I decided to rank all the Persephones (…that I’ve read)

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

As above!

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!

27 thoughts on “I decided to rank all the Persephones (…that I’ve read)

  • February 8, 2018 at 7:35 pm
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    I do love a list! I have some violent disagreements with your ordering but they are all highly predictable (you know how I feel about Diana Tutton and Dorothy Whipple). Might have to give this a go myself…

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  • February 8, 2018 at 7:51 pm
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    Thanks for that, Simon! I love lists too! Apart from the 4 I mentioned in my last comment, I have also read a Monica Dickens, just not that one. Glad the few I HAVE read here in darkest Africa figured largely near the top of your list! We really struggle a) to get hold of books not high on the bestseller lists, and b) to afford them at all! I thank God daily for the huge personal library I built up during my academic years.
    You could almost say that I live in a library, not a flat — every inch of available space is filled with bookshelves ! I really enjoy your blog! Ros Goodman.

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  • February 8, 2018 at 8:05 pm
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    Ha! I have an appointment at Persephone tomorrow, will bring your list and a large tote bag.

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  • February 8, 2018 at 8:05 pm
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    That must have been fun. You’ve read a lot more Persephone than I have, although I’m working on it. I would put Greenbanks higher and The Victorian Chaise-Longue lower.

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  • February 8, 2018 at 8:16 pm
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    The first dozen are my favorites, after that, it was hard to rank them. From most favorite to least:
    Diary of a Provincial Lady
    Little Boy Lost
    Doreen
    Someone at a Distance
    The Home-Maker
    Greenery Street
    The New House
    The Fortnight in September
    The Winds of Heaven
    Heat Lightning
    Greengates
    Good Evening, Mrs Craven
    A House in the Country
    House-Bound
    Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day
    Family Roundabout
    London War Notes
    No Surrender
    The Village
    Wilfred and Eileen
    They Were Sisters
    Minnie’s Room
    The Closed Door and Other Stories
    High Wages
    Greenbanks
    Operation Heartbreak
    Cheerful Weather for a Wedding
    William
    The Priory
    Miss Buncle’s Book
    The Two Mrs Abbotts
    I’m currently reading Guard Your Daughters.

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  • February 8, 2018 at 8:38 pm
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    Have only (!) read about 10, but how can you leave out Miss Ranskill?!

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    • February 12, 2018 at 10:59 pm
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      I didn’t! It’s there! One of my faves :)

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  • February 8, 2018 at 11:53 pm
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    I didn’t like Bricks and Mortar by Ashton – and I thought I would have loved it.
    I remember reading Flush and loving it but that was 30 years ago.

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    • February 9, 2018 at 10:00 am
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      I agree–i was disappointed with BRICKS.Too much about architecture.
      The only Ashton i love is MACKEREL SKY which should be republished.

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  • February 9, 2018 at 12:06 am
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    ‘Fortnight in Sept’ would be quite high on my list, but I’m in total agreement with you about ‘It’s Hard to be Hip’. HATED. IT.

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  • February 9, 2018 at 12:37 am
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    I love a list, some of your lower ranking titles I obviously liked a lot more than you. I am going to get a copy of Consequences, someone put me off it, but I don’t mind dark and often love it, so it’s on the wish list. Not surprised to see Guard your Daughters Hostages to Fortune, Family Roundabout and Provincial lady ranked so highly.

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  • February 9, 2018 at 2:33 am
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    I am so glad you did this. It is always interesting to see how someone else ranks books. I haven’t read nearly as many Persephones as you but thankfully, you rate some of my favorites very highly. I think anything Mollie Panter-Downes writes is exceptional and I was fascinated by London War Notes. I have a copy of Guard Your Daughters that I bought ages ago when you first wrote about it but I still haven’t managed to read it. One day. The only book here I think we disagree about is Consequences. I read it ages ago before I had ever heard of Persephone books and I hated it. I could admire the writing but that was it. I wanted to throw it against a wall. I finished it late one night and promptly stormed up the stairs, woke up my husband, and ranted to him about it. I seem to be in the minority with my dislike of it though.

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    • February 12, 2018 at 11:01 pm
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      It does divide people – I love anything EMD wrote, but it is SO different from the Provincial Lady that I can imagine it wouldn’t work for everyone.

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  • February 9, 2018 at 9:57 am
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    I have read 54 Persephones and do not really want to read the others.
    So i am very happy.I disagree that THE PRIORY is too long but when i re read PRINCES IN THE LAND i found i did not enjoy it as much as the first time.Odd.

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  • February 9, 2018 at 4:45 pm
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    Ooo-er! That’s a lot of Persephones! I’ve read several on your list which I love (Pettigrew, Sack of Bath) but *whispers* I was quite taken by the Viorst which I identified with a bit… :s

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    • February 12, 2018 at 10:59 pm
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      Claire also loves it! Maybe now I’m over thirty I’d love it ;)

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  • February 9, 2018 at 7:32 pm
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    I had enough torture when trying to do this for my Booker project – never again. If you have the kind of mind that enables you to judge well, then this kind of exercise is great. But for sitting-on-the-fence people like me it would be hell :)

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    • February 12, 2018 at 11:00 pm
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      Ha, I can imagine! I just love putting things in order. (In lists… I’m not very good at tidying.)

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  • February 10, 2018 at 12:11 pm
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    All of us like Persephone, but it is interesting how we can have very different responses to individual books. I have read about 30 of them, most of which I liked. Some of my favourites I read before Persephone published them, such as ‘Operation Heartbreak’, and ‘Round about a Pound a Week’, which don’t get mentioned often. I enjoyed most those of intelligent escapism, such as Miss Pettigrew and Miss Buncle, but think rather a lot of the books are about frustrated women, which is amplified in the only book I positively disliked, the depressing ‘Consequences’, about the train-crash life of a poor soul who would probably be diagnosed with Asperger’s today.

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  • February 10, 2018 at 11:20 pm
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    I love this and I’ve read about 50 myself including non-P editions but don’t think I have the patience to rank them. I love all the Whipples and the Miss Buncle books and I also loved Round About A Pound a Week. How to Run Your Home Without Help was a bit stressful to read, and I found A Far Cry oddly not as good as expected and didn’t really like Consequences very much. Agree with Diary although I’d read that before, too. And The Village.

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    • February 12, 2018 at 11:00 pm
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      I loved Emma Smith’s autobiogs, but have heard lukewarm things about A Far Cry.

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  • February 11, 2018 at 2:42 am
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    This was a great idea for a post, Simon! I love your list and strongly agree with your top two choices in particular. I’ll have to think about my own Persephone rankings!

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    • February 12, 2018 at 10:57 pm
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      It was such fun – thanks for prompting me to do it! I wonder how my list would look another day…

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  • February 12, 2018 at 10:33 pm
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    I think Family Roundabout is just about my most favorite Persephone. Loved Guard Your Daughters, too, and I read it (think you were the one to put me on to it) long before it became a Persephone title. Must reread both I think!

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    • February 12, 2018 at 10:56 pm
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      Both definitely bear rereading, yes! I can feel a GYD reread coming on…

      Reply

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