How one standalone bookseller can brighten your life.

The Observer once described Persephone Books as ‘the nearest thing British publishing has to a cult’.

What is now perilously close to becoming a fully-fledged lifestyle brand was founded in 1999 as a mail-order publisher. The formidable Nicola Beauman, a writer who used a small inheritance from her father to launch the business once her five children had flown the nest, still runs the show.

The books she publishes are of a theme (more on which later) but they are also always intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written. ‘I like a novel where at the end you are totally gutted, because you’ve been in a different universe for four hours,’ Beauman says.



Persephone had relatively humble beginnings. Beauman, who is 77, started it in a room above a pub and used as her first database a list of women she’d been at school with. These days, you can buy the 141 titles through the website (a visit to which feels almost like a visit to a lovely old library), at the enchanting shop in Bath or via your local bookshop. Calling it ‘a mecca for female creatives’, Vogue counts it as one of the best bookshops in the land.

Here are some of the many reasons we love Persephone so.

ONE


Its laudable raison d’etre is to print neglected fiction and non-fiction titles, mostly by women writers and mostly from the mid-twentieth century. Its vibe is neither too literary nor too commercial. Think The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson and Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple.


TWO


Persephone only publishes books that its team really, truly loves. Their passion is infectious. People who catch the Persephone bug catch it very badly.



THREE


The books tend to focus on and celebrate domesticity. As Beauman’s daughter Francesca told Vogue: ‘People at the time thought they were trivial because they wrote about the everyday. The grand themes of war and terror or revolution are all very well, but what about what people eat, and what they wear, and how they get their kids to school when they’re ill? How do they do their washing up? That’s what really makes up day-to-day life.’


FOUR


Each Persephone title has an elegant grey jacket, which looks sensational on a bookshelf. The more you have lined up, the better they look. The team says: ‘Persephone books are all grey because – well – we really like grey. We also had a vision of a woman who comes home tired from work, and there is a book waiting for her, and it doesn’t matter what it looks like because she knows she will enjoy it.



‘Our books look beautiful because we believe that, whether they are on an office desk, by the Aga, or hanging in a bag over the handles of a pram, it is important to take pleasure from how they look and feel.’


FIVE


Persephone invites a contemporary writer to pen a preface for each title they publish. The fabulous roster of writers who’ve done so includes Elizabeth Day, Diana Athill and Jilly Cooper.



SIX


Twice a year, Persephone publishes a pretty, chic, thoughtful pamphlet called Persephone Biannually. With wonderful illustrations, elegant essays on the latest titles and letters from readers, it is a sheer joy. If you aren’t on the mailing list for it, sign up immediately. (Though rumour has it you’ll be struck off the list if you never buy any books.)



SEVEN


Every member of the team stops for tea and cake every day at 4pm – a custom that is all too rare in 2022 but would delight the characters in most Persephone books.


EIGHT


Everything at Persephone is done in excellent taste. Each book is typeset in a particular, very attractive font, ITC Baskerville. If they wrap a book for you, it’s in lovely Cambridge Imprint paper. They use designer patterns and prints from the year each book is published for their cardboard endpapers and for the bookmarks that you will use for ever.



NINE


The shop itself – which first opened in that most dreamy of London shopping spots, Lambs Conduit Street, and moved after the pandemic to Bath – is a peaceful little pocket of paradise. If you are ever planning a trip to Bath, look up Persephone’s programme of events for while you are there. Their inspired schedule includes talks, film showings and book club meetings – which are usually enhanced by a glass of madeira.

By Becky Ladenburg
April 2022

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Becky Ladenburg

Features Editor

As the GWG's features editor, Becky has her discerning finger on the cultural pulse. She's also our go-to expert on the property market.

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