The Underappreciated Gentlemen Authors Bookshelf

I will probably never have an completely orderly library, but I do like a little bit of order. Over the years I’ve put together bookcases, shelves and parts of shelves to gather together books linked by publisher, by imprint or by theme.

The Virago bookcase, a few shelves of Allen Lane era Penguins, a bookcase of non fiction, a few Honno classics collected together on the same shelf …..

But that didn’t mean that there wasn’t still a lot of fiction – both old and new – that was mixed together in no particular order. I didn’t mind that; in fact I quite enjoyed seeing some unlikely juxtapositions, and looking for something and finding something else that I hadn’t been thinking of but was happy to find.

Sometimes though, new themes and ideas for collections come to me.

First there was the Where-Virago-Led- Me Bookcase

Then there was the  Sitting-on-the-Persephone-Bookcase Collection.

I loved both, but I was aware that every book but one had been written by a woman, and that I had enough interesting older books written by men to fill a shelf.

And so the ‘Underappreciated Gentlemen Authors Shelf’ was born. It’s a very high shelf, at the top of a built-in wall unit that we inherited from the previous owners of the house, and so it was a little tricky to photograph – but here it is:



I can’t promise that all of the book will live up to that title, but I can say that the ones that I’ve read have for me.

* * * * * * * *

My parents both read Howard Spring and I read some of his books from their shelves when I was still at school, but I only discovered that he moved to Cornwall and set some of his later books here a few years ago when I read a memoir by his wife and then his own childhood memoir. I started looking out for his Cornish books and I’ve been lucky to find some lovely editions at the library booksale and a signed copy in a Truro bookshop.

* * * * * * * *

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

* * * * * * * *

I spotted ‘London Belongs to Me’ by Norman Collins when it was reissued a few years ago, and so when I spotted it – plus ‘Bond Street Story’ – in a secondhand book shop a few month later I had to pick them up.

* * * * * * * *

I picked up Love in the Sun by Leo Walmsley  purely by chance, because it was in the library’s Cornish collection and I remembered old family friends of that name. There was no connection but I fell in love with the book, fiction that drew heavily from the author’s life story, and with the three that followed. After that I went back to read his earlier work. Most of them I have borrowed from the library, but I have picked up copies to keep when I can, and I am so pleased that there is an author society bringing many titles back into print.

* * * * * * * *

I found Charles Reade when I was looking for authors to fill the early years of my 100 Years of Books project. I ordered Griffith Gaunt from the library, I loved it, and so when I saw a lovely copy of ‘The Cloister and the Hearth’ – his best remembered book – I had to pick it up.

* * * * * * * *

I remember spotting White Ladies by Francis Brett Young in my local secondhand bookshop a few years ago, liking the look of it, but not wanting to splash out on the signed first edition. Luckily I found that the library had a copy in reserve stock, I ordered it in, and I fell in love. I’ve built up a nice collection of his books since then, including a more reasonable priced copy of that first book.

* * * * * * * *

I moved Denis Mackail down from the Sitting-on-the-Persephone-Bookcase Collection to make space for a recent discovery who deserved a place there. It’s lovely that Persephone reissued ‘Greenery Street’, I was thrilled to find a copy of ‘A Square Circle, but I do wish that his other books weren’t so very difficult to find.

* * * * * * * *

I spotted ‘The Murder in Praed Street’ by John Rhode at this year’s library book sale. I liked the look of the book and I remember auditing a business there when I was a trainee accountant.

* * * * * * * *

Nevil Shute is another author I discovered on my parents’ bookshelves, but it didn’t occur to me that he had written much more until I saw reissues appear a year or two ago. The library has many of them, but when I spotted very nice editions of ‘Trustee from the Toolroom’ and ‘Beyond the Black Stump’ in charity shops I couldn’t resist picking them up.

* * * * * * * *

I’m not quite sure that E Temple Thurston belongs here. I loved The City of Beautiful Nonsense, and when I discovered that there was a sequel I had to track down a copy. I read the opening, but it felt rather self-indulgent and so I put it aside. I’ll pick it up again, because I have to hope that it gets better and I do want to know what happens next.

* * * * * * * *

Paul Gallico has written some very divers books. Not all of them appeal to me but when I like the look of them I usually find myself loving them. I have some paperback copies on other shelves but I picked up ‘The Foolish Immortals’ and ‘Love Let Me Not Hunger’ to sit on this shelf.

* * * * * * * *

I wasn’t that taken by Patience, the one book by John Coates that Persephone reissued, but I spotted ‘Linda’ in my local secondhand bookshop and I liked the look of it. The dust jacket describes it as a more serious book with a theatrical setting ….

* * * * * * * *

‘A Century of Creepy Stories’ was edited by Hugh Walpole and those hundred stories where written by wonderful cross-section of authors from the first half of the twentieth century. There are men and women but men are in the majority and there are some wonderful names – from Edgar Allen Poe to C H B Kitchin – so it seemed right to put it here.

* * * * * * * *

That’s it!

Just a little selection of authors and books that it felt right to put together

Are there any that you know? Are there any that you’d particularly like to hear more about?

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Such a Very Desirable Book ….

…. arrived in the post yesterday.

There are lots of books that I would love to find, of course they are, but to find this book, a book by an author I love, an author whose earliest work in nigh impossible to find, really felt like a dream come true.

I don’t keep a ‘most wanted’ list, but, if I did, it would have been at number two; and finding it has given me the belief that one day I will hold a copy of one book in the world that wish for most of all.

A lovely book and renewed hope all on one small brown package.


I wanted to savour it, and so it sat on the dining table, unopened for quite some time. I ate, I took Briar for a walk in the gardens, I did one or two things around the house, I watched Bake Off, I finalised last night’s book thoughts ….

But I couldn’t go to bed without looking at my book. It’s old, it’s worn, but I really couldn’t be happier with it.


The binding is fine, the pages are intact, and that’s what is really important. To be able to read ….

My book is a first edition – my understanding is that there was just the one edition, and that it why copies are so scarce – and there is an inscription inside.


Do you think that the M. S. who wrote that was Margery Sharp? I think that it’s highly likely.

It’s not really that important, because – and I hope this makes some kind of sense – I don’t want to intrude or to stake any kind of claim; I just want the love that I and others have for her writing to reach her.

(I’d also love some reissues, and for many more people to fall in love with her writing.)

I won’t be reading ‘Fanfare for Tin Trumpets’ quite yet. Because the next stage of appreciating a new book is to look at it for a while, to pick it up and put it down knowing that I have a treat in store, when the moment is right.

Do you do that? Or do you start reading straight away?

And which books – which author – would you be as happy to find as I was to find this lovely, lovely book?


There’s another of Margery Sharp’s books that I had in mind to read before I begin this one, so I think I’ll read that next, launch the second annual celebration of Margery Sharp Day, and give away a second used copy of another her books that I found a little while ago ….

Then I’ll read this book.

And dream of finding a copy of ‘Rhododendron Pie’ ….

The Question of What Should Sit on Top of the Persephone Bookcase ….

Last week I took a week of my annual leave to reorganise the house.

Things didn’t go entirely to plan – we need a carpenter to fix a falling curtain rail, a handyman to sort out a jammed window, and I’m waiting for a new car battery so that I can go back to work tomorrow. I was a little over-ambitious,  we did get a heck of a lot done. Every room is pretty much set up as we wanted,  there are more than a dozen bags waiting to go to the Oxfam shop, and I’m much, much happier with the way my books are arranged.

I ‘ve rearranged the alcove where my Persephone bookcase lives, the simple expedient of moving it from the side to the back wall has made it so much more visible and accessible.

I also found that I had a small gap between the top of the bookcase and the windowsill, and I wondered what I might put there,

The answer was always going to be books, because I still have more than I have book-shelf space to house, and of course it was always going to be Persephone related.

The size of the spaces, and the themes of other shelves, meant that the theme was a mixture of three things:

  • Where Persephone Led Me
  • Persephone Books in Other Editions
  • Possibly Persephone

And here it is.


I’m sorry that the picture is a little gloomy, but a dark corner is a wonderfully safe home for precious books, and I don’t want to raise the blind because it could disturb our malfunctioning window.

But let’s talk about the books! I’ll go from top to bottom and from left to right.

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The Journal of Katherine Mansfield

The Man of the House rescued this one from a skip!!!

The Professor’s Children by Edith Henrietta Fowler

I was so taken with The Young Pretenders that I had to look to see what else it’s author wrote. Not a great deal it seems, but I did find this book.

Earth and High Heaven by Gwethalyn Graham

This one went straight on to my wishlist when Claire wrote about it, saying:

‘The entire time I was reading this, I kept thinking how Persephone-like it felt in tone, quality and themes.  And, really, could there be higher praise than that?’

I waited a long time, and eventually an affordable copy appeared.

Broome Stages by Clemence Dane

When I spotted this book I recalled the author’s name from Nicola Beauman’s ‘A Woman’s Profession’, and when I saw the concept – Plantagenet history retold as the story of a theatrical family – I was smitten.

I thought of Susan Howatch ….

* * * * * * * *

Mr Hazard and Mr Hodge by Elinor Wylie

I spotted this in the Oxfam Shop, I didn’t know the title or the author, but it was a nice edition, I liked the title, and when I picked the book up I liked the prose and the fact that it dated from the 1920s. I know little more than that now, but a contemporary review from ‘The Bookman’ suggests that this was an excellent find.

  “Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard” is tremendously moving, pathetic, absorbing. If you do not find in it the warmth and beauty of a profound understanding of the mortal heart, I shall be disappointed. If you prefer to find it clever, jewelled, satirical, I suppose you will not be disappointed; for it is Miss Wylie’s special gift that her stories glow with the almost unholy light of enchanting and finished prose. 

A Background for Caroline by Helen Ashton

I was so taken with Helen Ashton’s Doctor Serocold that – once I’d noted which of her books my library had – I went looking to see if there were affordable copies of any others. I didn’t find many, but I did find this.

A Square Circle by Denis Mackail

Sadly my library has none of Denis Mackail’s books in stock, copies seem to be very scarce, and so of course I pounced when I saw this.

* * * * * * *

The Visitors by Mary MacMinnies

This is another one of those books that I spotted,  knew nothing about, picked up out of simple curiosity, and was sufficiently taken with to bring home. All that I can tell you is that it dates from the 1950s, and that the heroine is the wife of a member of a British mission posted to a provincial city in a country behind the Iron Curtain.

I thought of Ann Bridge ….

The Village by Marghanita Laski

I read a library copy, I aspire to a Persephone copy, but I have an elderly hardback rescued from a bargain bin for now.

The Fairies Return by Various Authors

This is a 1930s anthology, bringing together retellings of fairy stories from a wonderful array of authors. The ones that particularly caught my eye were E M Delafield, E OE Somerville and G B Stern ….

The Heart to Artemis: a Writer’s Memoirs by Bryher

I’ve read two of Bryher’s historical novels – The Player’s Boy and This January Tale  – and because I loved them both, because her life sounded fascinating, I ordered this book from the library. I read enough to know that I wanted a copy to keep, and then I spotted a copy in the Oxfam shop.

* * * * * * * *

That’s it!

Just a little selection of books that will catch my eye as I go in or out of the room, and remind me how many good books I have to read and re-read.

Are there any that you know? Are there any that you’d particularly like to hear more about?

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The Story of the Where-Virago-Led-Me Bookcase

Once upon a time there was a wicker bookcase, where all of my Persephone books lived. I was delighted to find it, a few years ago know, because it was a smaller version of my Virago bookcase, and the two looked lovely together. At first there was space for a few more additions back then, but that space filled up and eventually the collection outgrew its home.

That was why, when we acquired another wicker bookcase and started to think about what should go where, I decided that the Persephone collection had to move. I was never entirely convinced that it was the styles of the book and the shelf quite suited each other, and they’re a little less accessible than they were but the plain shelves in pale wood that they sit on now suit them much better.

That left me a bookcase to fill, and that’s where the story of the Where-Virago-Led-Me Bookcase began.

I had the idea of putting all of the old hardback books by Virago authors that I’d collected over the years in one bookcase.

I realised quite quickly that they wouldn’t all fit, and so I took out the authors that had also been published by Persephone, in the hope that I would be able to do a similar bookcase for Persephone one day. I had to put a couple of authors I felt less fo a bond with to one side too, and I was sorry to have to do that, but I was delighted with what was left.

* * * * * * *


The first shelf is home to books by G B Stern and Sylvia Townsend  Warner.

I picked up a lovely, seasonal story named The Ten Days of Christmas and that started me collecting her fiction. And then I picked up Monogram her first collection of memoirs in the library and that started me collecting her non fiction. I love her versatility, her intelligence and her wit.

I still remember the wonderful day when I came across a long line of books by and about Sylvia Townsend Warner in a second-hand bookshop. The six collections of short stories live here, I have a couple more in paperback on another bookcase, and I hope to pick up the others that I don’t have one day; because STW really was mistress of the art of short story writing

* * * * * * *


The second shelf has to be my favourite – because it holds books by Margery Sharp and Margaret Kennedy.

I adore Margery Sharp’s books and I really hope that they will find their way back into print someday soon. In the meantime I’ve collected most of the gettable ones – there are a few more in my collection of elderly paperbacks that I’ll photograph another day – and I dream of the earliest titles that are ridiculously scarce and even more ridiculously priced on the rare occasions when copies appear for sale.

I was delighted that so many people joined in the celebrations for Margery Sharp Day – and I’ll definitely be throwing her another party next January.

I love Margaret Kennedy just as much, but for very different reasons because she’s a very different writer. As most of her books are in print I’m building my collection slowly and steadily. It’s hard to pick favourites because her books are very diverse, but if you pushed me I think I’d pick The Feast. Or Lucy Carmichael. Or ….

I’m not planning to repeat Margaret Kennedy Reading Week, but I’m thinking of a ‘Margaret Kennedy Day’ on her birthday, next April. And I’m thinking of maybe doing the same thing for one or two other authors.

* * * * * * *


The next shelf is home to books by Ann Bridge, Rachel Ferguson, Elizabeth Jenkins and Ruth Adam.

‘The Light-Hearted Quest’ – a book I picked up in a charity shop many years ago – was my introduction t0 Ann Bridge, and when I found that it was part of a series I started to track down the other books. I have most of them now, and a few of her other books, but I’m still missing a couple. I know that Bloomsbury Reader has them all back in print now, but the would feel like cheating. But reading Enchanter’s Nightshade earlier in the year reminded me how good Ann Bridge was at a particular kind of book, and so maybe I will cheat ….

I have only read one book by Rachel Ferguson, but because she has been published by both Virago and Persephone I have picked up her books whenever I could.

I bought The Phoenix’s Nest by Elizabeth Jenkins in a bookshop closing-down sale. It was a little more than I would usually pay, but I’d never come across the title before, and I wanted to buy something before the owner. When I got it home and looked it up I couldn’t find anything out about it – I would have wondered if it was by another Elizabeth Jenkins, but I knew that it wasn’t because the cover references Harriet – and so I’m inclined to think it was a very good buy.

I have yet to read Ruth Adam, but as she comes warmly recommended by both Darlene and Scott, as she’s published been published by both Virago and Persephone, it seemed sensible to invest in a few of her books ….


The fourth – and final – shelf holds books by Sheila Kaye-Smith and Pamela Frankau

I came across a number of Sheila Kaye-Smith’s books in the 50p box outside my local second-hand bookshop quite a few years ago, before I had read any of her work, and I was smitten by titles like ‘Ember Lane’, ‘Sussex Gorse’, ‘Green Apple Harvest’, ‘Star Brace’ …. Since then I have read one of her Virago titles – Joanna Godden – and one of these books – The End of the House of Alard – and found much to enjoy.

But while I like her books I have to say that Virago has introduced me to finer writers; including Pamela Frankau . When I read her for the first time – the book was The Willow Cabin – I was delighted that I had already rescued a couple of her books from the 50p box, and since then I have successfully tracked down a few more of her out-of-print titles.

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And that’s it!

Now tell me, how are your books arranged …. ?