Own up, I bet you've all been wondering how long it would be before I posted about a Persephone book because yes, I do have virtually all of them and have been gathering them since the year dot.Here's an old picture because you do one of two things with a collection like this;separate shelves creating feature or merge.
I've since gone for merge and this cabinet now the home of Penelope Fitzgerald, Anita Brookner, Bernice Rubens et al.
I'm an occasional Persephone reader now, just one maybe two every so often because I've realised I'm a danger to myself with books like this.
You must know me by now, I can buy into nostalgia at the merest hint of afternoon tea and scones especially if served by a housemaid but the trouble is then I get stuck in a time warp and before you know it I'm off to count the linen and worrying about whether nanny has the children ready to take for a walk before nursery tea.
It's far too easy to do when you live in a country cottage setting.
Too many Persephone reads in succession and I'm in trouble and having difficulty sorting out which world I live in. An undeniable hankering after embroidered tablecloths, knitted teacosies and spoons in the jam quickly follows.As the Gamekeeper (son of dgr) wanders in and slaps a dead rabbit (paunched not skinned) on the table right next to the triple-tiered cake stand I'll have hysterics and scream "take it to cook this minute" followed by an attack of the vapours.
So rationing is for my own good and the well-being of others chez dgr who do not appreciate the nuances and gentility of a fine lace doily.
Robert Hewison would argue that I'm sensible to do that; although he would suggest that preserving the past is part of the impulse to preserve the self (that justifies the contents of our loft then) too much nostalgia also has its dangers and he elaborates very thought-provokingly in his book The Heritage Industry: Britain in a Climate of Decline which is quite a revealing expose of the growth,manufacture and marketing of heritage.
"Nostalgic memory should not be confused with true recall. For the individual, nostalgia filters out unpleasant aspects of the past and our former selves, creating a self-esteem that helps us to rise above the anxieties of the present.Collectively, nostalgia supplies the deep links that identify a particular generation; nationally it is the source of binding social myths".
Clearly I need saving from myself.
However, along comes House-Bound by Winifred Peck with an afterword by Penelope Fitzgerald and I think, oh hang it all, just a quick fix won't harm, let me ring the bell for the tea trolley.
Winifred Peck was of the Knox family, sister to the brothers written about so knowingly by Penelope Fitzgerald in her biography The Knox Brothers because one of them, Edmund (known as Evoe), was Penelope's father.By all accounts they were a truly remarkable family so it's easy to see what a rich source of talent there was for Penelope Fitzgerald to inherit.Yet in many ways all this highlights Winifred's invisibility in the family line up because I've had the book on my shelves for years (treasured signed first edition) and I had never noticed that there were two seemingly silent unnamed daughters in amongst the well-labelled sons.That's Winifred in the back row.
First published in 1942 by Faber, House-Bound is ostensibly a book about the maelstrom of war for a well-to-do family in Castleburgh (a fictional Edinburgh) but within that Rose battles her own war with her house as the enemy.It bullies and cajoles her as she is overwhelmed with the duties she must perfom in the absence of any maids.
While "Empires might rock and kingdoms fall" Rose meets "her Waterloo with a tin of Vim" and husband Stuart steadfastly remains "a great, idle, hulking fellow" congenitally incapable of even polishing his own shoes.His worst nightmare realized as he declares to Rose in abject horror "I can't have you opening the door to tradespeople".
As the new world order emerges so does a new way of thinking and Penelope Fitzgerald in her excellent afterword sums it up as only she could and perhaps she was thinking along the same lines as Robert Hewison
"There is nostalgia here, Winnie would never have denied that.But there is also the confidence to leave the past where it belongs and to make a reasonable job of the future"