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Translated from the French by Francine Yorke

Maman, What are we Called Now? Is Persephone book number 115, first published in French in 1957, it was re-issued by Persephone in 2015. It is the diary of a few weeks in 1944, after the author’s husband was arrested. It depicts the last weeks of the German occupation of Paris.

In July 1944 Jacqueline began her diary, the allies had landed in June – there was the feeling the nightmare could end. Then, Jaqueline’s beloved Andre disappeared. Jacqueline began her diary to record her hopes and fears as well as her memories. Alongside these are her descriptions of Paris in these last tense weeks of occupation, as the Germans start to pull out and de Gaulle’s Free French arrive.

Andre and Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar were a French Jewish couple who had enjoyed a privileged lifestyle before the war. They believed themselves to have fully assimilated, they were French first, Jewish second. Andre was from an old banking family; he had initially joined the French army as a lieutenant but had found his way back to Paris after his demobilisation following the occupation. Before the war, Jaqueline had written articles and sketches of French society for magazines. By the summer of 1944, the couple and their nine year old daughter were living hidden lives, living under assumed identities, Andre working as a liaison officer for London. I can only imagine, the fear that went along with living in such a way, forged papers that would barely stand up to scrutiny, relying on the loyalties of others.

The title of the book is taken from the question that young Sylvie Mesnil-Amar asked her mother one day in a crowded railway station – no doubt keen not to make a mistake. The question, of course could have had catastrophic consequences had anyone been paying attention to them. During these weeks Jaqueline is still surrounded by friends, those sympathetic to the cause of the resistance and who from time to time get to hear snippets of important information about who has been taken where.

The diary ends in August 1944, Paris is liberated, and there is suddenly a happy, if unexpected ending for the Mesnil-Amars.

“The bells of Paris are ringing and ringing. And I am crying for my prisoners, my pale prisoners, out there on the far side of the world. I am crying for those who have fallen in the last battle, those who died yesterday, this morning, all those who will never know that Paris is free, that France will be free. I am crying for my absent friends, I am crying for my absent husband.”

After the diary we have several pages of photographs from the American photographer Thérèse Bonney, taken in Paris in 1943. They are powerful images.

The second part of the book are a series of short essays and reminiscences by Jacqueline Mesnil-Amar written between 1945-1946.

“Now, once more, on clear summer mornings in the countryside, we’ll hear the clack of the gardener’s shears as he cuts the grass, the distant sound of trotting horses and cart-wheels on the road, the toot of a car horn, the spinning garden-sprinkler with its little hail of rain, and the postman’s step on the gravel. In Paris we’ll hear the wonderful, deafening roar of cars on the boulevards, impatient horns hooting along the length of the Faubourg Saint-Honoré at 5 o’clock in the evening, and we’ll hear the traditional cries of Paris, in quiet old, out of the way streets, ‘Rabbit skins! Skins!’; and the rag and bone men calling out ‘any ol’ clothes?’; and we’ll hear shouts of ‘Lovely cherries, ladies, buy my sweet cherries,’ followed in the winter by cries of ‘hot chestnuts, hot chestnuts…’ around glowing braziers on street corners.”

In these pieces she asks some fairly difficult, but understandable, questions. Time and again she comes back to children and what they really knew or understood and what the impact upon them might have been. By this time, she was feeling very angry about the people around her – those people who once she would have associated with in those heady pre-war days. These were the people who collaborated with the Germans, or who apathetically carried on with their nice lives. She asks questions about the future and the past.

Both parts of this book are beautifully written, powerfully poignant and endlessly quotable. Maman, What are we Called Now? Is a fantastic companion to other war books – both fiction and non-fiction, books like Little Boy Lost, Few Eggs and No Oranges, A Letter to my Children and others.

I wonder though, at Persephone’s choice of title; the original title was “Ceux qui ne dormaient pas” which I believe translates as something like; Those who did not sleep – which I think is a much better title.

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Emmeline is Persephone book number 123, reissued by Persephone in 2017, it’s an American historical novel first published in 1980, by the author of Looking for Mr Goodbar. I haven’t read that earlier novel, which according to Lucy Ellmann in her afterword to this edition is not nearly so well written as Emmeline, calling it a sub-porn peep show. Yet it is that novel which made the author’s name. This novel Ellmann claims – and I absolutely agree – is a howl against the patriarchy. It is also, devastatingly, largely a true story, based on the life of Emeline Bachelder Gurney.

Immediately compelling, Emmeline spans a period of about sixty years, though the majority of the story takes place in the 1840s and 50s. The reader’s anger for Emmeline builds gradually, Judith Rossner reveals the injustices and cruelties that existed for women and girls in a society that punished and judged those who had fallen foul of men’s selfish seductions. Emmeline is punished throughout her life for the crime of another, she hadn’t understood what danger she might be in, and later in life she makes a mistake that no one could possibly have foreseen. The unforgiving nature of the people close to her and the wider community is heart-breaking. It is an unforgettable story.

In 1839, Emmeline Mosher left her home in Fayette, Maine to go and work in the cotton mills of Lowell, Massachusetts – she was thirteen years old. Driven away from the only home she has known by her aunt and uncle on their way home after a visit. It was common in these days for girls of poor families to be sent out to work, they sent money home and became the saviours of their families. Life was difficult for the Mosher family; Emmeline was the eldest of nine children, and there was practically nothing to eat. As her aunt leaves her in Lowell, Emmeline is young, vulnerable, lonely and frightened, she also has the misfortune to be noticeably pretty.

As soon as Emmeline arrives in Lowell, she is housed in one of the many boarding houses that exist for the mill girls to live in. Emmeline’s boarding house is run by Mrs Bass. Everything is new and strange, and Emmeline has little knowledge of the world.

“She was virtually ill with loneliness and cold and could eat very little at each meal. Mrs Bass asked if she was troubled, but she denied it. She had noticed that to be one of Mrs Bass’s favourites was to incur a certain amount of teasing from the other girls, and she wanted desperately to please them.”

The work in the mills is exhausting, the hours are terribly long and the atmosphere of the weaving room choking, though it is remarkable what these girls quickly get used to. Emmeline fails to make any real friends among the other girls in the boarding house – though at first Mrs Bass makes something of a favourite of her. When Mrs Bass warns Emmeline about Mr Maguire the manager of the weaving room where she is placed – Emmeline has no idea what the danger might be – the reader of course knows instantly and knows to fear for Emmeline.

“‘Listen to me Emmeline…’ she uttered the name in the way in which only one other person had ever pronounced it.

‘You must keep away from Mr Maguire. He’s dangerous.’

‘Dangerous? She was awake now. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘You must take my word for it,’ she said ‘He hurts girls like you. A girl was turned off the corporation on his account. A girl who looked … The first time I saw you I thought of her.’

‘What must I do?’ Emmeline asked, frightened in spite of herself.”

However, Emmeline is alone, she misses her mother and home fiercely she has no friends to confide in and no understanding at all of what a certain kind of man might want with her. Mr Maguire is kind to her, takes an interest in her – brings her a shawl from his wife as the weather gets colder, gets his wife to invite her for Christmas day tea – today, of course we would call it grooming, its insidious.


“He smiled. ‘Now I have you in a cage. And whenever I want you, I’ll take you out, and when I’ve done with you, I’ll set you back in.”

It’s an age old story – and it’s Mrs Bass who realises what has happened to Emmeline – and now she is anything but sympathetic. Emmeline’s a child of course, but not viewed as such by anyone. It’s arranged for Emmeline to take refuge with her aunt – the rest of her family aren’t to know about ‘her shame’. Money is extracted from Mr Maguire so that Emmeline can continue to send it back to her family. Her aunt arranges everything, Emmeline is powerless.

Her experiences in Lowell set the course of the rest of her life. When she finally does return to Fayette, she is hiding a secret – one she is desperate to share with her beloved mother but finds she can’t. Had Emmeline told her mother what had happened perhaps things would have been different – perhaps not. Emmeline is relieved to be home – and is happy, staying home quietly, looking after her parents, watching her siblings grow up, get married and begin to have children. Yet the biggest tragedy and greatest test is still to come – Emmeline will in time become a victim of the judgement of those around her, punished and ostracised for the abuse done to her.

I don’t want to give away any more spoilers in this review. Emmeline is a wonderful novel – just don’t expect a happy ending. Rossner recreates the suffocating world of the cotton mills and the spiteful, gossipy boarding houses filled with adolescent girls brilliantly. It is both Emmeline the lonely, vulnerable girl and Emmeline the older woman, alone and ostracised that I will remember for a long time.

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I was away in The Lakes last week – and before going away I changed my mind several times about what reading material I was going to take with me. Something for the 1965 club, my kindle for emergencies and something else. In the end I opted for The Call, a pleasingly fat Persephone book which I anticipated having time to get into properly. This is quite a large book – and a lot happens in it, much more than I can talk about here – it is also hugely readable.

First published in 1924 The Call is a novel of women’s suffrage – among other things. It is also about the struggle for a young woman to be taken seriously within the scientific field. The author’s stepmother was the physicist Hertha Ayrton, and many of the struggles described in this novel were endured by Ayrton.

In about 1909 Ursula Winfield is a young woman living in a conventional upper class home in Lowndes Square with her mother and step-father. Ursula is an only child – and on the face of it very different to her mother Mrs Hibbert, who is a fluffy, little woman who greatly enjoys society and is quite used to having young men dance attendance on her. Colonel Hibbert is typical of the type of military man who believes that women are the weaker sex and deserving of respect and protection. Ursula is like neither of them – she spends most of her time thoroughly engaged in scientific research in her laboratory in the attic. She has little interest in what she wears or looks like – the servants regard her with bewilderment, and local society rarely get a glimpse of her.

Despite the very obvious differences between Ursula and her mother – they have a wonderful relationship which is portrayed beautifully by Zangwill. There’s real sympathy and deep affection between these two women. Mrs Hibbert provides us with some of the novel’s lighter moments – though Zangwill does not allow Mrs Hibbert to be just a small, pretty society lady – she has hidden depths as we discover later on.

At this stage of the novel Ursula has absolutely no interest in the WSPU and is in fact quite horrified by many of the reports of suffragettes in the newspapers. She simply has no time to consider what they are doing very deeply – and is really quite puzzled as to why there is so much fuss about a vote.

It is an excursion to Henley that begins to change many things for Ursula. Here, she encounters some suffragettes, talks to one of them on the train home, a young woman who tells her quite confidently that the day will come when Ursula will seek them out. It is at Henley that Ursula first meets Tony Balestier. Ursula has had no thought of romance at this point in her life – she is far too taken up with science – attending meetings at the Chemical society with her friend Professor Smee. Professor Smee has been a great help to Ursula – and she enjoys his company – however the unhappily married Professor has developed strong unrequited feelings for Ursula, feelings which his sad embittered wife quickly becomes aware of. However, it is Tony who Ursula falls for – and he for her. When Tony has to go abroad for a year or so Ursula is still deeply involved in her scientific research.

“Was it only this morning? Then the world had been a clean and pleasant place of healthy men and women. Now it had become rotten, crawling with obscene abomination. These suffragettes talked as if the vote would help! If people were so vile and bestial, nothing could help, nothing! It was all horrible. She did not want to live. Science was dead, futile. Everything was tainted- even Tony.”

Soon, though and almost against her will – Ursula is drawn to the suffragette cause. She is a fine speaker and proves herself an invaluable part of the struggle. She becomes a key figure in the suffragette movement – working alongside the young woman she once met on that train from Henley. Her involvement spans several tumultuous years and the author shows us how the movement organised itself, and grew quickly surprising its detractors.

Zangwill shows us the dreadful inequalities in the justice system at the time. Ursula throws herself wholeheartedly into the cause – and in doing so she risks everything. Her mother and step-father disapprove naturally and like many women she risks her relationships with the people she cares for most. Her activities take up all her time and so her scientific studies are temporarily shelved. She writes to Tony about what she is doing, with no very clear idea of how he will take it, she does know he is quite a conventional young man.

Ursula is imprisoned, endures force feeding – which is quite honestly and uncompromisingly described – and suffers from the after effects of this dreadful treatment.

“The following night, hunger ceased to worry her, but the thirst was horrible. Her lips were like wood, and her tongue seemed to have grown too large for her mouth. She had a backache, too, as well as a headache, which had got steadily worse. And she was so cold; most of the time she was shivering. When the doctor came in the morning, he looked at her sharply. ‘I don’t believe she is drinking the milk.’ He told the wardress.”

Then the First World War comes along, and everything seems to change almost immediately. Everyone accepts the vote will come – soon. Now, Ursula has a very real purpose for her postponed scientific research – she could actually help save men on the front line.

This wonderfully feminist novel is thoroughly involving and an enormously important testament of the struggle for women’s suffrage and for a woman to be taken seriously in the world of science.

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Half term week always seems like a good time for a big fat Persephone book – and I had several to choose from. Consequences is one of Persephone’s rather older titles – but I only bought it last year. I think I already knew what to expect – a tone very different to the one E M Delafield is best known for in The Provincial Lady. I am embarrassed at how few Delafield I have read – she is a writer I have wanted to explore more of a long time. In Consequences we encounter Delafield’s concern with women’s place in the world, but here there are none of the wry observances I remember from her most famous work. It was in The War Workers; that I first saw the anger that Delafield is also capable of. It is clear, that in Consequences it is that same anger which fuelled her.

Delafield’s own fate was thankfully better than that of the central character in Consequences, the Great war, and her writing gave her a purpose and a direction in life that many women – whether they married or not did not feel. After the First World War, E M Delafield did marry and went on to have two children, publish lots of books and worked with the ministry of National Service, her life was full, and successful – not so the life of Alex Clare in Consequences.

The theme of this beautifully poignant novel is the fate of women of a certain class, who do not marry. Her central character is Alex – an awkward girl, who in time becomes an awkward young woman. The eldest daughter of a gracious society couple Sir Francis and Lady Isabel Clare, Alex continually finds herself at fault, is overly sensitive and easily aggrieved. It is the late nineteenth century, and Alex is a child of a traditional Victorian household, where provision will be made for the boys, the girls expected to marry. In this novel Delafield recreates upper class Victorian family life, convent school days, the anxious social whirl of a young debutante and the hard, privations of the religious life of a nun.

The novel opens with the children playing the game of consequences in the nursery – I remember playing the game at school myself – you write down a name, fold the paper over, pass it to the next person, who writes down what’s said and so the game goes on. Alex is twelve as the novel opens, she has two younger sisters and two younger brothers, all of whom are ably managed by Nanny.

Having several times incurred the wrath of her parents and been responsible for an accident involving her sister Barbara – Alex is sent to a convent school in Belgium. It seems that from here on Alex’s life is set on a path that won’t end happily. Her starry eyed infatuation over her friend Queenie Torrance, puts her at odds with the nuns, who decree that girls should not show any special preference for one over another.

“She left the misery of that black Saturday behind her, and was left with her childish nerves a little shattered, her childish confidence of outlook rather more overshadowed, her childish strength less steady, and above all, set fast in her childish mind the ineradicable, unexplained conviction that because she had loved Queenie Torrance and had been punished and rebuked for it, therefore to love was wrong.”

Alex isn’t a very likeable character, she is just as able to annoy the reader as she does the people around her, she is a product of her upbringing and environment, and is often her own worst enemy. Yet, it is still possible to feel some sympathy for this awkward young woman as she attempts to make her way in a world she doesn’t quite understand. The time comes for Alex to return home, to put her hair up and be launched upon society. Other young women are as little prepared as Alex, and yet they seem to find their way much better. Alex had expected that everything would be fine once she was grown up – everything would fall into place, she would be successful, and she would be happy.

‘It seemed to Alex that when she joined the mysterious ranks of grown-up-people everything would be different. She never doubted that with long dresses and piled-up hair, her whole personality would change, and the meaningless chaos of life reduce itself to some comprehensible solution.’

Alex comes out into society, dressed beautifully and accompanied by her mother. She attends balls and dinners, with some enthusiasm at first, but isn’t a great success. She feels what she sees as her own failure keenly, and once again she is at odds with those around her. She enjoys a brief illusory sense of success when she meets again a young man she knew slightly in childhood. Following a very brief, aborted engagement to the only man to show any interest in her – Alex is lured back to convent life by a local Mother Superior who shows her kindness. After a year, she is back in Belgium at the convent where she was once a schoolgirl.

Though even this isn’t the end of Alex’s story. Just as her engagement had once felt wrong, after nine years in a convent Alex realises, she has no vocation for the religious life – and must ask to leave – a long, difficult process, and what possible life will she have back in England?

“Alex found herself reading of emotions and experiences of which her own seemed so feeble a mockery, that she was conscious of a physical pang of sick disappointment. 
Was all fiction utterly untrue to life? Or was hers the counterfeit, which the printed pages but reproduced something of a reality which was denied to her?” 

There is a terrible inevitability to Alex’s fate – she has never learned to get along with people, is unable to empathise with them – and just as in her days of childhood she is still quick to feel other’s criticism. The reader knows even at this stage that Alex is unlikely to find her happy ending.

Despite being over 400 pages, Consequences is a fairly quick read – it is hugely compelling – and Delafield’s writing made me sit up late turning the pages – I just had to know what was next for poor Alex Clare

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This year the Librarything Virago group are reading the 1940s, a project that is right up my reading alley. The majority of us I think will be sticking to our VMC and Persephone editions, with perhaps a few Furrowed Middlebrow titles from Dean Street Press sneaking in. Each month has a different theme – with our January reading focused on family.

Margaret Bonham’s story itself is told in the preface to this edition by her daughter Cary Bazalgette. Margaret Bonham and her husband had lived in Devon before and after the Second World War, and it is this area of the country that Cary Bazalgette says is present throughout these stories. Place is always so important to me, and I know Devon well and so these stories resonated with me from that point of view. The Train and the Gun feature the train line that runs along the coast between Dawlish and Teignmouth – a place I know very well, Sidmouth and Ashburton also feature though aren’t named. A story called The River in which a fond father goes to great lengths to please his little daughter on their afternoon walks by the river – takes place along the banks of the River Yeo.

In 1948 Margaret Bonham left her children when her marriage broke up and didn’t see them again until 1950 when custody arrangements were settled. Bazalgette and her brother didn’t live with their mother – and so for her daughter particularly these stories stood in for her – to be read and re-read over and over.

There are mothers and children throughout this volume of fifteen stories, some fathers too, though few of the children featured have two parents. I thoroughly enjoyed this whole collection, stories of great subtlety, they turned out to be exactly the kind of stories I expect from Persephone, which are the kinds of short stories I like best.

The title story comes first, and it shows to perfection the author’s skill in capturing a brief moment. It concerns a group of English girls on the French coast, who enlist the help of Mademoiselle – their French governess – in pleading their cause in a visit to The Casino. Valentine rather wishes that Giselle didn’t have to come, and Rhys is not sure she wants to go at all – after all anything might happen at a casino. Kitty suggests Giselle will ‘make it look better – in case they are raped.’ Permission granted – though they are only to be allowed to go until eight o’clock – preparations get underway, and all the while Rhys feels uneasy about the adventure. If you’re looking for sudden dramatic endings, Bonham is not that writer – here Bonham’s brilliance is in the disappointment of a longed for treat.

One of my other favourite stories was Vicky – clearly set in Sidmouth – where the Vicky of the title lives with her three aunts, Agnes, Marianne and Violet.

“On a painted iron seat facing the sea the three aunts waited. Behind them the row of flat Georgian houses, their gardens gritty with sand, were closed and withdrawn from the sun, the striped blinds lowered. At either end the cliffs, like slices of pink cake with green icing, shut out the view and enclosed the bay.”

(Vicky)

The aunts remember the past, when they were young girls and motor cars were new. It was a time when young men danced with them and took them driving – yet they never married. Their brother George married late in life – and Vicky has never been told much about him. An old family friend Mrs Casey and her daughter Henrietta pay a visit, and the girls are thrown together – taking a walk down to the sea. Here, Vicky’s certainty is shaken when a tragic secret is revealed.

In Annabel’s Mother Bonham has created a child of rather monstrous precocity. Her mother feels unequal to dealing with her – Annabel’s constant prattle about things she has read or learned her incessant questioning has worn her mother down to such an extent that she sees that all Annabel’s school holidays are spent at hotels.

“‘Mummy,’ she said, ‘do you know why there’s an extra high tide today?’
‘No, dear.’
‘Mummy, you are dull; don’t you really know?’
‘No, dear; why?’
‘It’s because of the moon.’
‘I think we better start unpacking.’
‘Mummy don’t you want to learn?’”
(Annabel’s Mother)

Having had her scant knowledge scorned by her twelve-year-old daughter for so long, Annabel’s mother; Mrs Keven has no confidence at all in challenging the confident assertions that Annabel comes up with. As their latest holiday gets under way with Annabel continuing to decry her mother’s past schooling and intelligence Mrs Keven locks eyes with another resident Mr Ferris. In Ferris, Annabel has quite possibly met her match, and Mrs Keven is given reason to be glad of this break after all.

The two Mrs Reeds features Lucy; a woman who almost scandalises the maternity ward completely by sailing through her daughter’s birth with breezy unconcern. When another woman comes into the bed next to her, Lucy discovers she is called Mrs Reed, which initially amuses her because she was once called Mrs Reed, when married to her first husband. She announces to the ward – so there should be no confusion, that she divorced him. Lucy’s husband, a farmer is Louis, a Frenchman – who we see more of in the next story featuring this couple – and Lucy must enlist his help when she discovers that Mrs Reed’s husband is indeed her own first husband.

In The Miss – Lucy and Louis have an evening away from their children at the cinema – date night 1940s style. They meet a woman there – they kind of woman the two of them call ‘a miss.’ Intrigued and amused a little by her – they offer her a lift and end up getting invited in. It gradually becomes clear that their ‘miss’ is rather an odd character.

the casino

Bonham’s storytelling is excellent – it is clear that the short story form suited her perfectly. She did publish one novel in 1951 – but that doesn’t seem to have been successful. I am sorry there isn’t more out there to read by Margaret Bonham. This was an excellent pick for our ‘Reading the 1940s’ – as there are many different kinds of family portrayed here.

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Can there be, for the dedicated Persephone reader, a more marvellous thing than a new Whipple? Like many other Persephone readers; I was very excited when I heard there was to be a new, and sadly a last Whipple.

Young Anne first published in 1927 was Dorothy Whipple’s debut novel. With its Persephone release all of Dorothy Whipple’s books are finally back in print – why they remained out of print so long is a mystery. I envy those readers who have yet to discover Dorothy Whipple – though I will have the joy of re-reading them all.

There is no great drama in this novel – it is the story of life – Whipple’s characterisation absolutely drives this novel – which is still enormously compelling, told with huge compassion.

“How changed he was! How assured! A man of the world, this George, who had once been poor, bitter, crude. How changed they both were…”

Dorothy Whipple’s first novel – published when she was in her thirties – was very autobiographical. We follow the growth, education, life and loves of Anne Pritchard from the time she is just five years old through to a time when she is finally settled. We first meet young Anne sat in the church pew alongside the rest of her Lancastrian family, her middle-class parents, and brothers Gerald and Philip. Mr Pritchard is a stern, inflexible presence throughout Anne’s childhood – he stops short of being a bully, but his unsmiling, traditionalism feels quite suffocating.

“‘Anne, go back to bed at once!’
‘But I’m frickened,’ she whimpered, holding her cold toes in her hands to warm them.
‘What on earth is there to be frightened of? Asked her father impatiently.
‘There’s all sorts of things looking at me,’ she wailed. ‘Weary Willie and Tired Tim and things.’
‘Olive!’ Henry Pritchard protested angrily to the recumbent figure of his wife, ‘I absolutely forbid you to let the children have those vulgar comic papers.’”

Anne is instantly lovable, and thankfully not perfect – perfect children are not all that attractive. For Anne, the most important member of the household is Emily, the maid – who shows Anne such love that she becomes an alternative mother figure to the child – destined to follow her through life wherever she goes.

As a little girl Anne goes to a local school run by a couple of middle aged sisters. According to the wonderful preface by Lucy Mangan, this is one of the things in the novel that mirrors Dorothy Whipple’s own life. The school is closed when one sister dies suddenly – from starvation – it seemed that no one had realised they had no money for food.

In this novel Whipple’s peripheral characters are of equal importance, fully fleshed out they have a lot to tell us about the society that Dorothy Whipple was writing about. Whipple is always particularly clear sighted about societal differences – those petty snobberies and tender feelings that come between people when class rears its ugly head. Even as a quite tiny girl Anne recognises something in George Yates that is different – she hasn’t yet learned about class distinction – but she soon will. It is Mildred Yates – a child Anne rather admires – who makes it quite clear to Anne that her cousin George’s social position is not the same as hers. Mildred is a wonderful creation – even as a child she is something of a horror. Another superb creation is Vera Bowden Anne’s much older cousin, a pretty, unhappily married woman who loves to flirt with other men to make her disappointing life more bearable.

Anne’s parents decide to send her to a Catholic convent school as a day girl, she is practically the only protestant pupil, but soon learns to appreciate the kindly sisters and comes to enjoy her time there. As a very young woman Anne finds love and loses it, too young perhaps to fully understand the nuances and complexities of relationships. It is a love that she will not entirely shake off – later the past will return to threaten a fragile happiness.

A change in family circumstances means Anne must go to live with her dreadful Aunt Orchard soon after completing her education, the grimness of this is relieved by the faithful presence of Emily – who goes too – not forgetting the black kitten Onions. Aunt Orchard is a magnificently dreadful creation, petty, selfish and prone to extreme rages – her house is no kind of home to Anne – who hits upon the idea of a secretarial college course – to get herself out the house and secure some independence. Emily continues to be the most wonderful support she will endure almost anything for Anne’s sake, her slanging matches with Aunt Orchard are quite hilarious. She even loans Anne the money for her course.

“She thought with satisfaction how her position in the house had eased since she had been able to hand over fifteen shillings a week out of her salary, now twenty-five shillings, and make up what she considered the deficiency in mending and aspidistra washing and putting up with Aunt Orchard generally. The bread of dependence had been very bitter.”

We see Anne earn her first pay packet, make decisions for herself, enter into a more grown up (dare I say less romantic) relationship. By the time we leave Anne – she has changed – made mistakes and learned from them. In Anne, Whipple has created a realistically flawed young woman, one who we sympathise with and like enormously despite her faults.

I absolutely loved Young Anne – what a fabulous debut it was back in 1927 – and what a wonderful high for Persephone to complete their Whipple re-issues with.

ypounganne

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The Persephone mini readathon seems a long time ago already, the second book I read during my own slightly longer Persephone readathon was The Carlyles at Home. This is an earlier Persephone book that I had managed to completely overlook until recently.

Written in the 1960s, it portrays the home life of writer and philosopher Thomas Carlyle and his wife, during the thirty odd years they lived at Cheyne Row in Chelsea. Thea Holme; the author, wrote it while she and her husband were living in the house as custodians. She confines herself to everyday matters in the Carlyles lives, staying well away from the nature of the Carlyles marriage for example, Thomas Carlyle’s work is mentioned almost in passing. Small domestic concerns, problems with servants, home improvements and noise from neighbours. Each of the eleven chapters focus on a different aspect of the Carlyles lives at Cheyne Row.

Of the two Carlyles, it is Jane we get to know best through this book, though even she remains a little enigmatic. The house in Cheyne Row where she and her husband lived emerges as the third character in this lovely little book and those with an interest in houses will love it. The endpapers for this Persephone edition shows a detail from a Chelsea interior by Robert Tait and depicts the largest room on the ground floor of the house with Thomas and Jane in situ.

It was in 1834 that Thomas and Jane Carlyle moved into the house on Cheyne Row in Chelsea, and it wasn’t until after his wife’s death in 1866 that Thomas Carlyle left. The Carlyles had originated from Scotland, and Chelsea, though not quite so fashionable then, as it was to become, had houses that Thomas had declared to be cheap and excellent. We first encounter the couple as they await the Pickfords van, accompanied by their maid Bessie, they are obliged to eat their first meal there off the top of a box lid covered with a towel.

“But after two days of picnicking, with carpenters and bell hangers finishing their work, and pieces of furniture broken on the journey from Scotland being mended, at last the house was cleared of workmen and the floors could be swept; the carpets were laid – nailed down by Jane herself – the heavy curtains from Craigenputtock, altered to fit the London windows, were hung on their brass rods; the books were sorted and housed, and Carlyle was settled into his library on the first floor with his writing table and one of the horsehair dining chairs to start work as soon as he pleased.”

We meet the succession of maids who come to Cheyne Row to work for the Carlyles, they are a colourful bunch, and Jane seemed to have had quite a close relationship with a couple of them. There’s the maid who gives birth in the china closet, the maid who is found passed out drunk on the floor, another becomes a trusted member of the household – almost part of the family. These domestic concerns were more Jane’s remit than Thomas’s, but it seems Jane also took a good deal of responsibility for matters of finance – which must have been a bit unusual during the Victorian period. Jane was also concerned with allowing Thomas the time, space and peace in which to work.

“A cock crowing in the small hours woke him instantly: he would thump his bed in wrath, then jump up and pace the room, waiting furiously for the next crow, which would sometimes drive him out of the house, to walk about the streets till morning.”

Noise was a constant battle – Thomas Carlyle had a mania for quiet and found himself easily disturbed. Cockerels seem to have been popular in Chelsea at this time, and Thomas Carlyle was driven to distraction by their early morning cries, what with them and neighbours’ daughters who practise piano – Jane is forced to write polite notes to their Chelsea neighbours which appear to have been received in good part.

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The constant search for quiet prompted at least some of the house renovations that took place during these years. Here too, Jane was generally left to superintend the dreadful upheaval while her husband would take himself off – often to Scotland – to escape the noise. One of the projects undertaken was an attic study – a room that should be completely cut off from all noise.

Aside from all these mini domestic dramas there are lots of period details about money, food and clothing. Jane is forced to go to a ball décolleté and is horrified at the thought of all that flesh on show – though finally she is rather charmed at how good she looks. Even the servants wear bustles which must be accommodated – all of which does get a bit difficult when moving around.

Jane it appears was an extremely good manager of money – she never wasted money on herself – and has to carefully instruct her husband on the mysteries of housekeeping money. Thomas Carlyle comes across as complaining and petty – a difficult man to live with I suspect. Whether this view of Jane Carlyle is a little romanticised or not I couldn’t tell as I knew nothing about her before reading this. She emerges as the stronger more capable of the two.

The Carlyles at Home is a social history of Victorian life in Chelsea but is also a wonderful introduction to an interesting and enigmatic couple, about whom people have long speculated.

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