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‘”I feel that I must take a hand in politics, and I’m going to join the Labour Party and work in my local division. I don’t only feel that a social and economic change must be made to come, I feel that it is inevitably coming. All this terrible piling up of Fascism and Nationalism, this swing back to the barbarian, is the last struggle of the old world. I think that unless all of us who see this and want the change take a hand, we may be crushed by the weight of the dying, or the struggle may be so bitter that the things worth keeping, liberty, humanity, decency, toleration, art and culture, will go down in the ruin. I hope that in England the change-over will come without violence. That depends on how many of us are willing to accept it and help it on. Especially I feel that this is a time when moderate men ought not to keep out of things. If we do, we can’t complain because the world is slipping away from moderation. It’s so easy to talk about Liberty and Democracy and stand apart from either side doing nothing. We’ve got to preserve Liberty and Democracy by going into things and helping to save them out of the wreck. Anyhow, that’s my personal feeling, so I must go by it’ (p. 286). Don’t concludethat because we have quoted five such political passages National Provincial is a boringly political book. It is a gripping read, oddly enough, and we are proud to be publishing it next autumn. (It’s already available as an e-book but good luck to anyone who wants to plod through its 600 pages on a screen. We recommend waiting for a nice grey edition!)

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‘She idly watched the people coming in and out. Their faces were preoccupied, a good many of them worried. They looked as though they were fussing about something, getting the right cake, getting home in time for lunch, remembering the shopping they had come to do. Very few of them looked as though they were enjoying themselves, as though there were any pleasure in  the mere fact of being alive, able to move and speak and buy cakes on a frosty November morning. Clare had a vision of people passing through life as through a railway station, squandering the moments they might have lived in because of some inner, compelling urgency that was making them always intent on some moment that was coming. We have got disorientated, she thought, pushed like a dislocated limb off this business of living! ‘(p.233)

1936 Tom Purvis

‘Mary sat with her hands locked together and tears running down her cheeks. These were not the enemy, these men going to war. Hatred itself was the enemy, hatred, as always, by greed out of vanity, once more victorious, once more successfully loosed in Europe. It had all been in vain, the shattering lesson of the last war, the birth of the League of Nations, the growing desire for peace. Once again the sane, ordinary man who hated nobody and wanted to get on with his job was to be trapped by powerful forces, misled by his own generosity and idealism and broken on the wheel’ p. 179 National Provincial. (A kind Persephone reader has very kindly put the original Gollancz jacket for the book on Twitter here.)

leeds 1930s looking north towards the Headrow

‘”Oh,” said Stephen. “Politics.” ‘”Yes, but you can’t say ‘politics’ in that sort of voice nowadays, can you?” “What sort of voice did I say it in?” “As though it was something separate, like keeping bees, or playing chess.” “And you don’t think it is something separate?” “Well, do you, really? It seems to me it’s everything – how we live and behave to each other, how we bring up children, what sort of world we want to make it.” She added,”Of course, I’ve heard it going on all-round me in my uncle’s house since I was small. He’s fought all his life for Socialism. Being in his house was always like being with a regiment on active service.” “I was brought up in the opposite camp.” “Yes, of course you would be.” An obscure ease stole over Stephen, a feeling of being able to speak freely. He said, “I’m not at all sure I’m in it now.” “No, I don’t expect you are. I don’t think any generous or intelligent person will be able to stay in it much longer.” “Of course, my father – nobody could say he’s not generous and intelligent. He’s a stout Tory.” “That generation decently could be.” “And our generation decently can’t?” “I think not.”‘ [Who needs ‘blurbs’. This quote, from p.102, tells you everything you need to know about National Provincial. It’s the moment Stephen and Mary fall in love, or begin to. And it’s the moment a 2017 reader realises that a book written in 1937 says it all for us previously a-political people, but in an intensely readable and interesting way – until the Brexit and Trump disasters I’m afraid we at Persephone Books were pretty much the bee keepers and chess players.] The photograph is Leeds in the 1930s looking north towards the Headrow.

hyde park 1937

The Post this week is about a novel, National Provincial by Lettice Cooper, a knock-out read that has totally absorbed our heart and mind over the last week. It was published in 1938 and when it was re-issued fifty years later the author wrote a short preface, explaining that it was about a girl who comes back to Leeds after having been educated and worked in the south. She is a journalist on the local paper and the local elections are seen through her eyes.  Lettice Cooper ends the brief description of her book by saying: ‘I would wish for what all the politicians so glibly talk about – but which is so difficult to achieve – an undivided nation.’ But she would have been horrified at what is happening to the Dis-United Kingdom eighty years after her book was written. Disbelieving, even. She could not have imagined that so little would have changed. Here is a young radical: ‘”Look at the nation! Look at the world! A few dogs in the manger, crammed with ideas a hundred years behind the times, sitting on everything and keeping it to themselves while the majority are shut out, and go short.” He brought his fist suddenly down on the table making the knives and forks rattle. “I can’t understand,” he cried, “how anyone can sit still and let it go on happening”‘ (p.96). (There will be more of the same all week: unpolitical readers of the Persephone Post should avoid it till next Monday.) The photograph is of Hyde Park, Leeds in 1937.

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Finally, the extremely characterful Jane Drew. The obituary here includes the detail that ‘she was educated at Croydon Day School. One of her classmates was Peggy Ashcroft, with whom she made a secret pact: that they would pursue a career and always use their own names – both kept it throughout their long distinguished careers.’ Jane Drew’s early work was ‘influenced by Georgian style  – “Good Georgian, not rotten Georgian”, she said later – but soon she became involved in the Modern Movement.’ And this is an understatement. This studio at Hertingfordbury in Hertfordshire was for the fabric designer Ashley Havinden (he designed the beautiful fabric we used for Someone at a Distance) but poor him, having such an ugly workroom attached to his house.  It’s all very well to say here that ‘it was decided to make no attempt to continue the style of the existing house, which is an amalgam of early Georgian and Victorian additions, and the new studio establishes its own scale and proportions based in three dimensions on an approximation to the golden section.’ The result is unpleasing. But Jane Drew was one of, if not the, greatest architects of the twentieth century. So what do we know?  (Some of us have always longed for a swing seat, they are so incredibly comfortable, but to put one outside  and give it a frilly canopy cannot have pleased the Queen of Modernism!)

dora 9 wilberforce road

Another house in Cambridge (is it just coincidence that three of our five buildings by 1930s female architects are in Cambridge?), this time 9 Wilberforce Road (1937) by Dora Cosens, a pupil, at the University of Cambridge School of Architecture, of George Checkley, one of whose houses in nearby Conduit Head Road, she extended in 1944. (The internet does not even offer Dora Cosens’s dates, if anyone knows anything about her please do let us know so we can update this post.)

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(Margaret) Justin Blanco White, who trained at the Architectural Association, designed Shawms, Conduit Head Road, Cambridge in 1938 when she was 27. Later she worked on low cost housing for the elderly, and on hospitals. Her mother and grandmother were both Persephone authors, Amber Reeves and Maud Pember Reeves.

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Mary Medd (née Crowley and sometimes called Mary Crowley) built this house, Sewell’s Orchard at Tewin in Hertfordshire, in 1934, when she was 27; some details here (when it was for sale) and lots more here. ‘Having built three residential homes, Mary Medd pursued a career in the public sector, designing school buildings for the government. This made for a career well away from the public eye and may explain why she is not as well known today as she deserves to be. Yet Mary Medd was one of Britain’s pioneering Modernist architects. She worked with Erno Goldfinger, who had great respect for her work: his Willow Road houses (1939) share the square window motif seen at the rear of Mary Medd’s house.’

 

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Five twentieth-century women architects this week: first of all, Elisabeth Scott who is best known for the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford but of course we love for the beautiful Fawcett Building at Newnham College, Cambridge (1938). She has shot to fame recently because it was announced that she would be one of only two British women (the other being Ada Lovelace) to be featured in the design of the new UK passport.

 

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