I discovered a new bookshop and business just before Christmas that is so Bloomsbury-Bluestocking-Retro I can’t wait to go back. It was a pleasure to buy these books for pressies for my girlfriends and one for myself too. Their USP (as it were) is that:
“Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly women) writers. Each one in our collection of 104 books is intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written…”
They are beautiful to look at with matt silver covers that beg to be picked up, caressed and opened, revealing end papers of reprinted fabric designs of the period. They are also great value at £9 to £12 or three for £30. The shop is made for browsing and situated and on a delightful street (Lamb’s Conduit St) of wine bars and delis that all add to the feeling of stepping back in time. I should have worn a headscarf and vintage post-war frock with sensible brogues. Most of the other customers seemed to be friends of Miss Marple.
Not as in-yer-face as Virago was or is, I thought the books might be bit cosy, but the one I read was a corker. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding kept me turning the page as events run out of control for a post-war mother trying to protect her family. Apparently, Raymond Chandler was a great fan of this author and I can see why. I guess this idea of making readable books as things to covet is the antidote to the rise of the e-reader. However, Persephone have been going since 1996, so I wonder if they have seen more interest recently. It was begun by an author herself, Nicola Beauman, who has written biographies of E. M. Forster and Elizabeth Taylor (the writer not the film star I imagine!) Her son is the famous author Ned Beauman. What a family!
An interesting article from the Guardian explains how the business, described as “an unlikely success story”, began and found readers “avid and highly particular. They have joined the nearest thing British publishing has to a cult.”
“She set up Persephone almost, if not quite, on a whim, and without having drawn up anything that even remotely resembled a business plan. “It was just the writers,” she says. “Virago was, and is, great as far it goes, and sometimes they did do books I suggested to them. But I had this inconvenient attachment to all these other books that they wouldn’t publish. That’s all I care about, really, you see: the text, the text, the text.”
And the textiles it seems. The whole idea feels so British and literary and eccentric with an on-trend vintage feel, it’s wonderful it’s a success? I will be back.