masterpiece it seems.
Slim though it may be, there is still lots to think about.
Descriptive and engaging, Marghanita Laski’s story is one that showcases this author as a brilliant strategist, one who crafts a powerfully Gothic punch with each unsettling moment.
Laski’s book may have the expected domestic setting and it is definitely clever, but goodness me it’s dark!
This novella could well be described as sci-fi horror, but it’s both easier to read and more deeply soul-searching than that implies.
I love the way Laski plays so confidently with time in the narrative, taking the reader on such a fantastical journey in so few pages.
What follows might be the most claustrophobic and heightened sense of powerlessness and entrapment ever to grace the pages of a book…As well as being a brilliant delineation of that dreamtime incapability…the story can arguably be said to make a powerful, pre-1960s feminism statement about women's lives.
No. 7 The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
'The genius of The Home-Maker, aside from being so well and simply told, is how sympathetically all the characters are portrayed.'
'The very, very best novels leave me struggling for words, quite unable to capture what it is that makes them so extraordinary. The Home-Maker is one of those novels. I put the book down a week ago, but I’m still thinking about it.'
'In addition to being full of interesting and very contemporary ideas, The Home-Maker is wonderfully written: Dorothy Canfield Fisher is observant, insightful, and able to evoke a whole world of emotions with only a few words.'
I found ‘The Home-Maker’ a multifaceted read as well as being a wonderful tale of a family lost in society. I know I will often think of the Knapp family and what might have happened after the last page, especially as the ending is left much to any readers interpretation.
Each time I read it, I find more and more in it to admire.
The real genius of Fisher is her spot-on psychology.
This is a wonderful book that made me laugh, cry, think and rage.
No. 8. Good Evening, Mrs Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes
What makes the stories so richly worthwhile is Mollie Panter-Downes’ sharp concision, her ability to sketch out her characters and their sometimes petty conflicts in a way that not only makes the characters leap off the page but shows even their pettiness in a striking light, suggesting the deeper anxieties and stresses that lie beneath.
Good Evening, Mrs. Craven was one of the most wonderful books I have read in a while…Mollie Panter-Downes’ work stands as a testament to the real heartbreaks of war, so real, so intense, so sublimated.
No. 9. Few Eggs and No Oranges by Vere Hodgson
A faithful, honest and detailed record of what it was really like.
The book becomes so absorbing, so realistic and so well told.
http://93bcn.blogspot.com/2009/06/few-eggs-and-no-oranges-de-vere-hodgson.html (originally in Spanish)
I ended by finding the diaries absorbing, and Hodgson’s attempts to keep track of the changing face of London to be extremely moving.
No. 10. Good Things in England by Florence White
A glorious compendium of regional and ancient recipes, and is a pleasure to read regardless of whether you plan to cook from it.
These are mostly hard-working recipes handed down the generations, many part of an oral tradition (and observation) and rarely published.They are tried and tested and are all things that are considered to be "good things", part of living history, that is still alive (if not well).
No. 11. Julian Grenfell by Nicholas Mosley
The relationship between parent and child, and attitudes and behaviour in war, are particularly pertinent for the author, son of Oswald Mosley, and himself a decorated war hero whilst his father was in prison as a fascist sympathizer.
A wonderful insight into life in Edwardian times
No. 12. It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst
An entertaining collection of poems devoted to the trials and tribulations of trying to be a grown up, inspired particularly by her experiences of marriage and motherhood.
Even though they made me laugh out loud, many of the poems also resonated emotionally
No. 13. Consequences by EM Delafield
Consequences is a bleak, angry statement, and yet written with a sad lyricism. It’s a profoundly affecting book… an angry and absolutely vital feminist statement.
Powerful, and absolutely heartbreaking
EM Delafield manages to convey sympathy without spelling it out, to criticise without literally screaming.
No. 14. Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller
It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that moved among classes, cultures, genders with such grace.
This is an extremely good examination of middle class English life, ambition and the small almost invisible acts of anti-Semitism that exist there
While the story was set more than half a century ago, much of its themes are still extremely relevant today
An intriguing novel…Betty Miller’s use of language is exquisite
No. 15. Tell It to a Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge
These short stories, written during the Second World War and just after, are suprisingly raw and sharp. But they are among the best I have ever read.
No. 16. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
She is an excellent writer: subtle, perceptive, sensitive, occasionally ironic.
A powerfully drawn story about war and loss.
No. 17. Marjory Fleming by Oriel Malet
Oriel Malet brings her to life so beautifully, with such empathy and understanding.
No. 18. Every Eye by Isobel English
Subtle, persuasive and rich in insight… Every Eve has equally fine observations on place and character.
No. 19. They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple
With every new Whipple novel I read I seem to find a new favorite, so compulsively readable are her stories
The characters are all brilliantly drawn. With the exception of Mr Knight, there is no obviously good or evil character, everyone has their moments
It’s witty, perceptive, and brilliant in its depiction of people and their complex relationships.
A profundity and beauty in its descriptions of the human soul that I have rarely found elsewhere
No. 20. A Woman’s Place: 1910-75 by Ruth Adam
Her style is engaging, witty, very dry and almost conspiratorial…Adam’s use of original sources and her interpretation of them is always interesting.
No. 21. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
A wonderful piece of escapism…This is a delightfully charming, humorous, and exuberant novel about the joys of living, and enjoying yourself. The book is a sweet, Cinderella-tale for grown-ups; a blend of adventure, romance and unadulterated joy.
Wonderful, charming, delightful, enchanting, yet surprisingly poignant
The setting is wonderful fun and the dialogue some of the most witty I have read.
No. 22. Consider the Years by Virginia Graham
Graham has a great eye for the beauty and joys of everyday life
No. 23. Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy
This is a beautifully crafted little novel. The language is faultless, pared down to only that which is needed, yet at the same time painting an unforgettable picture of Anglo-Jewish life at the end of the 19th century.
No. 24. Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
I loved this book
It’a great novel and I highly recommend it.
Compassionate, insightful and most of all, very amusing
My only disappointment with this novel was coming to the end and knowing there was no more.
No. 25 The Montana Stories by Katherine Mansfield
Delightful portrayals of life…slyly perceptive
Her prose absolutely sparkled, and I found myself desperate for more after each fragment.
No. 26. Brook Evans by Susan Glaspell
Susan Glaspell has a way of ripping people open and exposing them to their very cores that makes you feel stunned and uncomfortable yet hopelessly transfixed by them and their fate. Their souls become tangible and the rawness and honesty and pain is wonderful.
A wonderful narrative – so full of human understanding
No. 27 The Children who lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham
For me, what really brings the story to life is the challenges the children face and the manner in which they overcome each one. Eleanor Graham gives us the details in abundance and to me they are all fascinating.
I can only begin to imagine how completely I would have escaped into this book as a child
Graham provides great insight into family dynamics, the importance of self-sufficiency, and finding strength in adversity.
No. 28. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
Extraordinarily gripping: it has the page-turning compulsion of a thriller while at the same time being written with perfect clarity and precision
A beautifully written and poignant story that becomes an inspiring tale of love, loss and the risking of one’s own self-interest to honour another.
In Little Boy Lost Marghanita Laski combines sharply observant eye with penetrating psychological understanding. She writes like a dream. Nothing can be bettered in this excellent novel.
Little Boy Lost is one of those books which you will read and will keep coming back to again and again… Every aspect of the narrative shakes you up and wants you to know what is going to eventually going to happen.
No. 29. The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
There is no other way to describe my reaction to this book – I was completely enchanted and charmed by the whole thing!
I applaud Burnett for daring to stray from an all-too-sweet Cinderella story…the story highlights how adversity can lurk around even the most cynical, down-to-earth relationship and show the true feelings we have for each other.
No. 30. Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll
This is a fascinating, tantalising and oft times historically amusing journey through fine food and tradition. It’s a book that charts changing fashions and habits through stories of food gathered from villages and towns, north to south.
Her writing is timeless in its humour, compassion, wit and, almost incidentally, good recipes.
The aristocratic author of Kitchen Essays writes with eloquence, irreverence and elegance
Kitchen Essays is a lovely book combining both recipes and social history
No. 31. A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
In essence A House in the Country is an insightful, intelligent novel that grapples with the bigger questions of war.
A deep, moving, and surprisingly controversial novel.
No. 32. The Carlyles at Home by Thea Holme
This is a fascinating and highly readable book about life for a prominent Victorian couple
A peek into everyday life in a Victorian home.
No. 33. The Far Cry by Emma Smith
An absolutely stunning book…some of the best descriptions of India written by a Westerner that I’ve ever read
This is truly a remarkable novel…above all the characters and their interactions are quite brilliantly captured.
Really this is an astonishing book. Emma Smith has an uncanny way of penetrating to the heart of each of her characters, with all their myriad differences.
No. 34. Minnie’s Room: The Peacetime Stories of Mollie Panter-
These are stories that ought to be savoured. I don’t think I’ve ever come across more perfect short story writing.
Panter-Downes turns a keen and perceptive eye once again towards British middle-class life
No. 35 Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
I can’t remember the last time I took so much real delight in reading a book as I did this one
Greenery Street manages to be the most charming, wonderful and engrossing book I’ve read in a long time. It restored my faith in love and hope and the small pleasures in life
No. 36. Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles
The characterisation is lovely and the psychological insight is acute…it is both moving and compelling.
In it we meet and trace the life paths of a variety of people, all of whom are drawn by the author with deft wit and understatement.
No. 37. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
Both text and illustrations are quite, quite wonderful.
You can read of some wonderful escapades and enjoy characters simply but beautifully drawn.
No. 38. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding is a short read, only 119 pages in all, and is an observational work noting the complexities of family life over one momentous day.
it kept me completely enthralled and interested…I cannot recommend it enough.
It is a beautifully written little book and an interesting snapshot of the era.
Brief, pointed, and utterly complete, it captures a dozen characters, a handful of relationships, and an entire social world in 119 pages.
Black humor at its finest.
Wow, this is a miserable little book. But it is also utterly mesmerisingly wonderful, especially if, like me, you like your modernism in small jewel-like doses
No. 39. Manja by Anna Gmeyner
She has an interesting and engaging writing style, creatively employing tenses and script-style passages of dialogue (often unspoken) to convey her story. Very readable and very enjoyable, this is my favourite Persephone to date.
It’s a book that really resonated with me.
Manja really goes for broke.
No. 40. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
A book where you are dying to see what happens next but at the same time you don’t want it to end.
The best thing about this book is the characters. Whipple develops them so skillfully, and I loved how she did it by showing the reader through their words, thoughts, and actions, not just telling us.
I liked it. It was fun. It was good company. That said, a corner of my soul was a bit disappointed.
No. 41. Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
Knowing that this book about a woman who gives up writing to raise a family was written by a woman who had to make that choice for herself, gives the entire story additional depth. I would not have enjoyed the book so well if it had been written by someone else.
I liked the relationship between William and Catherine, it seemed marvellously realistic, and their affections are not over blown or flowery but true…Early twentieth century Oxfordshire countryside and gardens bloom again in Elizabeth Cambridge’s affectionate descriptions.
Hostages to Fortune is a thoughtful novel full of well drawn characters and relationships, presented with admirable simplicity. I was so taken with it that I’d say it is now probably one of my favourite Persephones..
No. 42. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding
I picked it up and could barely be parted from it. A truly entertaining, and also rather endearing, suspense novel from an author who deserves to be much more widely read.
Perhaps delightful and crime don’t sound like two adjectives that belong in the same book, and I was surprised too, to find myself sometimes smiling at the same time as I was page-turning to find out what would happen next.
A strong psychological thriller, with a fine dose of mystery
No. 43. The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
There are some books that, when read at just the right moment, can change your life. Wise Virgins, if read at precisely the “pinnacle of life,” could very well be that book.
Leonard Woolf’s writing is so insightful with plenty of dry humour that I really appreciated. He paints a vivid picture of his characters and settings and reminded me that even though this was written nearly 100 years ago, there are still some choices to be made in life that haven’t changed.
No. 44. Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers
What would be an insular, sterile purgatory as rendered by a lesser writer is redeemed by Towers’s prose, by characterizations that cut to the quick without being cute and a suffusion of imagery so deft and precise that choice phrases linger with the reader like an aftertaste or impressions from a dream.
So lovely that I read many of them more than once; that I was reluctant to read the last story, to never again be able to come to one anew.
I was pleasantly surprised by Frances Towers’ writing style: delicate but ironic, poetic but not sentimental. It was a very distinctive voice.
No. 45. Good Food on the Aga by Ambrose Heath
Cooking with this book is a bit of an adventure
Many light-covered cookery books are impracticable for use in the kitchen. The publishers of Good Food on the Aga desire to point out that the cover is both waterproof and washable.
No. 46. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
This is a charming book even if it is a morality tale and very readable. The narrative is strong, the humour never far away.
This book has the perfect blend of humour and poignancy and gives us an opportunity to explore World War II from a unique perspective.
The story is heartwrenching, humorous, and inspiring all at once. The relationships Miss Ranskill forms with people in the book are written quite beautifully and you can appreciate why she becomes attached to these people, without Todd spelling it out.
No. 47 The New House by Lettice Cooper
The New House is another of those perceptive Persephone reads that captures the world on the cusp of change.
It is that wonderful thing, a beautiful quiet novel, where nothing much happens, but through it you see the whole of the society which existed at the time it was written.
No. 48. The Casino by Margaret Bonham
Bonham draws the portraits of her characters with fine economy, well-chosen words and with a refreshing lack of sentimentality. Every one of these 15 stories elicited a smile from me.
No. 49. Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton
Ashton is able to portray the family’s disintegration with dignity and subtlety, without blame pushed onto either side. It is a quiet book, but very readable, and Ashton is a true find.
It does add a very different text back to the conversation about inter-war novels and changing gender roles
The architecture bits were particularly fascinating to me because they chronicle the seep of modern design into architecture in pre-WWII England from a first hand perspective of 1932
For lovers of architecture, there is plenty to love in this novel, Martin’s own enthusiasm really very infectious, and Helen Ashton’s descriptions really lovely and seemingly very knowledgeable, and if, like me, you don’t know much about architecture; it really doesn’t matter at all.
No. 50 The World that was Ours by Hilda Bernstein
The World That Was Ours shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir… It is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.
This has been a powerful read both emotionally and intellectually – I finally know something about Apartheid South Africa.
For much of the book I felt I was reading a thriller of a page-turner because the moments of tension are frequent as are the moments when Hilda’s fear and frustration just seep off the page and create that sense of sympathetic anxiety in the reader.
No. 51. Operation Heartbreak by Duff Cooper
I won’t give anything away, but the ending was so moving I was glad that no one else was in the room when I finished it because I couldn’t help crying. What a great book.
No. 52. The Village by Marghanita Laski
I hope more readers will pick it up, because I think it is both a heartwarming love story and an insightful social commentary.
This is the third book I’ve read by Marghanita Laski, who is one of Persephone’s most beloved authors. I liked them all but I think The Village was my favourite of her books so far.
By the end I was convinced I was living in the village, amongst these people at the end of the war.
No. 53. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
This is a much deeper and darker novel than it at first appears, and is both inspiring and profoundly moving.
Lady Rose was lovely, and I felt that I had fallen into a fairy-tale. This is a beautiful, moving, romantic story, told by a consummate storyteller, and I am so pleased that I met Lady Rose, a heroine as lovely as any I have met in the pages of a Persephone book.
It really is a little royal diadem of a read
Lady Rose was far too human for the harshness that her social position demanded of her. Her story, which becomes increasingly dark as it progresses, is an illustration of what those who dared break Victorian convention had to face.
No. 54 They Can’t Ration These by Vicomte de Mauduit
I was particularly struck by instructions for a violet-perfumed face powder (derived from iris roots), kernel butter (pound up small pine or fir kernels with butter – I’d substitute avocado), ink-making from oak-apples (also known as oak galls) and jewellery-making with barberries, hawthorn and blackthorn berries.
The Vicomte was quite a guy….He ignores nothing that we might need to know in those (and these) sparse times.
No. 56. They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple
Dorothy Whipple is twentieth century Jane Austen whose dramas in the drawing room are ugly, as opposed to romantic.
They Were Sisters is easily one of Whipple’s most readable books. The plot takes a back seat to the writing and the character descriptions, which are first rate. This is definitely a book worth thinking about, and one I enjoyed immensely.
What seems in description to be a simple story on the surface is anything but.
No. 57. The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff
‘The Hopkins Manuscript’ is a blend of social satire and old fashioned sci-fi that is awkwardly charming and funny, but occasionally alludes to the deep, dark lake of melancholy the narrator constantly hovers above.
But if you want a tense, dramatic and extremely compelling read, then even if science fiction isn’t your poison of choice, then I would strongly recommend this novel.
This really is a remarkable book on a number of levels – the quality of its writing, clarity of its vision and the fact it isn’t better known – which is quite shocking and plaudits must go to Persephone for bringing it back into print
No. 58. Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
This is a “small” story of ordinary dramas, but it illustrates a big truth that is easy to forget in a world that prizes the independent spirit.
Every character is perfectly formed; every scene is set out seemingly effortlessly and with wonderful clarity.
It is a curious and interesting way to structure a novel, because it leaves the reader with a sense of incompleteness and an obviously skewed sequence of events. Both factors enhance the mystery and complexity of Hety.
No. 59. There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult
I found the book very insightful. It is all the more relevant in today’s world where lifespans have been increasing and most diseases are now easily treated with advanced technology … except for mental deterioration, for which there is still no cure.
This tour de force novel, written by Norah Hoult during WWll, is a wrenching study of a woman with memory loss. The genius of the book is the way that Hoult shows Claire trying to cope with her disappearing existence. It is a reading experience I will never forget.
No. 60. Doreen by Barbara Noble
The book showed me a little of the attitudes toward class distinctions at the time — surprisingly strict, I thought — and it probed the psychological effects of the disruptions of war and evacuation very effectively.
Doreen is honest and real. It is heartbreaking, yet sympathetic to all involved in a program that wreaked havoc in countless lives.
No. 61. A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes
The book ends sadly, as Molly said it would on the first page. But there’s something indomitable about Molly, and it’s impossible to pity her.
While reading this, Molly’s childhood becomes our childhood and her parents – warm, jolly and wise – become ours, and we too can find warm pleasure and comfort from it.
No. 62. How To Run Your Home Without Help by Kay Smallshaw
The book was not only thought provoking but enlightening.
I loved this book…But it did confirm my view that progress is a wonderful thing when it comes to housework!
Kay Smallshaw's book was surprisingly fascinating reading. However hard it might be to believe that anyone ever lived up to her standards, the point of interest is that she was presenting an ideal that many women apparently genuinely aspired to and that in itself sheds fascinating light on the novels of the time.
Kay Smallshaw covers just about everything anyone could possibly want to know about keeping house – planning, cleaning, spring-cleaning, equipment, food, shopping, washing, mending, doing the accounts, and what to do when Baby comes.
No. 63. Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
A searing examination of family life, motherhood and coming to terms with children becoming adults.
"The kingdoms she had won for them had been rejected." Surely one of the most searingly honest and powerful observations about the realities of being a mother it is possible to make.
No. 64. The Woman Novelist and Other Stories by Diana Gardner
Sharp without being bitter, these short stories have an edge that makes it difficult to stop at just one.
No. 65. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
For anyone with an interest in feminism and the differing roles of men and women in society, I can’t recommend Alas, Poor Lady highly enough.
It is beautfully written, with compassion and great cynicism, and more blatantly feminist andsophisticated than Ferguson’s her earlier novell. Ferguson’s writing style falls somehwere between Virginia Woolf’s and Dorothy Whipple’s.
No. 66. Gardener’s Nightcap by Muriel Stuart
This is a lovely little book to dip into, a nightcap indeed. I can imagine a true gardener having this on their bedside table & reading a couple of pieces a night before they fall asleep to dream of their gardens.
What sets it apart from many similar books is the quality of the writing; that the author was a poet is clearly evident.
No. 67. The Fortnight in September by R C Sherriff
It is true that The Fortnight in September is not plot driven, but the chronicle of the Stevens family’s two-week holiday is wonderfully wrought, with lots of humor and poignancy.
Without attempting to be profound in a consistently understated tone he speaks of the universal: love between father and son.
No. 68. The Expendable Man by Dorothy B Hughes
Persephone Books have done an excellent job in resurrecting this classic novel which appeals on many levels and holds an emotional tone which is bracing, moving and instructive about the creative struggle for goodness, legality, fairness and truth.
No. 69. Journal of Katherine Mansfield
No. 70 Plats du Jour by Patience Gray and Primrose Boyd
There’s a lot of information in Plats Du Jour and all of it is good.
As with all the best cookbooks it has no photographs, the recipes themselves, notes, comments and occasional illustrations or diagrams are evocative and inspiring enough, often poetic.
No. 71. The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Burnett introduced me to a fascinating piece of social history I never knew about, and conjured the feeling of the time vividly. There was an exploration of the relationships of husbands and wives at the time, which seemed to me to be quite bold in its criticism.
Burnett’s writing is easy to read, the dialogue witty, the scenes lively, and the descriptions of both people and places are beautiful and illustrative.
No. 72. House-Bound by Winfred Peck
a subtle, thoughtful, and heartfelt story about the importance of being true to yourself, and about daring to take risks in order to develop meaningful, rich relationships with those we love. At times it is hilariously funny, but at others it is almost unbearably sad…
its greatest virtue must come from its willingness to confront what Peck certainly viewed as her society’s damagingly antisocial conventions of human behaviour, the isolation of the self that leaves so many people to struggle alone just when they need the warmth of human understanding most.
This is one of those novels you could read over and over again, looking at different aspects.
No. 73. The Young Pretenders by Edith Henrietta Fowler
The wonderful thing about The Young Pretenders for an adult reader is how it turns the didacticism of Victorian children’s books on its head: although Babs learns a few things about good behavior, it’s really her Uncle Charley who learns and changes in the course of the novel. Fowler’s purpose seems less to train her child readers in good behavior than to encourage her adult readers to understand children and their unique needs and perspectives.
No. 74. The Closed Door and Other Stories by Dorothy Whipple
Somehow Whipple manages these little gems quite brilliantly that I’m left satisfied. Though some of them are very short they’re still perfectly crafted. It’s also interesting how Whipple has led me to read other short stories by other writers. I’m now appreciating this genre so much more than I did before.
No. 75. On the Other Side: Letters to My Children from Germany
1940-46 by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg
One of the most exciting and original offerings in the Persephone catalogue: To have a diary like this – written with such poise by such a sympathetic and articulate woman – so readily available is truly a gift.
Domestic life is a common thread amongs many of the Persephone series and this book is no exception. We read about Tilli queuing for frozen vegetables and her joy at coming away with three packets of apple sauce…
The first thing I noticed was that so many of the things that Tilli wrote about could have been written about life in an English city at the same time. Bombings, shelters, community, damage, shortages, queuing…What was clearly different though was the sense of purpose, that a necessary war was being fought. Tilli and her contemporaries found many things that happened – the Russians becoming enemies rather than allies, for example – incomprehensible.
The part I found most fascinating concerned Mathilde’s experiences after the war was over; it was, again, something I had never read about from a German’s perspective
No. 76. The Crowded Street by Winifred Holtby
I found this a profoundly feminist novel, although it contains little obvious polemic.
I thought it was a lovely book.
The Crowded Street is relentlessly, satirically critical about the stultifying provincial society in which Muriel is raised.
I think I may have been unaware of the pressure for those not directly or even indirectly involved with the Great War until I readThe Crowded Street.
A brilliant novel, full of stories and ideas and a careful consideration of what is really meant by society, duty, family, morality, love and women’s place in the home and wider world.
No. 77. Daddy’s Gone-A Hunting by Penelope Mortimer
Of interest perhaps is how a book like Daddy's Gone A-Huntingcan be interpreted in the context of today. It was easy to feel a bit smug and distanced as I read and assume life is so very different now... but as I read I couldn't help thinking that fundamental similarities do still exist in many women's lives...If you have read Daddy's Gone A-Hunting I would love to know your thoughts, and if you haven't I can highly recommend it.
It’s not an uplifting book but it’s absolutely fantastic: raw, insightful and immediately engrossing.
A terrifically readable book.
No. 78. A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel 1914-39 by
This is the kind of book that complements perfectly the other books on the Persephone list… I was interested in what Beauman has to say specifically about the books themselves; but equally interesting is what she has to say about women’s lives in general during this time period…
A wonderful connection with all sorts of women, real and imagined, who weren’t afraid to explore the details and depths of ordinary lives…
No. 79. Round about a Pound a Week by Maud Pember Reeves
Maude Pember Reeves’ account of the study is a fascinating education on the industry, thrift, and dedication that the impoverished lower class workers, and especially the home-bound housewives, possess
No. 81. Miss Buncle’s Book by D E Stevenson
This is an appealing book, and one in which a simple, benevolent justice allows all to end well for those we like, while others get what's coming to them.
It is a charming and gentle read, satirical and very tongue-in-cheek. Periodically, particularly in the beginning, I was reminded of Elizabeth Gaskell’s gentle Cranford.
' I *loved* “Miss Buncle’s Book” – clever, funny, enjoyable and yes, probably cozy and comforting; but in the best way, written with an intelligence and a love of story-telling.'
The dialogue sparkles, the atmosphere is wonderfully cosy.
I loved this…quick, lighthearted read.
No. 83. Making Conversation by Christine Longford
Making Conversation is an excellent portrait of a character not often depicted sympathetically in the early twentieth century – the female academic… another welcome inclusion in the Persephone canon, and with invaluable, and quietly amusing, insights into another aspect of a disappeared world
I found the details of university life for women students just after the First World War the most interesting part of the book. A combination of absolutely recognisable situations, or more accurately, conversations (especially regarding joining societies), and an insight into a world that was so desperately prescriptive for women that wearing the wrong hat could ruin your reputation and to be seen talking to male students in public could lead to being sent down in disgrace.
No. 84. A New System of Domestic Cookery by Mrs Rundell
Maria Rundell (1745-1828) was the original domestic goddess… As well as more than a thousand ‘receipts’ (recipes), The New System of Domestic Cookery contains numerous tips and wrinkles for nineteenth century domestic challenges and household management, such as how ‘To cement broken China’, ‘To take stains of any kind out of Linen’ or ‘To prevent the creaking of a Door’
A veritable goldmine of good sense and minute observation on many topics.
No. 85. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
The life of a shop assistant at the time is very much a part of this book, but it is not what makes this book so very charming. One of the reasons is that Whipple’s style is one that manages to make the world she creates seem utterly realistic, without having to use an awful lot of words.
I was enthralled throughout, and not only by Jane’s story, but also by the story of the fast changing fashion and retail industries, and the changes in opportunities for women during the early years of the twentieth century.
'As this is a plot-driven novel, and the way Whipple unfolds the plot is so compelling and enjoyable, I’m not going to give away much about it. But what made High Wages so much fun for me was really some of the themes running quietly in the background.'
No. 86. To Bed with Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
This is an absolutely fascinating, brilliantly written portrayal of a completely different side of wartime life, and Marghanita Laski proves herself once again to be an absolutely phenomenal story teller. Why her books fell out of print, I cannot understand. This has become one of my favourite Persephones; complex, thought provoking, subversive and fascinating, I couldn’t put it down.
It’s a fascinating look at a side of the Home Front we don’t often see in books or movies about WWII. Deborah is a total contrast to the noble Cressida in Jocelyn Playfair’s A House in the Country (Persephone). This is certainly not Vere Hodgson’s spirit of the Blitz but all the more interesting for that.
No. 87. Dimanche and Other Stories by Irène Némirovsky
Dimanche is all about the misunderstandings that occur between people who can’t know anyone but themselves.’
This is a truly wonderful collection, beautifully written, atmospheric stories, breathtakingly observed, some are almost like short novels in themselves, and peopled with memorably complex but very real characters.
No. 88. Still Missing by Beth Gutcheon
It has an almost timeless quality and universal appeal.
Reads like a thriller… a huge achievement.
Not an easy read but a compulsive one. This is one of the most memorable books in the Persephone list…
As I wondered how much longer the terrible but utterly non-sentimental emotions could be wrung out of the page the plot gathers essential pace and additional tension.
No. 89. The Mystery of Mrs Blencarrow by Mrs Oliphant
Oliphant was regarded as an un-Victorian writer in her time and the seeming modernity of these novellas reflect that. Both seemed ahead of their time in certain respects and not so old-fashioned or irrelevant now…
This book fits beautifully into the Persephone tradition of confounding my expectations – for every happy, cosy, read there seems to be something a little darker
Both stories cover high-drama scenarios in a way any contemporary fan of ‘penny shockers’ (as sensation novels were sometimes dismissed by critics) would have recognised but both leave the reader with questions and thoughts about political issues and the rights of women.
No. 90. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens
Monica Dickens writes such lovely prose and she is a fine storyteller. Characters, settings, and scenarios are all utterly believable. And she picks up exactly the right details to bring the story to life, to make it utterly real… A book to engage both emotions and social consciences…The world may have changed since the fifties, but this is still a book with a lot to say about relationships and social conventions.
It just isn’t a finely-drawn, perceptive novel – it’s light and broad and completely, wonderfully entertaining
Continuing my love affair with Persephone Books with The Winds of Heaven – a book so charming and tender and just a smidge heartbreaking, a book so disarming, a book I never wanted to end because that would mean saying goodbye to the heroine. I loved this book
No. 91. Miss Buncle Married by DE Stevenson
A lovely, domestic book with lots of humour and acute observation.
No. 92. Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill
Diana Athill’s writing is fluid, simple, perceptive and sometimes funny.
Find your way to these stories. You will be charmed.
Her work is the kind you can read over and over again without feeling you’ve heard it all before.
No. 94. No Surrender by Constance Maud
Utterly compelling, not to mention enjoyable to read.
Thought provoking and intriguing look at the arguments surrounding the women’s suffrage movement.
A sensitively written and accurate account of the suffrage campaign.
This book made me feel a more personal bond to the movement than I ever did.
No Surrender should be required reading.
No. 95. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
There’s always a point in a Dorothy Whipple novel where I put the book down, stare into the middle distance for a while and murmur, ‘This woman is a genius’
With High Wages, this is the Whipple I’ve enjoyed the most, for its episodic style and its gentle interest in the lives of women throughout this fascinating historical period.
It was easy to get caught up with the Ashton family, with their joys and sorrows. I was a little sad to turn the last page.
A wonderful and beautiful story and rather heartbreaking too for what once was.
This is writing at its finest and most touching.
Reading this gripping, well-crafted and satisfying novel has made me into an instant Dorothy Whipple fan.
Humanity captured perfectly.
What a wonderful and charming book this is.
Dorothy Whipple shows that in a conventional middle-class family of the time normality meant male selfishness, brutality, bullying, authoritarianism.
No. 97. Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins
Elizabeth Jenkins has found the perfect words to convey the terror and the horror of it.
This is an incredibly disturbing and gripping tale…It’s become one of my absolute favourite Persephones.
A fascinating read.
Haunting and memorable.
It is a remarkable novel… Elizabeth Jenkins writes beautifully.
No. 98. A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf
A wonderful and an invaluable book.
No. 99. Patience by John Coates
Sheer delight from start to finish, witty, amusing, touching and sad, I read it straight through in one sitting
Written with charm, wit and insight into life, ‘Patience,’ is a gorgeous book.
Patience’s attempts to do that, to reach her happy ending, make this a charming comedy of manners It sails along beautifully, with lovely dialogue batted back and forth by beautifully drawn characters.'
No. 100. The Persephone Book of Short Stories
I’ve yet to read one I haven’t liked, and while this is a large book chock full of stories my interest hasn’t waned in the least … they’re a treat–like choosing a truffle out of a box of chocolates, so often exquisite and nearly always satisfying.
'The stories in this wonderful collection were all written between 1909 and 1986 by a range of extraordinary writers – the list of which, would read like a who’s who of twentieth century women writers.'
'Each tale is "presented in the order they are known, or assumed, to have been written", and the year has been printed after the title and author of every story, which is a rather useful touch. In fact, the entire volume has been very well laid out, with an accessible author biographies section and a well-spaced contents page.'
My stately progress through The Persephone Book of Short Stories continues, and with a degree of lasting short-story-reading pleasure that I can’t recall experiencing for a very long time
The balance of longer and shorter stories works incredibly well… Each story is like a small but perfectly formed work of art and the book is sure to delight a wealth of readers.
No. 101. Heat Lightning by Helen Hull
This is such a wonderful novel. I don’t know how Persephone keep discovering books that are so essentially Persephone books…This is a completely absorbing family saga.
I can only be thankful that Persephone Books decided to bring Helen Hull back into the limelight; judging by the beauty and impact of Heat Lightning, the limelight is exactly where she deserves to be.
Helen Hull’s writing is exquisite, evocative, ripe for the picking; every line is beautifully crafted, every character teeming with life.
It’s a rewarding book as well as a really enjoyable one, it’s also a book to go back to and one that I whole heartedly recommend.
This book is beautifully written, drawing you through the plot, and causing the reader to identify strongly with Amy and (some of) her family.
I am so glad I read this great novel and look forward to discovering more of Helen Hull in the future.
No. 102. The Exiles Return by Elisabeth de Waal
While the plot is engaging, The Exiles Return is most rewarding when understood as a meditation on exile and return, and an exploration of post-war Vienna
I really enjoyed the book… what a privilege that we now have the opportunity to read Elisabeth de Waal’s work and that she is finally receiving the recognition she so deserves as a writer.
The novel homes in with pinpoint accuracy on the loss of homeland and identity, the pain of departure and in many ways the greater pain of return, examining every aspect of what it means to lose, to remember, to ‘belong’, and to ‘re-belong’.
Persephone have a talent for finding thought provoking books and this one is no exception, I’d even go as far as to say that it’s almost the quintessential ‘Persephone’.
The Exiles Return is an ideal Persephone book. It introduces a female voice (and perspective) that has been left absent from history, while quietly portraying individuals navigating deeper political currents in search of a sustaining happiness through a writing style made up of compassion, wit and grace.
This is clearly a very important book, and it’s essential that we learn as much as we can about what is still very recent history.
The Exiles Return mixes a delicate understanding of a society seeking a balance between its past and its future with beautiful prose, by giving us the stories of a number of very different characters.
This is a strangely powerful way to portray that feeling of exile that Elisabeth De Waal herself experienced.
De Waal’s writing is crisp and engaging, and the novel is an enjoyable read. The Exiles Return is an evocative analysis of a fascinating place and time, and the star of the novel, really, is Vienna itself.
The Exiles Return is not the best written or the best structured novel on Persephone’s list. But it is as heartfelt, as honest, and as profound, as any of the one hundred and one titles it joins.
This is an unusual and interesting female perspective on just what it is like to live through the aftermath of war. In some ways it reminded me a little of Christopher Isherwood’s 1930s style and it offers a curious comparison to those equally chaotic, pre-war Berlin tales.
The balance of longer and shorter stories works incredibly well… Each story is like a small but perfectly formed work of art and the book is sure to delight a wealth of readers.
No. 103. The Squire by Enid Bagnold
On page after page of The Squire, there breathes a remarkable sense of hard-won wisdom, of quietly confident insight into the most tender, indescribable aspects of motherhood and the bond between mother and young children.
This is a book in which very little happens. It’s a very sensual book. The squire’s feelings & emotions are very close to the surface & the descriptions of labour & breast feeding are very intimate & immediate. In some ways, it’s more a documentary or a slice of life than a novel.
'It's a great book and hooray for Persephone for republishing it.'
'Enid Bagnold’s writing is beautiful and full of power. It is even haunting sometimes. The novel's strength lies in her writing and characters, as well as the way in which she portrays relationships so well, particularly between the young siblings. She is an incredibly perceptive author .'
'There is so much detail that you feel almost claustrophobic within the pages. This is surely intentional, to mirror the building pressure the squire of the title must be feeling in the final days of her pregnancy.'
The novel was first published in 1938 and was a brave book for its time, childbirth still very much a taboo subject especially where the detail was concerned.
The essential power of the novel is in its beautiful and sensitive exploration of the emotional and physical connection between mothers and their children. I mainly enjoyed the novel for its gorgeous, lyrical style.
No. 104. The Two Mrs Abbotts by DE Stevenson
D E Stevenson may not be a great literary talent, but I think her writing may be quite underrated she creates a charming yet believable world, and her characters are adorable
'The characters which Stevenson has created are all interesting and unpredictable, and there is not a dull person amongst them.'
'This is a comedy of manners with moments of melodrama and farce, and much genial observation; it's a warm-hearted story in which nothing of particular moment happens, but what does transpire is enough to keep the reader happily turning the pages. You know where you are with a novel in which a character is happily "drinking tea out of a nice deep, well-shaped cup.'
This book saw the return of many characters from the previous novel and even one from Miss Buncle's book. There were also new characters and plenty of matchmaking and hidden identities to create a very humorous and gentle look at life in this small English village during World War II.
To tell the story would be to spoil part of the joy of reading it. It is enough to say The Two Mrs. Abbotts has excitement, humor and romance.
For readers who love the homely warmth of a Dorothy Whipple or Frances Hodgson Burnett (two more much-loved Persephone authors), reading the country cottage concerns of Barbara Buncle are like being enveloped in a big woolly hug by a favourite granny.
No. 105. Diary of a Provincial Lady by E M Delafield
I loved the way the diary seemed to capture her thoughts almost as she thought them, almost as she might have reported events on her own head. And I loved that it was witty and funny in the friendliest of ways.
'In the hands of some writers triviality is not such a bad thing. No one who isn’t completely joyless complains that P. G. Wodehouse restricts himself to a bunch of mentally deficient upper-class English twits, when what he does with these characters is so good. And in E. M. Delafield’s Diary of a Provincial Lady, a few months in the life of an upper-middle-class, harried mother of two is the stuff of genius. There are flashes throughout of genuine feeling; but feeling filtered through a well-developed sense of irony. The result is familiar and hilarious.'
I would love everyone, and I mean, everyone to read and enjoy this superb book If you have not read it yet, I can only say What are You Waiting for?
No. 106. Into the Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg
Eugenia Ginzburg’s retelling of her experiences deeply affected me, and left me determined to find out more about this period of history. Don’t let this one pass you by; it’s truly compelling reading.
The entirety has such an honest feel to it, and it is certainly another fitting addition to the Persephone list. Into the Whirlwind is such an important book, and one which should be read by everyone.
No. 107. Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith
A compelling and nerve-wracking story of love in a miserable climate. Wilfred & Eileen is only a short book, but it tells an important story of how war crushes not only romantic passion but also academic passion. The fact it is based on a true story makes it all the sadder, as does the fact it surely echoes a million other young couples and their curtailed love affairs in the same period.
The book is somehow written in the style of a novel of the period, it would be easy to imagine it being published in 1920, not 1976....and in a way that felt like a failing until I realised the technique that Jonathan Smith had adopted.
The entirety of Wilfred and Eileen has been very sensitively and believably wrought, and the story is well paced. The novel is a deserving addition to the Persephone list, and it is certainly fascinating at times, and eminently readable throughout.
The entirety of Wilfred and Eileen has been very sensitively and believably wrought, and the story is well paced. The novel is a deserving addition to the Persephone list, and it is certainly fascinating at times, and eminently readable throughout. Smith has brilliantly exemplified courage in the face of wartime, and there is not a fan of Persephone's prints who will not enjoy this novel.
Their story could not have been better told. It is beautifully written, perfectly paced, and utterly true to its period. It speaks profoundly of love, courage and the consequences of war.
Jonathan Smith’s writing is really very good, there’s a deceptive simplicity to it that hides the poignant depths that the story of these two engaging young people takes us.