Monday, 7 December 2009

A very great profession (Beauman)

I am very excited as tonight I am off to the Woodstock Bookshop with a friend (soon to be colleague again) to hear Nicola Beauman speak about Persephone books. My friend has an extensive collection of Virago Modern Classics, but doesn't own a Persephone book, so I am hoping to be able to convert her.

In preparation for hearing Nicola speak, I decided to read her book A very great profession : the woman's novel: 1914-1939. (It was one of the things that kept me occupied on my sick bed last week). And what a wonderful book it was. I felt that the book encapsulated and contextualised all of the reading that I have done in the past year, which has been heavily weighted towards women's fiction of the first half of the twentieth century.

The book starts from Beauman's curiosity after seeing a Kate O'Brien library book in the basket of Laura, the heroine of the film Brief Encounter. Laura went weekly to change her library book at Boots, and this led Beauman to wonder what other books she might have read. And this led her to a quest to find out about what middle class women would have read during the inter-war period.

Packed with quotes from novels, at some points I felt the book read like the Persephone catalogue, and indeed many of the books she mentions have now been republished by Persephone. I kept a notebook to hand and jotted down titles that I have not come across yet for future inspiration - who knows, they might turn up as the next Persephones. One question I will be asking Nicola if I get the chance is what she plans to publish next! The book also has a list of the novelists mentioned in the text, with brief bio and mentions of some of their books which I found fascinating.

My copy was of course the Persephone edition, although the book was originally published by Virago, and so I am considering it "read" for my Virago Venture (and will post a link to this post on my VVV blog!). In a departure from the traditional endpapers that utilise fabric or designs of the period, the endpapers are the covers from the two Virago editions of the book, one of which I share with you here... (I have to say I would quite like a Virago copy of this too).


  1. Hope you thoroughly enjoyed your evening Verity, I'm sure it was full of very interesting conversation.

    Do you think your friend is converted yet?

  2. That sounds like a wonderful evening! I hope you enjoyed it and that you have a fully-fledged Persephone convert on your hands!

  3. I do have a convert! I shall write about the evening later :)

  4. I found A Very Great Profession immensely readable when I read it earlier this year (G bought it for me for Christmas). I forgot to note titles down though and it will require to be dipped in and out of again quite soon, I think! I remember William, An Englishman sounding very appealing although I've yet to add that to my collection.

    I forgot to mention on your post about the talk that the book on madness has me most intrigued and excited!

  5. Claire - William an Englishman should certainly be read, it is an amazing story, and one of their first three. Nicola did mention what the book on madness was called, but I didn't have a notebook/pen to hand! We will wait with anticipation but it sounds like a good one.

  6. Verity - I stumbled across this book several years ago, I have the Virago as well as the Persephone edition, and noted down lists of titles that I would love to read. About a year later, I bought The Observer, a Sunday paper I do not normally read but my usual one was sold out, and inside was an article about a new publishing house called Persephone and their remit to republish books such as I had read about in A Great Profession. They gave an address and a phone number and I called it. Ended up having a half hour chat with a very friendly lady who asked if I would send her a list of all the books I would like to see republished. Well, WHAT a silly question! She then sent me the very first Persephone Quarterly and it was only after I had put down the phone and rechecked my copy of AVGP that I realised I had just been chatting to Nicola Beaumann the author of this book....

    Serendipity of the highest order.

  7. Wow - Elaine - how wonderful - what a fantastic set of coincidences. I wish I had been brave enough to chat to her at the event itself, I did so much enjoy her book and am so glad that her publishing house exists!

  8. Verity - could not agree with you more. For dorothy whipple alone she should be made a Dame!
    To Bed with Grand Music by Laski which I have just finished is quite a read I can tell you..

  9. Ooh - I am saving that for when I get back from my holidays, but it is hard not to start it, especially as the friend who I took to see Nicola speak bought it and has already read it!


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