My love of all things VMC is probably very well known by now. Old green VMCs with reproductions of beautiful pieces of artwork as their covers are still very collectable, and many of us rue the day that they stopped being produced. I have a bookcase full that I have already read, lots more waiting in the wings. A few months ago, there was a wonderful documentary on TV about the women who started Virago Press – I watched it avidly – it was so inspiring, but I also recorded it, keeping it so that I can watch it again.
Following on from my Persephone top ten, I had originally wanted to do something similar. So many wonderful women writers, voices which would have been silenced had it not been for Virago. Books which surprise, confound and delight, some who have stood the test of time, remaining in print even after the green spines have long disappeared from high street bookshelves. For me, the names that adorn the spines of my green VMCs are like a who’s who of twentieth century women writers. Sylvia Townsend Warner, Elizabeth Taylor, E H Young, Willa Cather, Elizabeth von Arnim, Rosamond Lehmann, the list is almost endless. I realised there were definite highlights, but I couldn’t pick a top ten, probably not a top twenty.
Some of my highlights from the last few years would include; The Willow Cabin (I have mentioned before how it is one of my favourite VMCs) – Antonia White’s wonderful Frost in May quartet of novels, everything written by Elizabeth Taylor, discovering Sylvia Townsend Warner and of course finding Mary Hocking in the back of another green VMC. There have been wonderful surprises, like A Pin to see the Peepshow, The Squire and Crossriggs – books I hadn’t known I would love as much as I did. Poignant reminders of difficult times with We that Were Young and One of Ours. American classics like The House of Mirth and A Lost Lady. Coming of Age stories such as The Lying Days, My Brilliant Career and Painted Clay. Books of pure joy, humour and charm like The Enchanted April, A Provincial Lady or Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women. Really VMC has something for everyone. And behind every single one of them, is a remarkable woman whose voice still deserves to be heard.
So instead of compiling a top ten of VMCs, I decided to share my other VMC collection with you – it’s much smaller – but I am very proud of it. The VMC designer collection – the books are really very delicious, beautiful to hold, gorgeous little hardbacks, clearly printed on quality creamy paper.
I suppose I am a bit of a sucker for beautifully produced books – I love just seeing them on the shelf. Several of these I first read in other editions, and have purchased in these editions since – so I shall have to find time to re-read them in these gorgeous editions. Two are waiting to be read; The Talented Mr Ripley and Frenchman’s Creek. My most recent acquisitions the aforementioned Mr Ripley and replacements for The Magic Toyshop and Excellent Women.
Virago have chosen some outstanding titles, Rebecca, My Cousin Rachel, Frenchman’s Creek and Jamaica Inn, classic novels from Daphne Du Maurier – and her short stories Don’t Look Now, one of my stand out reads of last year. The Enchanted April is a favourite of many people I know, and one I have meant to re-read for ages. Molly Keane’s Good Behaviour with its brilliantly memorable opening, and Elizabeth Jenkin’s The Tortoise and the Hare with its unlikely other woman. Barbara Pym’s comedy Excellent Women, anthropologists, clergymen and the excellent women who support them. The Magic Toyshop – such a good novel which I only read recently – quirky and brilliantly imagined. Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes were Watching God – an American classic, richly poetic, evocative and vibrant in which the characters speak with such authenticity they are instantly real. I am very much looking forward to The Talented Mr Ripley and I couldn’t help but notice that Highsmith’s Strangers on a Train is also available in this edition. Oh, and yes I do know there are several others I don’t have yet (though I can’t say I have ever wanted to read The Valley of the Dolls – and I don’t buy books I don’t want to read).
So naturally with a slowly growing VMC designer collection, I had to start collecting the mugs too. I just have the four so far – I do use them from time to time, but I take extra care of them naturally.
So, although I couldn’t quite pick a top ten from all the VMCs I have read, I would love to know if you have any favourites – and are you as much as a sucker for pretty books as I am?