Persephone Books, from a marvelous publisher in London, are rediscovered 20th century novels written by neglected women authors. Not only are they wonderful reading, each one is published with a distinctive dove-gray cover and a beautiful “fabric” endpaper (see above). You also get a matching bookmark.

I’m currently reading one of their newest re-issues: The Shuttle by Frances Hodgson Burnett.

If that name is familiar, it should be. Burnett is the author of one of my favorite books as a child, The Secret Garden. But she also wrote adult novels. The Shuttle, 504 pages long and first published exactly 100 years ago, is about…

“… American heiresses marrying English
aristocrats; by extension it is about the effect of American energy, dynamism and affluence on an effete and impoverished English ruling class.”

– from the Persephone site

It’s marvelously written, for the most part, although at times the syntax is rather tortured for my taste. Must be a style that was popular then. Here’s more description of the plot, which is well summed up by the publisher:

“But The Shuttle, which is five hundred pages long and a page-turner for every one of
them, is about far more than the process by which an English country house can be brought back to life with the injection of transatlantic money (there is some particularly interesting detail about the new life breathed into the garden… MY NOTE: reminiscent of The Secret Garden).

It is mainly about American energy and initiative and get-up-and-go; this is symbolised by G Selden, the typewriter salesman on a bicycling tour of England, who meets, and charms, Bettina and her sister and, back in New York, their father. And it is about the excellent relationship that, curiously enough, many of the heiresses enjoyed with their multi-millionaire fathers.”

Alyson, a UK friend, brought me several Persephone novels last summer when she came to visit us in the U.S. I devoured two of them and even read Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge twice. I almost never read a book twice as I’m so impatient.

This time around, I went on the Persephone site and ordered four of them for summer reading. So far, no regrets (despite paying for the shipping). Even if you don’t buy a book, the site is great reading.

Useful Link

Complete list of Persephone novels