15 November 2019

As this is being written we are listening live in the office to the impeachment hearing. It’s been such a long time coming! We listen not because we have been following every in and out (we have not) but because it makes us feel so much better. It has something of the same effect as Lord Pannick at the Supreme Court. How are you feeling people ask us all the time. The answer is that our optimism barometer wavers. Sometimes we feel that the essential decency of the British people will re-assert itself. At other times we feel that the Tories have the election sewn up through social media and we feel utterly despondent. This is the most important election of our lifetime. Despite all the lovely emails and cards we receive from readers (‘do not despair’ they say to a man or, rather, mainly, to a woman) we are in despair and still cannot see how Persephone can continue if Brexit happens. Well, a lot will be clearer by the time of the next Letter on December 15th.

It was heartening when we watched the BBC2 programme about the novel (here) and it pointed out that No Surrender is a political book (huh! we said mentally to readers who have written asking us not to mention Brexit, telling us that after all publishing isn’t political). We were very pleased to see ‘our’ book mentioned on a television programme – but how sad it was that it wouldn’t reveal that the book is actually in print. The production people even mocked up a cover in order to avoid showing a grey book. All very weird.

But hey ho. The new Biannually has now arrived at the homes of our twenty thousand loyal readers and the orders are coming in as steadily as usual, which is marvellous. In a few days Cockpit Arts will have their usual display in one of our shop windows. On December 1st we shall put up the Christmas decorations. On December 4th it is the Street Open Day and on December 11th it is our own Open Day (free gift wrapping, mince pies and mulled wine). On December 19th we Persephone girls have Christmas drinks at The Lamb. Then we stay open until the start of the King’s College Carol Service on December 24th. And Christmas will begin. 

The best book we have read in the last month is Mrs Gaskell and Me by Nell Stevens. That is not to say we don’t have all kinds of other wonderful books on the ‘fifty books we wish we had published’ table (a new one just in that would make a tremendous Christmas present is Great Women Artists, a 450 page huge hardback, beautifully designed, that is expensive – £30 from us – but actually really worth it).

Two other books of note, one is John Crace of the Guardian’s new book which is of course on our ‘fifty books’ table and the other is Nina Freudenberger’s Bibliostyle, which is not on the table because it is only published in America; but we heartily recommend it to US readers, and especially because on page 23 there are two lovely pictures of Persephone Books.

And there is a new book by Simon Jenkins called A Short History of London. The most extraordinary part of the book are the pages about the proposed Motorway Box. This was a vast continuation of the present Westway which would have seen thousands of houses demolished and large parts of North London decimated. It is worth going to the fabulously beautiful Downshire Hill in Hampstead and remembering that if the planners had had their way this would now have a motorway flying over or through it. If anyone feels doubtful about the power of protest, about the usefulness of going to public meetings and marching, remember the Motorway Box – which was entirely stopped by people like you and me.

There is a new book tower in Berlin which has ‘our author’ Theodor Fontane on it:

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the Book Burning Memorial on Bebelplatz commemorates the infamous book burning that took place on May 1933. This memorial is particularly important for us as we are busy proofreading The Oppermanns by Lion Feuchtwanger which is about the events in Berlin between November and June 1933 .

The Ephrussi exhibition has opened in Vienna. (not at the Ephrussi Palace

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but at the Jewish Museum). Elisabeth de Waal’s two novels published by us, The Exiles Return and Milton Place, are for sale in the bookshop. Here and here are two descriptions of the exhibition, which is on until March.

There was an excellent article, in April this year (but we have only just found it), about another of our authors, Etty Hillesum, in the Paris Review. Here is a paragraph from Emma Garman’s piece: ‘ The reader is left in little doubt that Etty Hillesum, had she lived, could have invented an entirely new language, written novels to rival her beloved Russian epics, and become an important spiritual guru: a female Viktor Frankl. The body of work she did produce in her brief life is of immeasurable importance, both as feminist social history and as Holocaust testimony. That Etty Hillesum isn’t a well-known name, certainly not compared with Anne Frank, may be because of her ambiguous philosophical legacy. She is claimed by some as a Christian saint, owing to her diverse theological inspirations, such as the New Testament. This complicates Hillesum’s status as a Jewish heroine, as does her principled refusal to go down fighting.’

Finally, on a cheerful note: a friend has just been to Florence and sent us this picture of a fourteenth century wooden statue at the Bardini.

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And here is the Bardini’s wisteria in the spring.

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Let’s keep looking at this picture as the days get shorter and shorter and remind ourselves that spring is not so far away. Who knows, next year some of us might get to Florence to see the Bardini’s garden. Let’s hope.

Nicola Beauman

Lamb’s Conduit Street

 

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