Beneath the Grey

Books Historical textiles

The endpapers from Cheerful Weather for a Wedding by Julia Strachey Persephone Books, a Bloomsbury based small press that specialises in re-printing forgotten classics of the late 19th and 20th century, are famous for their uniform pale grey book jackets that disguise anything from a domestic drama under the microscope to a first-hand experience of the First World War. While the range of content is offered in broad strokes, the equal footing of the Persephone-grey jacket catches the eye to ensure the books' quality and style, regardless of genre. Layout 1 copy (Page 14) The endpapers from Mariana by Monica Dickens However, the inside is another story completely, with the press using different fabrics and textiles as endpapers on the inner covers that changes from book to book, allowing those who judge a book by the cover knowing winks as to the books content that might have passed the prospective reader by in the often elusive blurb. Mariana by Monica Dickens, is the story of Mary, seen first as a married woman, then from childhood, through adolescence and as a single woman in London and Paris, before ending as a married woman: the twenties and thirties distilled into one character. Persephone uses dress fabric, fitting as much of the latter half of the book involves Mary's foray into dress-making, from 1933 – when Mary would be 18, new to drama school, and about to encounter the poem Mariana, by Tennyson, which comes to name the book. And the endpapers come to reflect how the reader sees her: not passively pastoral, but painted in bold colours giving a streak of character to the otherwise expected feminine, floral, pattern. Wilfred and Eileen 1 The endpapers of Wilfred and Eileen by Jonathan Smith - a WWI love story, using fabric from France made in 1913 The fabrics that Persephone uses often have a contemporary reference to the time in which the novels were written, and help give the books an extra dash of both beauty and humour. In Flush, Virginia Woolf's biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's dog, the endpapers have a swirled, marble pattern that evokes the bookish, claustrophobic air of Mr Barrett's drawing room, but with a squint, could easily be the patterns of a feathery spaniel's tail dragging mud across the hall floor. And any clues about Dolly's character in Cheerful Weather for a Wedding by Julia Strachey are helpfully eluded to by her endpaper's clusters of brightly coloured butterflies, most likely knocking themselves against the glass to get out into the garden in vain, as she feels on her wedding day as the clock ticks closer to the main event. Just a person adds layers to their spirit by the items they choose to buy, how they decorate their lives and what they wear, the designs of the endpapers have the same power to tell a story as the novel does. And in their marriage at Persephone Books, the artistic mediums of literature and textiles allow the fabric to further interpret the contents of the novel; and the novel, the fabric.

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