I think, sadly, I’ve read all the VMCs I’ll manage this week (total: one) so I’ll talk about Virago in general instead! A few bloggers have written about how they discovered the world of Virago, and I thought I’d join in. And tomorrow I’ll muse on some of my favourites, time permitting…
I had quite an odd journey to Virago, which started with a little Everyman book called Modern Humour. Putting ‘modern’ in the title of anything is a risky business, and this volume was published in 1940. I bought it because it featured something by AA Milne that wasn’t collected elsewhere, and AAM was my first grown-up literary love (that sounds odd, given his status as a children’s writer, but he was also the first writer-for-adults whom I really loved.)
Anyway – included in this volume were two pieces by E.M. Delafield (which, incidentally, you can read here). I’d never heard of Delafield – I didn’t even know if ‘E.M’ was a woman or a man, although the tone of the piece led me correctly to suspect the former – but I loved these pieces. They’re actually from As Others Hear Us, which is one of my very favourite books, but at the time I only had Delafield’s name – and took myself to Worcestershire’s library catalogue. All they had in Pershore Library was a large print edition of The Provincial Lady Goes Further – so that was my induction to the world of Delafield.
Ok, that – and the 4-in-1 Provincial Lady book I subsequently bought – wasn’t actually in a Virago edition. The first Virago Modern Classic I read was about six months later: Provincial Daughter by EMD’s own daughter, R.M. Dashwood. But it was the Provincial Lady books which gave me a taste for Virago Modern Classics, even before I knew what they were…
Fast-forward about 18 months, and I was a member of an online reading group that, seven years later, I am still a proud member of. They love all things Persephone, but they also enthuse about Virago like nobody’s business – which led to me buying those green spines wherever I spotted them at a reasonable price. Elizabeth Taylors flocked to my house. Elizabeth von Arnims gathered on my shelves (and I’ve still only read one of them.) Many more than I have read have arrived. And aren’t the matching green spines something to behold? I will always choose one of those over the latest VMC – whoever chose to get rid of the green spines made one of the worst marketing decisions in the world. (By the by, for the background workings of Virago and their takeover by Little Brown, from being an independent press, is detailed fascinatingly in Simone Murray’s Mixed Media: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics).
Thankfully, however, old VMCs turn up in a lot of charity shops, and my collection has grown steadily over the years. Some seem impossible to find; some proliferate. They have provided me with some of my favourite reads – they have also included some I thought dreadful, but the good outweight the bad. Virago don’t seem to embody a reading taste in quite the way they used to – perhaps because, when they were an independent press, all VMCs had to pass the taste level of a small group of people – but, looking at those 1980s reprints, all of which were originally published before I was born, and many of which were reprinted before I was born too – I can be confident that I’ll find something that will at least intrigue me. Check back tomorrow to see which titles I’ve loved most over the years… although I suspect you can already guess some of them.
If you’ve blogged about your introduction to Virago, do let me know – and if you haven’t, then tell me about it in the comments here!