Friday, 9 February 2018

My Persephone Shawl and the Books that Inspired it. . .

I've written before about my love of Persephone Books (see here and here for example), so when I thought about matching the patterns from Karie Westermann's This Thing of Paper with inspiration from my own bookshelves, this was the first project that came to mind.  I have been collecting Persephones for over ten years and they are the most elegant and beautifully produced books that I own.  I knew I had some cream and grey yarn in stash (Titus 4ply and Lichen & Lace 4ply) but had to have a real think about how to convey the unexpected and colourful endpapers that are a real design feature of Persephone books.

The solution was a skein of Ripples Craft 4ply Assynt yarn which has just about every colour in it!

The Psalter Shawl was the perfect design to combine all three skeins. I love how the mosaic middle section mimics a patterned print between the solid grey and white. Mosaic knitting, which is essentially slip stitch knitting, is also a lot of fun to do.  I was a bit worried about running out of the grey (I only had one skein), and so I did shorten the border by a few rows.

However the shawl has come out in a lovely size and is very cozy around the neck. These are not colours that I usually wear, but I think it's a very gentle, wintry type of palette and I am enjoying wearing this.

As for Persephone Books - do check out their list and website. They publish the most interesting, forgotten gems - not exclusively by women - from all over the world and in many different genres. Their books are also lovely to hold and read - beautiful paper, nice fonts and those endpapers! If you get on their mailing list, you'll receive their biannual magazine, always filled with interesting articles and short stories, and their website is a treasure trove of letters and posts about interesting exhibits, articles, and reviews relative to their books, authors, history, literature and London life.  You can easily get lost for hours on it and that's even before you get to the books!  And if you are ever in London, do visit their gorgeous little shop on Lamb's Conduit Street. It's not too far a walk from the British Museum and Bloomsbury and just a few streets away, if you are visiting the Dickens Museum, you can also pass the blue plaque showing where Vera Brittain and Winifred Holtby lived (Persephone Book #76 is Holtby's The Crowded Street).

If you are new to Persephone or are pondering one of their books for a gift, I have two excellent suggestions to get you started.  Their 100th celebratory book - The Persephone Book of Short Stories - is the perfect taster for some of the more obscure writers that they've championed, alongside well known authors such as Katherine Mansfield, Edith Wharton, Penelope Fitzgerald and Dorothy Parker to name just a few.  And then as a primer to why so much of what they publish is important and, more importantly, just great writing, pick up a copy of #78 A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman, the founder and brains behind Persephone Books.  I read this years ago when it was published by Virago, drawn in by its cover, a film still from Brief Encounter (one of my favourite films).  It's a fascinating study of women's writing between the two world wars and will have you itching to discover many of the novels mentioned - no surprise that several have now been brought back into print by Persephone. There is a particular fondness for Dorothy Whipple.

While they have just published their 125th book, I have lagged behind a little in my reading.
I probably own about one hundred and have only read around thirty. Nevertheless, I have never been disappointed by any of their books and really applaud the fact that they are committed to keeping all titles in print.

For what it's worth, here are my favourite top 10 (in no particular order):

#1 William - an Englishman by Cicely Hamiliton.  The first Persephone I bought and read and still so powerful. It fed into my interest in both suffrage and literature by women about the first world war.
#16 Saplings by Noel Streatfeild.  Several novels published by Persephone deal so well with trauma faced by children and this is one of them. Heartbreaking.
#28 Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.  Ditto.
#7 The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. A fascinating novel about a married couple - she really wants a career and he really wants to stay at home with the children, but they don't realize it until circumstances force them to confront society expectations.  This was published in 1924.
#5 An Interrupted Life: The Diaries and Letters of Etty Hillesum 1941-43. I went on a pilgrimage to see her house when I visited Amsterdam, so moved was I after reading this diary of a courageous and spirited woman in the darkest of times.
#30 Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll.  While many Persephones will make you cry, some will make you laugh, including this delightful collection of essays on food and etiquette in the 1920s.
#56 They Were Sisters by Dorothy Whipple.  Another heartbreaker but a page-turning one. The film version, while very different in some ways, is definitely worth a viewing too. James Mason in all his best sneering charm.
#92 Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill.  One of the few books they've published by a living author, albeit one who just celebrated her 100th birthday. She's still writing!  This is a very enjoyable collection of short stories and I love that the endpapers were taken from the author's own curtain fabric.
#42 The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding.  A great psychological thriller. I have yet to see the film version titled The Reckless Moment. It also stars James Mason.
#98 A Writer's Diary by Virginia Woolf.  Yes, I already owned a much-thumbed copy but how could I resist a Persephone edition?  The endpapers are taken from the original jacket cover designed by Vanessa Bell.

Currently reading (to celebrate 100 years of some UK women getting the vote): #94, the suffrage novel No Surrender by Constance Maud.


Freyalyn Close-Hainsworth said...

What a lovely story of a design colour choice.

Kelly said...

Thanks for this. I am not familiar with Persephone Press, although Edith Wharton and Dorothy Parker are treasured friends from my youth. How lovely to knit a shawl to match your favorite books!

Anne A said...

You remind me that Little Boy Lost was in my parents' bookcase (a different edition, I think). We had to get rid of so many books, and I don't have space for them, but regret not having them.