By Charlotte Bonner
Persephone Books was founded by writer Nicola Beauman in the spring of 1999. Initially inspired by Virago Press (who published her first book) and their commitment to reprinting lost classics of women’s literature, Persephone Books reprints neglected fiction and non-fiction books, the majority by women writers and almost all originally published in the mid-twentieth century.
They describe their books as “intelligent, thought-provoking and beautifully written.” They currently have 143 titles published, from novels to short stories, diaries to memoirs, poetry to gardening books. Each title is reprinted with an elegant grey jacket, a fabric endpaper with matching bookmark and a preface by writers such as Rachel Reeves, Elizabeth Day or Lucy Ellmann. Alongside their grey books, they also reprinted fourteen of their bestselling books in a Classics collection, styled in more “bookshop-friendly” editions, displaying pictures on the covers and without the coloured endpapers.
Examples of their grey books are William – an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton, The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart and Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers. Some examples from their Classics collections are Mariana by Monica Dickens, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher and Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham.
One of their bestselling books is Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson (2000). This was their twenty-first book to be published and hit the bestsellers list with over 100,000 sales by 2012. The release and brilliant reception of this book moved Persephone Books from having modest sales to a recognised independent publisher.
Persephone was chosen as their name due to it being a symbol of female creativity, as well as new beginnings. The goddess Persephone, daughter of Zeus, is associated with spring and emerging back into the light, as they believe their own books do. Persephone was also a victim in the myths, and they believe this also aligns perfectly with their want to upend the devaluing of women writers in literary culture and to restore previously lost works.
Originally located in London, Persephone Books moved to Bath in 2021 where they now own a shop, situated in a Grade II Listed building (fitting perfectly with their theme of restoring the past), which sells their books as well as holding events and book groups. On every second Wednesday of the month at 6 p.m., a book group meets to discuss one of the grey books, and on every third Thursday at 10:30 a.m., another group meets to read one of the Classics. They also organise film screenings, such as the upcoming one of Ethel and Ernest by Raymond Briggs, and anniversary celebrations, such as the upcoming lunch to discuss The Rector’s Daughter by Flora Mayor on the exact day of the 150-year anniversary of the author’s birth. In attendance will be the author’s great-niece who will give a talk and listen to the BBC dramatisation of the novel.
Many of the books that Persephone Books publish were written about in Nicola Beauman’s 1983 book A Very Great Profession: The Woman’s Novel, 1914-38. With the book containing a mixture of literary criticism and social history, it also influenced their focus on women’s everyday lives – the “domestic feminism.” Their books are all linked by the idea of 'home,' however, that doesn’t mean that many of their characters don’t have careers or, in one case, fly an aeroplane. Some of the titles also come from suggestions given by the public and their customers. Persephone Books only releases reprints, however, and does not take submissions for new releases.
On their website, they feature and regularly update multiple blogs for their readers. The Persephone Post features pictures with a short description that have close parallels to their books and is updated every weekday. The Persephone Perspective is updated once a month and features a closer, more in-depth, look at one of their books. The Persephone Letter contains all up-to-date news and information about the world of Persephone Books. And finally, The Persephone Biannually is a magazine for their subscribers (with past issues available for free on their website) which includes articles and information of their newest publications.
As a subscriber to Persephone Books, you can also get a monthly book sent to your address for £180 (including postage) for a twelve-month subscription, or £90 for a six-month subscription. Gift subscriptions are also available for purchase.
Alongside the physical editions of their wonderful reprints, Persephone Books also sells audiobook and e-book editions of their titles. A catalogue of all their titles can be found on their website. You can order their books through their website, in their Bath shop or at your local bookshop.