A Literary Collection: More Virago Cover Paintings

I loved putting together my first collection of Virago cover art, and now I’m going to put together my second.

The covers are lovely, but the paintings come alive when they are released from their green frames. I’ve learn that sometimes images have been cropped, or recoloured, or altered a little in some other way to fit that frame. And that may be the best way to make a good cover for a book, but it shouldn’t be the only way we see the work of these artists.

I had ideas of making a bigger collection in some form, but as a number of images are inaccessible I can’t make the work as I would like. And so I’m going to carry on gathering together selections of images and matching them with ‘their” books ….

* * * * * * *

I’ve found Stanley Spencer’s work on the covers of three Virago authors now


‘Interior at Cookham with Spring Flowers’ by Stanley Spencer
‘Palladian’ by Elizabeth Taylor (#184)

“Young Cassandra is alone in the world, her father had just died. When she goes to Cropthorne Manor as a governess, its weary facade and crumbling statues are all that she could hope for. And Marion Vanbrugh is the perfect employer – a widower, austere and distant, with a penchant for Greek. But this is not a ninteenth-century novel and Cassandra’s Mr. Rochester isn’t the only inhabitant of the Manor. There’s Tom, irascible and discontented, Margaret, pregnant and voracious, the ineffectual Tinty and the eccentric, domineering Nanny. Just as Jane Austen wittily contrasted real life with a girl’s Gothic fantasies in Northhanger Abbey, so Elizabeth Taylor subtly examines the realities of life for a latter-day Jane Eyre in this sharply observed work, first published in 1946.”

* * * * * * *

This book seemed impossible to find, until a reissue came along ….


‘Along the Shore’ by J E Southall
‘The Brontes Went to Woolworths’ by Rachel Ferguson (#279)

“Pre-war London, and the idea of growing up looms large in the lives of the Carne sisters. Deirdre, Katrine and young Sheil still cannot resist making up stories as they have done since childhood; from their talking nursery toys to their fulsomely imagined friendship with real high-court Judge Toddington. But when Deirdre meets the judge’s real-life wife at a charity bazaar the sisters are forced to confront the subject of their imaginings. Will they cast off the fantasies of childhood forever?”

* * * * * * *

My pick of Virago’s four Margaret Kennedy Covers

Dugdale, Thomas Cantrell, 1880-1952; The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London, Viewed from an Interior

‘The Arrival of the Jarrow Marchers in London’ by Thomas Cantrell Dugdale
‘Together and Apart’ by Margaret Kennedy (#64)

“Betsy is married to Alec. They have three half-grown children, a Hampstead home, a holiday house in Wales and all the comforts of British middle-class life between the wars. It is 1936 and Betsy is thirty-seven. Alec, she discovers, has been having a desultory affair – one of no importance to him, and at first even Betsy is not too concerned about it. But where, Betsy feels, is the happiness which is her due? And she is tired; houses, servants, children mke eternal demands upon her, family and friends constantly interfere – in this instance just once too often, with startling results…”

* * * * * * *

A striking still life covers a collection of short stories

Gertler, Mark, 1891-1939; The Dutch Doll

The Dutch Doll by Mark Gertler
The Gipsy’s Baby and Other Stories by Rosamond Lehmann (#69)

“In these captivating short stories we find perfect miniatures of Rosamond Lehmann’s fictional world. Echoing the themes which permeate her finest fiction, here are delicate portrayals of the world of adults as seen through the eyes of curious children, fascination with different families – their otherness, the romance of separate worlds. Most moving are the stories set against the background of Britain at war: the world of women and children, the minutiae of daily life in rural England – all are recorded with unmatched sensitivity and precision.”

* * * * * * *

A thoughtful match of writer and artist


‘Woman with a Polish Shawl’ by Moise Kisling
Deborah by Esther Kreitman (#108)

“All the world has heard of the great Yiddish writer Isacc Bashevis Singer, and of his brother Israel Joshua. Few have heard of their sister Hinde Esther who lived in obscurity and also wrote novels. Published first in Yiddish in 1936 and translated by her son in 1946, Deborah is an autobiographical novel. It takes us back with cinematic immediacy to the world of Polish Jewry in the middle of Europe well before the First World War. Deborah is the daughter of a feckless, unworldy rabbi, Reb Avram Ber, and his wife, Raizela. She is fourteen years old, sensitive, intelligent and romantic; but the two things she longs for are denied her: education and marriage to the man of her choice – a dark-eyed Marzist she meets in Warsaw’s Jewish Ghetto. For Deborah is doubly oppressed: there is literally no hope for women in this society if the established order is not accepted. Propelled into an arranged marriage, she escapes her family and her country on the eve of the First World War to dream a terrifying dream of another – a portent of the horror that lay in store for millions of Jews in the decades to follow.”

* * * * * * *

Another artist who can be found on the covers of more than one Virago author


‘Souvenirs’ by Thea Proctor
‘Painted Clay’ by Capel Boake (#231)

“Helen Somerset feels stifled by her loveless home with a repressive father who fears that, like her absent mother, she may be only “painted clay.” She wants to know life beyond the confines of Packington, a Melbourne suburb overlooking Port Phillip Bay. And when she is sixteen her father dies, releasing Helen to seek the affection and independence she has been denied. With a clerical job and a room in a lodging house Helen launches herself into the excitement of Bohemian life and free love–only to discover that this liberation has a double edge.”

* * * * * * *

Lisa named this as a particular favourite last time around


‘A Pleasant Corner’ by John Callcott Horsley
‘The Perpetual Curate’ by Margaret Oliphant (#243)

“Frank Wentworth, Perpetual Curate of St Roque’s, has basked in the popularity of Carlingford, beloved in the gracious homes of Grange Lane and the slums of Wharfside alike. But there are some among the sober-minded citizens who would see him as a “dilettante Anglican, given over to floral ornaments and ecclesiastical upholstery” – a verdict shared by the new Rcctor who regards the presence of a young and energetic rival as an intolerable encumbrance. Imperceptibly, the tide starts turning against Frank Wentworth: his love for Lucy Wodehouse is threatened by his lack of prospects; his Evangelical aunts, in charge of a family living, disapprove of his high church ways, and rumours about a pretty shopgirl begin circulating. Slowly it dawns on Frank that he may well be doomed to a life of perpetual – and single – curacy. “

* * * * * * *


That’s the last painting in this little exhibition.

Another one will be along, I hope, before too many months have gone by.

32 thoughts on “A Literary Collection: More Virago Cover Paintings

  1. Those are stunning, Jane – I do wish Virago still did their lovely green covers with such a wonderful selection of paintings. The new ones are not nearly so striking.


  2. What a wonderful post, Jane! Such powerful images – I also wish Virago would go back to the green covers and fabulous evocative artworks *sigh*


    1. I’m afraid that Virago doesn’t appreciate its own history, or indeed how much it is loved. I’d like to see the green covers back, and a change in editorial direction rather than swathes of books from authors who aren’t as forgotten as many.


  3. So beautiful, Jane! Thank you for sharing these. I was particularly struck this time by the J.E. Southall cover. Such vibrant colors, and such life! My copy of The Perpetual Curate is a little battered and the image is dark anyway, so it’s lovely to see the picture here. The wall behind the young lady is so bright & beautiful. (If you haven’t read the story, it’s set around Easter, and I always feel the urge to reread it in the spring.)


    1. I’ve been meaning to read Mrs Oliphant for years, and I think her Carlingford books will be my next project when I finish Dorothy Richardson’s Pilgrimage. I liked the cover when I picked up to book, but it really came to life when I saw it on screen.


  4. Beautiful! I’ve been trying to buy old green Virago editions whenever I happen to find them in the secondhand bookshops. The Elizabeth Taylor covers are particularly appealing – I love Stanley Spencer’s work. Your pick of the Margaret Kennedy covers is simply stunning!


    1. The majority of my collection where pre-owned, because I didn’t have the book budget when they were new, and read many of them from the library first time around. I can remember seeing Margaret Kennedy – though not that lovely cover – in the library just before I left home to go to university, not having time to read it them, and not reading here at all until many years later.


  5. Your blog is always among the very first I check and read everyday. I am never disappointed: you have a unique way to look at books that a handful bloggers share. This one is perfect – as usual. Thank you.


      1. Not only fellow bloggers but friends of mine now love what you write and the specific angle you adopt to talk of art and books. I like to share your posts with them on my FB page, Twitter, etc. But you don’t really need adverts: you are well known! 😉 🙂


    1. I knew that I had to share that image as soon as I saw it, and when I realised I had it on a book cover I knew how. Virago did find some wonderful portraits of women back in the days of green covers, and I already I have more lined up for the next time I do this.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely post! I’ve often thought that J E Southall reminded me of one of my favourite paintings in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (Corporation Street) and of course, it’s also by him! Thank you for finally making me check!


  7. Covers can really make you want to read a book, can’t they? These are great. I especially like the cover for Along the Shore. I really want to read that one now. 🙂


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