Monday, June 30, 2008

Top Five

Those of you who read this blog, and that seems to be about one person, will have noticed that Persephone has dominated my reading lately. Persephones are suddenly very hip and trendy: gossip about Persephone books has become a blogging phenomenon. Most devotees apparently pass on their enthusiasm through word-of-mouth, blogs, and Library Thing. Nicola Beauman, the founder and publisher of Persephone, and author of THE GREAT PROFESSION: THE WOMAN'S NOVEL 1914-39, has brilliantly discovered a new women's fiction niche: inter-war middle-class women’s novels, published mainly during the years quoted above.

I didn’t get it at first.

I’d yawn. “It must be a peri-menopausal thing. I don’t care if a book is by a man or a woman anymore.” I vaguely believed, except for a handful of Viragos, most of these rediscovered women’s books were merely grist for doctoral students.

Anyway, I’d become a canonical zombie, reading classics and contemporary literature according to “lists” and reviews.

And then I read a couple of staggeringly good Viragos and changed my mind.

What happened? The revival occurred when articles about Viragos and Persephones began to appear in newspapers during the past six months. And others apparently thought that, too, because suddenly we were all blogging.

I admire Viragos (especially the novels by Molly Keane and her earlier pseudonym, M. J. Ferrell: read these if you get a chance) and am also a fan of several Persephones. But this is my Persephone day, so here are my top-five Persephones (with blurbs).

1. Rachel Ferguson’s ALAS, POOR LADY. A classic. If you have one book to read on a desert island.... Ferguson’s witty, staccato style is addictive, a bit Virginia Woolfish, a bit Dorothy Whippleish. Plot: what happens to upper-class poor spinsters when their relatives don’t want them? Entirely unsentimental. Get out your Odd Women by Gissing. A good pair.

2. HOUSE-BOUND by Winifred Peck. A hilarious novel about a woman’s determination to do her own housework when servants have deserted to do war work. Recommended by her niece, Penelope Fitzgerald.

3. MARIANA by Monica Dickens. Autobiographical, comical, and a gem. The heroine lives in an odd menage consisting of her mother, who is a tailor, and her uncle, an actor. She gets kicked out of drama school, goes to Paris, and has a couple of love affairs before the war interrupts. Will everything turn out well in the end? That's the fingernail biter.

4. FIDELITY by Susan Glaspell. Not perfect, but who cares? It’s an important novel about middle-class values in a staid city in the midwest. Comparable in some ways to Willa Cather’s books.

5. THE CROWDED STREET by Winifred Holtby. Another spinster book. Tedious at times for a reason: the spinster has a tedious life. Recently reviewed in The Spectator.

On to something else. This has been a real binge. Too much of a good thing...

No comments: