I love ranking things. Ever since I was young, I’ve liked making lists of favourite-to-least-favourite (or, mixing it up, least-favourite-to-favourite). That’s why my end-of-year Best Books list are always in order. It feels incomplete otherwise. And so, with the Persephone Readathon happening, I thought I’d rank all the Persephone Books I’ve read. (Not including the two I’m currently reading.) 1 = least favourite; 57 = most favourite. Each comes with a very inadequate one-sentence thought about it.
A few caveats – I love Persephone, so even things towards the bottom of the list are v good reads. Anything from about #10 onwards I would heartily recommend. And I’ve put titles in bold if I read them before they became Persephones – which turned out to be rather interesting…
Do you have any violent disagreements with my list? Any unread Persephones I need to get to asap?
1. It’s Hard to Be Hip Over Thirty by Judith Viorst
The only Persephone I really, really dislike. Tedious, annoying, and bad poetry too.
2. Princes in the Land by Joanna Cannan
I found the main woman very unsympathetic, and I don’t think we were meant to…
3. Reuben Sachs by Amy Levy
I don’t remember much at all about this, except I wasn’t bowled over.
4. Making Conversation by Christine Longford
This was fine, but seemed much less engaging than many novels Persephone have turned down.
5. The Happy Tree by Rosalind Murray
6. Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill
Don’t remember much about these, except that Athill writes better non-fic.
7. The Closed Door and other stories by Dorothy Whipple
This was one very good story told over and over and over again…
8. Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
The tone felt a bit all over the place, but engaging nonetheless.
9. Consider the Years by Virginia Graham
I enjoyed this, but Graham’s humorous Say Please and Here’s How are worlds better.
10. Hetty Dorval by Ethel Wilson
Only so low because I don’t remember anything at all about it!
11. The Sack of Bath by Adam Fergusson
A fascinating look at how Bath was drastically altered by bad planning decisions. (See, I already love books this low down the list!)
12. Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson
A favourite for many, but I found the writing a little sub-par at times.
13. Fidelity by Susan Glaspell
I seem to remember a great scene with sheep?
14. Minnie’s Room by Mollie Panter-Downes
Poignant and well-written short stories, but I like MPD best at full-length.
15. Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski
This tale of a lost child has somehow almost totally gone from my mind.
16. High Wages by Dorothy Whipple
Love the shop stuff, but feels more lightweight than other Whipple novels.
17. Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson
The twist was a bit too heavily signposted, but an entertaining tale.
18. The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens
Dickens in serious mode is great (though not as good as One Pair of Hands!)
19. Greenbanks by Dorothy Whipple
I read this eons ago and remember nothing about it.
20. William – an Englishman by Cicely Hamilton
The first Persephone, and a shocking, raw novel about war. So much for ‘cosy’ books.
21. There Were No Windows by Norah Hoult
A novel about dementia, sensitively told.
22. The Children Who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham
A classic children’s tale of being accidentally abandoned – what’s not to like?
23. Doreen by Barbara Noble
A brilliant perspective on evacuation in wartime, and competing parent figures.
24. The Making of a Marchioness by Frances Hodgson Burnett
Everybody loves a Cinderella story, right?
25. Lettice Delmer by Susan Miles
Who knew a verse novel could be so good? And theologically interesting, no less.
26. The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf
I don’t remember a lot about this, but it’s good to have an illustration of Virginia Woolf’s life.
27. Tea With Mr Rochester by Frances Towers
Some lovely stories with heavy literary influence.
28. Journal by Katherine Mansfield
One of my favourite writers, but her journal is a bit all over the place.
29. The New House by Lettice Cooper
This feels like the quintessential 1930s domestic novel. It’s great.
30. To Bed With Grand Music by Marghanita Laski
An amusing gender-reversed Casanova tale of a woman finding adulterous lovers in wartime.
31. A House in the Country by Jocelyn Playfair
A much less ‘domestic-style’ novel than you’d expect – biting and extremely well told.
32. On the Other Side by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg
This non-fic account of being an anti-Nazi German in Nazi Germany shines an important light on WW2.
33. The Priory by Dorothy Whipple
This is wildly too long, but an engaging domestic drama.
34. The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay-Holding
A tense sort-of-thriller, and a great character study.
35. The Victorian Chaise-Longue by Marghanita Laski
A short and fascinating time travel novel – pacy and quite moving.
36. Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson
I love Ferguson’s quirky novels, but she’s also great in (slightly) more traditional mode.
37. They Knew Mr Knight by Dorothy Whipple
A powerful novel about an interloper ruining a family – including a good depiction of faith.
38. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
Who doesn’t love this frothy Cinderella tale? We all love it.
39. Bricks and Mortar by Helen Ashton
Such an engaging, enjoyable novel about architecture and family.
40. The Village by Marghanita Laski
There are a zillion novels about class relations in 1940s villages, and this is the Platonic ideal.
41. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher
Still very ahead of its time in showing a house-husband (and was ahead of its time in showing a working mother).
42. The Fortnight in September by R.C. Sherriff
I was late to the Sherriff party, but his beautifully ordinary novels are exceptional.
43. Flush by Virginia Woolf
I’m putting this high up because it’s Queen Virginia, but it’s probably her least interesting novel, and definitely didn’t need rescuing.
44. Consequences by E.M. Delafield
One of my first Persephone reads – dark and brilliant, like much EMD.
45. Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey
Divides people, but I found this odd, short novel extremely funny.
46. Miss Ranskill Comes Home by Barbara Euphan Todd
Shipwrecked woman returns to England during WW2 – a fantastic way of giving an unusual perspective on wartime.
47. Greengates by R.C. Sherriff
Same as the previous Sherriff, but with extra love because it’s also about houses.
48. Greenery Street by Denis Mackail
A funny, happy novel about marriage – rare and lovely.
49. The Runaway by Elizabeth Anna Hart
A fun children’s novel, so high up because Gwen Raverat’s woodcuts are so wonderful.
50. A Very Great Profession by Nicola Beauman
A groundbreaking work on middlebrow fiction that is basically a guide to the world of Persephone, written a decade before it started.
51. Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple
I’m pretty sure everybody agrees this is Whipple’s best novel. A well-told story of a butterfly effect.
52. London War Notes by Mollie Panter-Downes
MPD’s fortnightly columns about war give a fascinating overview of the experience, as it happened.
53. A Writer’s Diary by Virginia Woolf
A masterpiece of editing, giving Woolf’s astonishing insights into being The Best Writer of the 20th Century (TM).
54. Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge
This, it turns out, is my favourite Persephone book that I didn’t know before it was a Persephone. A wonderful novel about being a wife and mother in Oxfordshire countryside.
55. Family Roundabout by Richmal Crompton
Totally compelling, and with RC’s greatest characters in the two covertly warring matriarchs.
56. Guard Your Daughters by Diana Tutton
Hilarious, warm, delightful – and also a little dark. So thrilled this is now a Persephone.
57. Diary of a Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield
I still don’t think this should have been a Persephone, when there are so many out of print Delafield novels to be discovered – but it has to go at the top because it might well be my favourite novel. How could it not?
I’d love it if other people wanted to go crazy and rank all the Persephones they’ve read. And I’d love your thoughts on my list!