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The Book Trail: A Persephone Special

We begin this edition of The Book Trail with one of my favourite reads of late, Elizabeth Jenkins’ depiction of a real Victorian murder case, Harriet.  As ever, I have used the ‘Readers Also Enjoyed…’ feature on Goodreads to compile this list.  Harriet is a Persephone publication; each of the recommended reads on its page, as well as pages for following books, is also published by the same wonderful press.

1. Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins 13607031
This story traces the life of Harriet Richardson, a mentally-disabled young woman who was allowed to die of starvation by her husband.

 

2. Tea With Mr. Rochester by Frances Towers
When these captivating and at times bizarre stories were published posthumously in 1949, Angus Wilson wrote: ‘It appears no exaggeration to say that Frances Towers’s death in 1948 may have robbed us of a figure of more than purely contemporary significance. At first glance one might be disposed to dismiss Miss Towers as an imitation Jane Austen, but it would be a mistaken judgment, for her cool detachment and ironic eye are directed more often than not against the sensible breeze that blasts and withers, the forthright candour that kills the soul. Miss Towers flashes and shines now this way, now that, like a darting sunfish.’ ‘At her best her prose style is a shimmering marvel,’ wrote the Independent on Sunday, ‘and few writers can so deftly and economically delineate not only the outside but the inside of a character…There’s always more going on than you can possibly fathom.’ And the Guardian said: ‘Her social range may not be wide, but her descriptions are exquisite and her tone poised between the wry and the romantic.’

 

14458613. Good Evening, Mrs Craven: The Wartime Stories by Mollie Panter-Downes
‘For fifty years Mollie Panter-Downes’ name was associated with “The New Yorker”, for which she wrote a regular ‘Letter from London’, book reviews and over thirty short stories; of the twenty-one in “Good Evening, Mrs Craven”, written between 1939 and 1944, only two had ever been reprinted – these very English stories have, until now, been unavailable to English readers.  Exploring most aspects of English domestic life during the war, they are about separation, sewing parties, fear, evacuees sent to the country, obsession with food, the social revolutions of wartime.’

 

4. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
The setting for this, the third novel by Dorothy Whipple Persephone have published, is Saunby Priory, a large house somewhere in England which has seen better times. We are shown the two Marwood girls, who are nearly grown-up, their father, the widower Major Marwood, and their aunt; then, as soon as their lives have been described, the Major proposes marriage to a woman much younger than himself – and many changes begin.

 

5. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher 2703159
Although this novel first appeared in 1924, it deals in an amazingly contemporary manner with the problems of a family in which both husband and wife are oppressed and frustrated by the roles they are expected to play. Evangeline Knapp is the perfect, compulsive housekeeper, while her husband, Lester, is a poet and a dreamer. Suddenly, through a nearly fatal accident, their roles are reversed: Lester is confined to home in a wheelchair and his wife must work to support the family. The changes that take place between husband and wife and particularly between parents and children are both fascinating and poignant.

 

6. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Tells the tale of a woman who goes on a cruise and is swept overboard. She lives for three years on a desert island before being rescued by a destroyer in 1943. When she returns to England it seems to her to have gone mad: she cannot buy clothes without ‘coupons’, and she is considered uncivilised if she walks barefoot or is late for meals.

 

7. Doreen by Barbara Noble
Describes the mind of a child torn between her mother, whom she leaves behind in London, and the couple who take her in.

 

8. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski 163544
Hilary Wainwright, poet and intellectual, returns after the war to a blasted and impoverished France in order to trace a child lost five years before. Is the child really his? And does he want him?

 

Which of these books have you read?  Have any of them piqued your interest?  Which is your favourite Persephone publication?

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Neglected Women Writers’ Month: Dorothy Canfield Fisher

Dorothy Canfield Fisher is published by both Persephone and Virago, but I have personally found her books rather difficult to get hold of thus far, and have therefore decided to include her as part of Neglected Women Writers’ Month.  She had an absolutely fascinating life, and did many admirable things, including her overseeing of the United States’ first adult education program, and serving as a judge on the Book of the Month’s selection committee between 1925 and 1951.
clfisher1.png__320x295_q85_subsampling-2Named after Dorothea in George Eliot’s Middlemarch, Dorothea Frances Canfield was born in Kansas in February 1879.  She earnt a doctoral degree from Columbia in 1904, and was the first woman to receive an honorary degree from Dartmouth College.  Dorothea Canfield married John Redwood Fisher in 1907, had two children, and spent all of her adult life in Vermont, which served as the setting for many of her books.  During the First World War, she travelled to France where her husband was stationed, raising her two young children in Paris, and working to establish a Braille press for soldiers who had been blinded.  Alongside her novels, Dorothy Canfield Fisher also published several short story collections, and a plethora of non-fiction works.

“… there are two ways to meet life; you may refuse to care until indifference becomes a habit, a defensive armor, and you are safe – but bored. Or you can care greatly, live greatly, until life breaks you on its wheel.”

Bibliography (Novels):

  • Gunhild (1907)
  • The Squirrel-Cage (1912)
  • The Bent Twig (1915)
  • The Real Motive (1916).
  • Fellow Captains (1916)
  • Understood Betsy (1917)
  • Home Fires in France (1918)
  • The Day of Glory (1919)
  • The Brimming Cup (1921)
  • Rough-Hewn (1922)
  • The Home-Maker (1924)
  • Her Son’s Wife (1926)
  • The Deepening Stream (1930)
  • Bonfire (1933)
  • Seasoned Timber (1939)

 

Snippets:
– The Dorothy Canfield Fisher Award, to praise young readers in Vermont, was set up in her honour.  Read about it here.
– The friendship of Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Willa Cather is fascinatingly analysed here.