I’m currently looking for work experience in fiction publishing, so on Monday I spent the afternoon walking around London, so I could visit some independent publishers personally.
Persephone Books, on Lamb’s Conduit St, London showed up on a list of the best independent publishers in London on a Google search. They primarily re-print works written by women in the mid-twentieth century, works which are often overlooked in favour of more canonical texts and writers. I knew I had to visit them – Daphne du Maurier is my favourite author, and books written by women of this time have been of particular interest to me since my undergraduate degree.
Off I went.
It’s a beautiful little shop, with little touches that accentuate the vintage aspect of the books such as a dress-maker’s manequin, and little tea-cups dotted around. It’s a calm, quiet atmosphere, but the staff are very friendly, conversing with customers about what books they might be looking for, if they’re buying it as a gift and such like. The shelves are arranged neatly, and there are little placards beneath many of the titles with a little description or review, to help people like me who were just there to browse.
The books themselves have simple, elegant grey covers, so neat I almost didn’t want to touch them for fear of damaging them. They’re all numbered, to correspond with the order in which they were re-printed (which helps with cataloguing I assume). They cover a range of topics and genres – novels and short stories, gardening advice, recipe books, ‘Kitchen Essays’, even Virginia Woolf’s hilarious biography Flush. There are some books by men as well, including R. C. Sherriff (anyone who studied GCSE English Literature in the mid-2000’s may have studied his play Journey’s End). Such a wide range really gives you a sense of the reading landscape in mid-century England. It’s fascinating and as someone who loves spending time in any book shop, the hour I spent browsing the titles here was thoroughly enjoyable.
I did buy a book, I couldn’t resist. I purchased The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. First published in 1907, this novel is about the growing trend of American heiresses marrying English aristocrats. The estates of these aristocrats were in debt, nearing ruin, because of the ineffectual and vast spending the upper class did to fund their affluent lifestyles.
Why this book in particular, you may ask? Well, as an avid fan of Downtown Abbey, I immediately remembered watching an interview with the creator and writer of the series, Julian Fellowes, in which he remarked that accounts of these women’s lives were the inspiration for the marriage of Lady Cora and Lord Robert (it’s mentioned in the very first episode of the entire series that Robert only married Cora for her fortune). He was fascinated by the ‘fish-out-of-water’ aspect of the tales, whereby American women had to adjust to the unwritten rules and etiquette of upper class British life.
The Shuttle was the book for me.
(I did enquire about work experience too, but I almost forgot in my enthrallment with the shop)
I was also offered copies of their entire catalogue and The Persephone Biannually, (both of which are free). I’ve just finished reading the biannually. It’s wonderfully written and produced, including detailed features on their latest re-printings, short stories, extracts from their bloggers’ posts and reviews, and a listing of upcoming events they will be taking part in. I found the features about ‘Women Against the Vote’ and ‘The New Domestic Novel’ in their current issue incredibly engaging (I’ve added the book titles they’ve mentioned to my reading list).
I honestly think this is a great publisher and a great bookshop, and I would thoroughly recommend visiting them to anyone who is interested in mid-twentieth century writing, fiction or non-fiction, or who just loves books in general and fancies a visit to a lovely books shop in London. (They have a website too, if you’re not in London).
Thanks for reading!