This is a book that shows off what Persephone books are all about in one volume. Thirty stories, some longer than others, all have the special flavour of stories that represent the unique nature of the publishing house. They appear in the order that they were published, the earliest from 1896, the most recent from 1984, and all are written by women. There is a short biography of each writer in the back of the book, which is useful as while some authors are well known, having published books that are popular, whereas others are less famous.
The variety of stories is therefore wide, with nine wartime tales which of themselves vary between those which acknowledge the reality of war, and those which instead look at the people who happened to be living at the time. Most of the stories are based in Britain, but several are based in other countries which represents the balance of Persephone books overall. A number of stories have appeared in other Persephone collections of stories; there are a few Mollie Panter- Downes volumes already published set in both war and peace. While some stories have been featured in Persephone’s own twice yearly magazine, others have been more difficult to access. As always the distinctive grey cover of this book distinguishes this book as one of an excellent series; a well produced and attractive book which would be a wonderful gift.
The first story looks at what women think, whereas the Canfield Fisher story looks at the sole notable achievement of a woman. I enjoyed the story of a young woman who has suffered oppression by her parents, and discovers her own life. The real pain and irony of fleeing the invading armies in France is especially memorable although it features a man. Some stories are tragic, but others are inspiring and even humourous. Many are clever, and have much to say about women’s lives in the time when they were written.
While it would be possible to go through all of the stories and provide a comment on each, I would suggest that finding your own route through this book would be more successful. The very essence of this book is to give a short insight into a life, either over a long period or a very brief glimpse of an incident. Short stories can be an acquired taste, but they have the advantage of offering something for everyone’s taste in a book like this of diverse authors. This is the second book of short stories that Persephone has published, and either one is to be recommended as offering an impressive selection of tasters of women authors who had something to say in the twentieth century, or to demonstrate the power of fiction in lives affected by change and challenges.