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Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Good Persephone Book Quotes

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This week’s topic is a Book Quote “Freebie”–i.e. make up your own topic on book quotes. I chose to showcase Persephone Books from Bath (England/UK). Some I took down when I was reading the book, others I got off Goodreads.

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“Time now seemed to have receded, to be an enormous empty room which she must furnish, like any other aimless woman, with celluloid shadows of other people’s happiness, with music that worked one up for nothing.”

Good Evening, Mrs. Craven by Mollie Panter-Downes

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“But if you can get so interested in a conversation with someone you’re in love with that you forget about wanting to kiss them, then – well then it looks as if you’re safe to go ahead..”

A House in the Country by Joceyn Playfair

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“They had reached the strange, disturbing little moment that comes in every holiday: the moment when suddenly the tense excitement of the journey collapses and fizzles out, and you are left, vaguely wondering what you are going to do, and how you are going to start. With a touch of panic you wonder whether the holiday, after all, is only a dull anti-climax to the journey.”

The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff

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“Received by Lady B. …surrounded by a bevy of equally bejeweled friends. She smiles graciously and shakes hands without looking at any of us, and strange fancy crosses my mind that it could be agreeable to bestow on her sudden sharp shaking, and thus compel her to recognize existence of at least one of guests invited to her house.” 

The Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

 

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“What would her dear dead mother say if life came back to her body? What did Miss Pettigrew care? Nothing. Freely, frankly, joyously, she acknowledged the fact. She was out for a wild night. She was out to paint the town red….She was out to enjoy herself as she had never enjoyed herself before, and all the sermons in the world wouldn’t change her course.” 

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson

 

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“She was all in pink, and a wreath of little pink wild roses lay close about her head, making her, with her tall young slimness, look like a Botticelli nymph.”

The Making of a Marchioness by Frances  Hodgson Burnett

 

Only six this week.

 

Have you read any of these? Leave me a comment or a link to your review.

Why not join in the Top Ten Tuesday fun next week?

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Check out the rules at That Artsy Reader Girl and join in next week!

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Review: Good Evening, Mrs. Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter Downes

Left: Persephone Book’s edition of Good Evening Mrs Craven. Right: Author Mollie Panter Downes from Librarything

My Interest

Today I’ll rave about another publisher about whom I am crazy: Persephone Books, now located in Bath in England. This collection by Mollie Panter Downes was available VERY cheap on audio so I grabbed it. I’m just sorry its taken me so many months to get to it.

World War II is an era I read about all the time. My grandfather was in the War. My [never met, but he didn’t die in the war] Great-Uncle flew in the War, and later, in the Berlin Airlift. I am still speechless at what people endured in the UK during it all–especially in the cities. So, this little book was a “must” for me. I listened to it all in one day in the course of shopping, heading to a job interview, and back to more shopping (it was severance check day–time to get groceries, etc) and finally home. Was it worth it!

The Story…er…Stories….

“Time now seemed to have receded, to be an enormous empty room which she must furnish, like any other aimless woman, with celluloid shadows of other people’s happiness, with music that worked one up for nothing.”
 

First, let me say that daily life is far more interesting than most people think. Marriages, friendships, jobs–they all provide fascinating glimpses at human nature. Next, imagine all of that with rationing, bombing, and many other deprivations thrown in. Now add in the friends you invited to stay with you in the country out of harm’s way or the strangers put into your home, like it or not, by the government. Yes, you can see how these stories could be fascinating, can’t you?

These stories originally appeared in The New Yorker where they, no doubt, helped Americans understand that we had to enter the war and fight for democracy and for the ordinary Britons who were suffering so much.

From sewing pajamas for the Greeks, to living to regret inviting friends to shelter with you at your country cottage, to the Big House full of strangers, to trying to recall your husband’s face, to worrying about the children you sent abroad for the duration, these stories convey the struggles of daily life for the Blitz-affected population. From the matron who cannot understand why the very poor family she’s had foisted on her preferred to return home than to stay and live “the good life,” to the unwed mother who is pressed into domestic service (why not a war industry? No nurseries there, either? See my review of Cheerfully Yours) we hear in clear voices about life on the British home front during the war.

[Unfortunately, the audio did not have table of contents that lists the story titles (only Chapter 1, Chapter 2, etc.) so I’m having to be a little vague.]

My Thoughts

“It had seemed such an admirable arrangement at the start. He and [his wife] had always got on splendidly with [the other couple]. They had dined with each other regularly and [the men] worked in the same Ministry….[He] couldn’t put his finger right on the moment when [sharing their cottage] had stopped being a ‘fine idea’ and become hell.”

Aside from the ending of the very last story,  I loved book. I loved the daily life. Introvert and homebody that I am, I felt the suffocation from having to share a home with strangers–or with friends on the verge of becoming “former” friends. How horrible! I also felt the freedom that poor young “unwed” mother felt when she left the Mother’s Home for the comparative freedom of domestic service for one woman who worked all day (I’m trying to imagine the luxury of coming home to a clean house, finished laundry, and a hot meal even ONCE….).

 

My Verdict

4.0

Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories of Mollie Panter Downes published by Persephone Books, UK

About Mollie Panter Downes

The Guardian’s article on Mollie Panter Downes

Some other reviews to read:

Jacquiwine’s Journal (blog) reviews the book HERE.

Another review, from The Medium, discussing the individual stories.

 

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Historical Fiction

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Review: The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff

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My Interest

For once I forgot to note which blog I found this book on! I always like to give a nice shout-out to fellow bloggers whose reviews get me to read the book.

Regardless of where I noticed it first, this book fit perfectly with my seasonal reading plan and I had a nice long Labor Day weekend on which to read most of it. That it is a Persephone Book is just gravy on top, right?

A Funny Story from History

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That toddler looking up so happily at King George V is today’s Queen Elizabeth II, now aged 95. Queen Mary looks on. This was taken at Bognor. Photo may be copyright protected. I found it here.

The story goes that after convalescing following nearly fatal illness, George V, was visited by a delegation from Bognor–the town where the sea air had restored his health. Told that the delegation wanted His Majesty’s permission to rechristen the town “Bognor Regis” in his honor, George muttered “Bugger Bognor.” [Americans–like F— Bognor, only with a twist in the meaning. Google it.] Although this story is left out, you can read more about the King’s stay in Bognor here.

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The Story

At about the time of the King’s visit, an utterly ordinary English family of father, mother, two sons, and a daughter park their budgie with the next door neighbor, dump the feeding of their cat on the lady across the street and head out on their annual holiday in Bognor–the “fortnight in September” of the title. They have stayed in the same boarding house every year for most of Ernest and Flossie’s married life–almost from the time of Ernest’s hiring as a boy laborer until now, when he is an important man in a shirt and tie in the warehouse office.

Now Mary and Dick have left school (at probably 14 for Mary and 17 for Dick who went to a very, very minor “public” (American private) day school). Mary is a seamstress for a fashionable ladies boutique and Dick has reluctantly hired on with a stationary firm–a “job for life,” as his father proudly put it. Ernie, about 10, is the only one still not contributing to the family’s housekeeping budget.

During father’s micromanaging of every packing detail, his strict attendance to the budget, and his total command of his family, the travel by train to Bognor is accomplished with little stress and the family settles into the boarding house which now is run by the very elderly and apparently failing lady owner and her maid-of-work. The Stevens family notices that things are a bit rundown, but love their holidays and put up with the bolster in the middle of the marital bed and other discomforts for old time’s sake.

In among the details of the holiday though, the author paints wonderfully vivid pictures of each member of the family. We see the train journey through Ernie’s eye’s, through Ernest and Flossie’s stories we see why anti-depressants and television enlivened marriages. Mary is perhaps the least developed character, but it was Dick I saw the most promise in.

Now that there has been a labor Government, with former miners and other laborers become lawyers, MPs, and even Cabinet Minister, Dick is wanting to do the unthinkable–to rise “beyond his station.” He understands his father’s good intentions in securing his a “job for a lifetime” upon leaving school, but he is heartsick at the life sentence he feels the job to be. Like his father, Dick is sensible and works things out on long walks, He comes to see that just like those miners and laborers in the government, he too, can use that job as a mere starting place.

Flossie I found to almost be a ninny. I realize things were very different for women–especially wives back then. She was fortunate to be married to a decent man who put his family, if not quite first to his own needs then put them at 1.5 on the list. He is thoughtful and budgets for Flossie to have a bottle of port for her own enjoyment each evening when he goes to the pub for a pint. We learn that her perspective is not always the same as that of the other members of the family–in fact we see, perhaps, that a little suffragette-like independent thinking has intruded. (Yes, she is still a ninny). Flossie provides one of my favorite moments in the book. On the train she is looking at a magazine and complains to herself in a way that proves there truly is nothing new under the sun:

Mrs. Stevens opened her magazine and looked at the tall, willowy girls on the fashion page. She had grown a little tired of fashion pages, for they never offered suggestions to ladies of her own height. All the girls on this page were at least six feet high, or even more…”

[Reading the recipes for a suggested menu] “It sounded lovely, but why didn’t they sometimes give a new idea for cooking rice and jam–or a new falvour for corn flour shape? (p. 65). Substitute “cheap ground beef” and “skinless, boneless chicken breasts” and it’s today! [If you are curious, there is a vintage recipe in the corn flour shape link–I had to Google it].

In the end the family all seem to realize, but Mary most of all, that this will be their last whole family trip to Bognor. It is the end of an era, but one they will look back on fondly as the do every trip.

My Thoughts

Aside from wanting to give fictional Dick a ticket to America to earn his way through college and become a [No spoilers!] there was nothing I didn’t love about this book. Yes, Ernest was a man of his time and I did not always appreciate his way of looking at his wife, but he was a good man in his time. While Ernest micromanaged, he had a good plan for the holiday–schedule only every-other-day. I liked that–it is good advice. His eye on the budget was necessary–he may have had the possibility of a small pension, but likely not. The first Labor government did bring in a few changes. He would had to have put money away for his and Flossie’s old age. He had stretched and stretched to give his sons a private education to improve their chances in life. That spoke volumes to me.

It was a little scary to see what people had to eat–no wonder health actually improved for some during rationing! Bread and Jam and more bread and jam. I knew that in World War I many, many men were rejected by the British forces due to the stunting effects of malnutrition, worsened by lack of access to sunlight and unpolluted air, but I didn’t expect a family with three members working to eat such an awful diet (comparing with my knowledge of what my own family ate in the 1920s). Ernest has false teeth apparently before turning 50. Our world has changed for the better for many people at least.

While reading about the book for this review, I learned that Dick was at least somewhat modeled on the author–whose script (with co-authors) was nominated for an Academy Award (An “Oscar”) for Goodbye, Mr. Chips in 1939. My only sad thought is that there is no sequel to this book. I would love that. Ernie would be of age just in time for the War. Mary would probably be married and send her husband off to the Army and Dick would certainly go. Oh well….my imagination will have to develop that story.

According to Wikipedia again, I learned that no less an author than Kazuo Ishiguro (Remains of the Day) chose Fortnight in September as his choice of a book to uplift and cheer people during the covid epidemic in this story in the London newpaper The Guardain.

My Verdict

4 Stars

For once I read the Kindle version–I did not listen to an audio book version.

The Fortnight in September by RC Sherriff

Here is a link to Jaquiwine’s Journal’s review of Fortnight in September

Here is a link to Diotima’s Ladder’s review of Fortnight in September

Sutherland, David Macbeth, 1883-1973; Bank Holiday, Portobello Beach
Sutherland, David Macbeth; Bank Holiday, Portobello Beach; The Fleming Collection; http://www.artuk.org/artworks/bank-holiday-portobello-beach-218471
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Review: Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

My Interest

I love reading older books and Persephone Books, now in Bath, reprint older books mostly be female authors. This one, which I also own in print, went on sale for $2.99 on audio so I bought it

The Story

There is a wedding happening. Gifts are everywhere. The staff are scurrying. The brother is wearing green socks–appalling for a young gentlemen from Rugby [School]. There are all sorts of vapid problems of manners. A ga-ga old lady comes to see the bride. This review gives you a way better idea. And so the other goes on with what seems to be a first draft–so many times I lost the plot because, was there one? Here is another review worth reading.

My Thoughts

This is a very short audio only about 2.5 hours long and was reasonably priced. Those are the two good points–and I hate saying that about a Persephone book. The old lady viewing the bride, in spite of being rather Starkadder-ish, got very annoying, very fast. I’m glad I was right–Kitty and Dolly were from Anna Karenina. That was my only “aha” moment. This book was a mess and had I not read the review I linked to above (I’ll link it again here and the second review mentioned above) I’d have no clue what went on. For lasting only 2.5 hours this was a tedious book. Like taking a local bus when you need the express.

My Verdict

2.0 at most

 

For once the movie looks good–I’ll try to watch it soon. I might make more sense, but with “Cora, Countess of Grantham” (Elizabeth McGovern) in it I might be even more confused. Here are NPR’s thoughts on the film.

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Review: Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

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My Interest

If you have not yet discovered London’s Persephone Books, you are in for many, many delightful reads.  Their aim is to rescue and keep in print books of the 20th Century from women authors. Blogger Dwell in Possibility makes reading these even a little more fun by having readathons, or in the case of last weekend, a mini-readathon. During readathons, you, obviously, READ books from this publisher’s list and share your reading on social media using the hashtag #PersephoneReadathon. There is even a new Twitter account: @ReadPersephone. Today I’m reviewing my mini-readathon book. I didn’t finish it all in one weekend, though I certainly could have.

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The Story

“She began to tremble, trying to push away the small, clear voice. She wanted to go where they were going tonight, with a pathetic, passionate eagerness. She wanted to visit a night club, to partake of its activities…Simply and honestly she faced and confessed her abandonment of all the principles that had guided her through life. In one short day, at the first wink of temptation, she had not just fallen, but positively tumbled, from grace. Her long years of virtue counted for nothing. She had never been tempted before. The fleshpots called: the music bewitched: dens of iniquity charmed….. She could not deny that this way of sin, condemned by parents and principles, was a great deal more pleasant than the lonely path of virtue, and her morals had not withstood the test” (p. 135).

 

Guenivere Pettigrew, a spinster of 40 living in 1930’s London, has been accustomed to earning her way as a nursery maid or ladies maid or similar. Currently without a position, but thinking of the amazingly-still-open-Workhouse looming, she goes to one of the two job interviews the Agency has left. Supposedly a position for a nursemaid, the door is answered by the 1930’s version of a Bright Young Thing, albeit one who has climbed up to her position via her voice and the theatre. Miss Pettigrew does not even get to properly introduce herself before she is sucked into the vortex of her potential employer’s amazing social life.

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Image: Persephone Books

“Nonsense, if you can look good once, you can look good always” (p. 166).


My Thoughts

My first thought was more people need an epiphany like that of Miss Pettigrew:

“What would her dear dead mother say if life came back to her body? What did Miss Pettigrew care? Nothing. Freely, frankly, joyously, she acknowledged the fact. She was out for a wild night. She was out to paint the town red….She was out to enjoy herself as she had never enjoyed herself before, and all the sermons in the world wouldn’t change her course.” (p. 167)

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“She wore daringly a gown of sheer white.”  (p. 180)

I loved this line–that little nuance turns the phrase just slightly to the left.

My second thought was so many people hold on to “What would X think/say?” or “But Father X/Pastor X said...” and let that be an excuse to hide from the world–hide from fun and enjoyment. Miss Pettigrew never once compromised her true beliefs–she just learned to loosen up and enjoy the day.

This was such a fun book! It was a super-fast, but compelling read. Conversations are not burdened with things such as quotation marks or attribution of speakers. The reader is just swept up into that same vortex that caught Miss Pettigrew herself. The original illustrations are clever and so appropriate to both the era of the and to its characters.  I liked, too, that most of the characters are self-made, not aristocrats. They were much freer to make friends and romantic attachments.  “Delightful” was the word I’ve read everywhere on this gem of a book and delightful is my verdict.

4 Stars

 

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson

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Mini-Persephone Readathon Choices: Which one to pick for the weekend?

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I happen to love the idea of readathons! I have a very bad track record, though, at following through with them. I’m HOPING I can break that curse this weekend. Here are my choices for the Mini-Persephone Books Readathon running from today until midnight Sunday/Monday at Dwell In Possibility. Persephone Books are mostly by women writers and are republished to preserve them and to get them into the hands of a new generation of readers. I love the idea, love the covers, artwork, and endpapers. In fact, their shop is on my bucket list for a future, longed-for return to London.

My Choices

Persephone covers are usually plain now, so I’m showing some older ones and some previous editions.

 

 

Peresphone Books I’ve already read

 

Links to my reviews:

The House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield

I did not review How To Run Your Home Without Help

 

#PersephoneReadathon

 

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1944 Club: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

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I’ve wanted to participate in the X-Year Club since discovering it some time ago at Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings. I keep forgetting! This time, for the 1944 Club I picked The Robe, one of the year’s bestsellers. But, it was HUGE. My 50-something, phone-addled brain just couldn’t do it right now. Then, today, I read this post 1944 Club–Some Previous Reads posted by Kaggsy and realized I’d unknowingly read and reviewed a great book published in 1944 earlier this year. Hence today’s re-post with this new introduction! Click the link below to read the full review of A House in the Country, by Jocelyn Playfair, published in 1944.

Hopewell's Public Library of Life

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Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in…

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Review: A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair

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Cressida Chance of Brede Manor–that sounds like a fairly typical country house, Lord of the Manor, sort of book heroine, right? Well, do read on.  In 1942 Cressida has a host of interesting lodgers–billeted there for the war, of course. Household help has vanished to the factories or women’s branches of the military so Cressida pretty much has to buck up and run the whole show herself–which she does, capably, and often in trousers. The previously obligatory tweed skirt, twin set and pearls being stowed in the airing cubbord for the duration owing to lack of stockings or new girdles.

Along the way, we learn of her romance and marriage and the secrets and complications thereof. Also, understandably, there is a lot of thought on the war and how or when life will return to normal.  Or if normal ever really can return. After all, they are now engaged in a life that requires “kitchen-friendly dining conversation” (p, 64). How well will the Port travel with that–even in its fine decanter?

More to the point, forgetting normal, was there really a point to this life? “There were times… when life seemed so depressingly pointless” (p.110). Pointless because people still envied others. Pointless becuase the right people married the wrong people. The people wanting the job had the wrong job. The interesting people were out there but not found. Yes, Cressida had to give this a lot of thought as she sunk her hands into the hot washing up bowl without the aid of Marigold gloves.

Then there is Tori, lovely [male] Tori who opines “Is Christianity strong enough” (p. 136) for all of this? They wondered a bit. I found this to be very, very prescient of today, especially as it followed a discussion of hatred and how the Germans had whipped it all up with propaganda. Again, very prescient.

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As I read it I thought the author or the not-very-good Chilbury Ladies Choir must have read this book–the good parts of that sad novel were like parts of this one. I loved how, in spite of no servants, in spite of terror from above, in spite of rationing and no loved ones around, they got on with life, found satisfaction in doing what had to be done and, for women like Cressida especially, they found some freedom. Why women like her especially? They still had local committees and charities and voluntary services, but with the men and servants gone they had time to do things that mattered and to test themselves, to see what they were truly made of. All of this put them in good stead for the even grimmer postwar years. It let them become persons in their own right. I liked that.

My rating

4 Stars

Because there’ll always be an England even if the sun would soon set on the British Empire.

 

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Joceyln Playfair, bio and photo credit

A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair, whose name sounds a bit like a Bond Girl. Re-published by the very wonderful Persephone Books.