28 September 2014

Dead white men have made way for women at Oxford: photographs of eminent women now hang in the hall of Hertford College  and one of them is of Julia Briggs, the first female fellow at Hertford, in 1978, who was a great friend to Persephone Books (she lived round the corner in the Brunswick Centre) and is hugely missed.

She died in 2007 and alas hers is the only archive photograph, all the rest are new portraits. Photographs of other influential women, this time women over 55, are exhibited at Somerset House from October 2-26. Nancy Honey took the photographs. Hattie Garlick wrote the piece about the exhibition. .

Persephone Books had a gig at the Charleston Small Wonder Festival talking about short stories and in particular The Persephone Book of Short Stories and Midsummer Night in the Workhouse. Alas, Diana Athill has bronchitis and could not be there but a young actress read ‘The Real Thing’ very well indeed; and of course Diana’s own reading of it is available here . A week ago Diana wrote a touching article about attitudes to death; and it was accompanied by this superb photograph by Sarah Lee for the Guardian

The cushion, which is often on display in the shop window, is on the right: it was made from the strip of fabric left from Diana’s curtains which we turned into a sausage-shaped cushion after it was photographed for the endpapers. Diana Athill is an inspiration to all of us about how to live one’s life should we get to be in our Nineties, following the precepts of Jane Harrison in her  excellent 1925 Hogarth Press volume Reminiscences of a Student’s Life:

At Charleston it was fun and thrilling to meet both Tessa Hadley and Louisa Young; we had read and loved both their recent novels although alas this was quite hard to articulate over quiche and salad. Also, we had read both their books electronically; and are formulating a theory that one doesn’t remember a book if read in this format (there will be  a piece in the forthcoming Biannually on this subject). Fascinatingly, all five of the writers shortlisted for the BBC National Short Story Award are women (listen to the five shortlisted stories here ); the winner will be announced on Tuesday September 30th.

So it’s been a busy fortnight interviewing potential interns and choosing five to come to us for periods ranging from a month to a week: everyone is so well-qualified and so charming that it is of course incredibly hard to choose, cf. Lucy Kellaway’s piece about ‘why graduate trainees are often the biggest brains’. Meanwhile the new Biannually and Catalogue are nearly ready to go to Lavenham Press, the printer we have used for fifteen years. After that we shall take a deep breath and mentally gear up for the busiest time of year in a bookshop.

We have been reading the new volume of David Kynaston’s Modernity Britain 1959-62 . It is particularly good on planning issues, the beginning of the appalling destruction of homes and communities which was such a feature of the 1960s; the description is heartrending and germane, of course, to The Sack of Bath; the Duchess of Devonshire has died and although we deplore the Mitfords in general, The Pursuit of Love remains one of the best books ever and is always in ‘fifty books we wish we had published’ in the shop. Hadley Freeman wrote about the appeal of the Mitfords :  it’s a good piece even though we disagree with nearly everything she says; Annabel Munn who makes our beautiful mugs (a new delivery is just in) asked to be directed to a piece that Ned Beauman wrote about the First World War for a BBC World Service item called I Don’t Remember the War. Here is the link to him reading it (scroll through to fifty minutes as his item is last – well, the other writers are good too, so maybe don’t scroll through); talking of Germany, which we weren’t exactly but (unfortunately) the war makes one think of it, there is an new exhibition about to open at the British Museum called Germany: Memories of a Nation and an accompanying radio series, and Simon Schama interviewed Neil MacGregor  in the Financial Times Magazine; Kathy Lette said here that if she were queen for a day she would ‘make vertiginous high-heeled shoes a fashion faux pas and flats totally desirable’. Quite. She would also make it law that men do half the housework. Quite again. And Catherine Bennett was funny about the pointlessness of updating smart phones when no one bothers to ensure domestic machines can be easily updated. The same argument applies to pregnancy sickness: if men were sick ‘they’ would be working on a palliative more coherent than dry biscuits and ginger (those of us who endured the same misery send many sympathetic thoughts to the Duchess of Cambridge).

Finally, the Standard said Holborn was the new Hoxton, which is quite hard to believe but would be nice for Lamb’s Conduit Street.

Nicola Beauman

59 Lamb’s Conduit Street




59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London WC1N 3NB