8 September 2014

 If you are a Persephone reader this might be your most ideal room ever:

the bed with its quilt, the table, the view, the lampshades, the sense of beauty and order, the flowers. Oh it’s perfection. And since it’s by Mary Elwell, this painting (called Bedroom, Bar House, Beverley 1935) which is where she lived, so perhaps it is her bedroom, has revived our longing to go to Beverley and see all the Elwells in the Art Gallery. Indeed, maybe we should have a Persephone event there.  We must do some research…

Although the holidays are alas well and truly over, the weather in London has been warm and sunny, the geraniums are blooming away colourfully outside the shop and there is a feeling of anticipation and new beginnings in the air – well, maybe that’s imaginary, but certainly life at Persephone never stands still. We are about to start trying to turn the new Classic edition of The Home-Maker into Stoner ie. a bestseller, the new Biannually goes to the printer in three weeks (can that be true…) and then in October we publish the three Autumn books: another Dorothy Whipple novel, a novel about the aftershock of the First World War, and a cookery book with illustrations by Eric Ravilious.

Does anyone remember us raving about Daisy Boulton when she was in the RC Sherriff play The White Carnation? Well, now she is in Shakespeare in Love and we do urge you to go and see it (though the tickets are horribly expensive: you could buy six Persephone books for the same price!) Also there are another few days to watch  the excellent The Great War: The People’s Story on ITV in which the suffragette and actress Kate Parry Frye (whose diary has been edited and published by Elizabeth Crawford, we sell it in the shop) is played by Romola Garai..

Kendra Wilson wrote a piece in the new Vogue about Bloomsbury: ‘Bloomsbury is back. Did it ever go away? Some of us have always lived by the values of Bloomsbury and talk of it in the present tense: a Bloomsbury person is an artist, writer or maker. A child of Bloomsbury is unlikely to become an accountant,’ Do we hear the words Wilcox and Schlegel (Howards End) echoing in the air ­– because of course the ‘creatives’ depend on the accountants even if they like to pretend differently. We often talk about this with girls who come to us for work experience: that when they leave university they are going to have to decide whether to do the ‘milk round’ (interviews) in order to become a lawyer, a civil servant – or an accountant – or hope to get work experience and then a job in something arty and go the Margaret Schlegel route. (We assume they do not want to become doctors or teachers etc. etc. or they would not be spending a week with us.) But if they choose something arty then they will never be able to buy Vogue, let alone the clothes in Vogue. But as the article says: ‘A wooden ladle is even lovelier with the knowledge that it has been turned by a forester in East Sussex, using a horse-powered lather.’ So the solution is to become the forester.

All this is on our minds because next week we are interviewing to try and find two interns, one for October and one for November. The idea is that a week or a month in the shop gives the young a good insight into where they want to go from there (indeed whether to go the Wilcox or Schlegel route), while we have an extra pair of hands to call on; the downside for us is that we have to think about keeping them occupied since there are so many things newbies can’t do, for example, it takes days to learn the intricacies of the data base, and you can’t just pick up the phone robotically to talk to a Persephone customer, you have to know the books and be able to enthuse about them. However, the dozens of interns who have come to us over the years have, we think, enjoyed themselves and learnt a lot in the process. (Because it’s so hard to assess from a brief interview if someone would like it at Persephone, in preparation we have been looking at companies like this one http://www.internwise.co.uk/about/  and this (which place interns); the most important bit of advice on what and what not to do seems to be that it’s all in the first 30 seconds. Gosh.

There was a excellent leader in the Guardian about public libraries  saying that Norway’s vision (they are incredibly enlightened about libraries in Norway) ‘as an essential part of a functioning literate nation was lost here before we realised it was gone.’ But to reverse things ‘would require a government committed to a vision of human flourishing that was wider and deeper than the hellish paradise of a global shopping mall’. Hear hear.

Do read this: Jane Martinson’s 10 lessons I’ve learned from being Guardian women’s editor. Every ‘lesson’ is thought-provoking. There was an obituary in the Telegraph of Marjorie Seldon, the daughter of Wilfred Willets, the real-life Wilfred in Wilfred and Eileen.  This is what it said: Born Audrey Marjorie Willett on October 15 1919, she had a difficult upbringing in the shadow of the First World War. Her father, Wilfred , had been shot in the head at Ypres in December 1914 while tending to one of his men in no-man’s-land, cutting short a promising career as a doctor. His life was saved when his young wife, Eileen, travelled by special permit to the base hospital in France to bring him back to England after the doctors had given up on him — a story retold by Jonathan Smith in his novel Wilfred and Eileen. The experience of growing up with a melancholic and incapacitated father affected Marjorie profoundly. Wilfred sought solace in Communism, driving a wedge between him and his close friend Henry Williamson, author of Tarka the Otter, who moved sharply to the Right.’

Finally, we need your help. In 1880 a photograph was taken of students at Newnham College, Cambridge.

On the right at the front is a young woman who is labeled (on the back of the photo) ‘Louisa Plant’. But surely it is Amy Levy? Does anyone have a view? Or does anyone know someone whose ancestor was Louisa Plant (she died young and in mysterious circumstances) who could prove that this is not Louisa?


Nicola Beauman

59 Lambs Conduit Street




59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB