Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

I discovered Persephone Books last summer in London and fell in love. This small publishing house, run by Nicola Beauman, reprints forgotten works by twentieth-century women writers (there are a few titles by men in the collection). The books are gloriously gorgeous and the shop, in Bloomsbury, is housed in the storefront that used to be Virginia Woolf’s grocer’s. What’s not to love? Serena Trowbridge’s May 2004 review includes some images of the books: you have to see how truly gorgeous they are (scroll down). The series has also been reviewed at Chicklit and Bookslut. You can see more images by hunting around Persephone’s site.

The dove grey paperbacks all have grey jackets and vivid endpapers based on vintage textiles. At ten pounds a piece, they’re expensive (especially these days), but I went for the deal: three books for twenty-seven. I finally read my first one, the very slim Julia Strachey novella, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding this week.

What a lovely little discovery! This 1932 book, a cross between Mansfield and Stella Gibbons, is darkly comment and closely observed. It tells the story of a chilly country wedding on one of those clear, surprisingly brisk English days. While the mother bustles around noting the cheerful weather of the title and an ex-boyfriend sulks in the front hall, the bride clumsily prepares for her nuptials. It is a wedding that should not be, but I won’t spoil it: this little book can be read in an afternoon & the foreword by Strachey’s lifelong friend Frances Partridge is a gem in itself.

But the writing:
  • When Joseph threatens to talk anthropology, the bride’s mother casts about, frantically, “Bring me that lamp-shade lying on the window-seat there! I’d like to show everybody! It is a wedding present from Dodo Potts-Griffiths, just sent over by the chauffeur. She made the whole thing entirely by herself, painted it, put it together, and everything, and it really is so cheerful and pretty!”[Dodo Potts-Griffiths! That takes guts—perfect!]
  • Dolly knew, as she looked round at the long wedding-veil stretching away forever, and at the women, too, so busy all around her, that something remarkable and upsetting in her life was steadily going forward.
  • He was a tiny little boy. As for his features, they were so small they could hardly be seen, bunched up together as they were in the middle of his face, like the currants in a penny bun when they all run into the centre together for some reason. [Great and gutsy and hilarious, too: this is a baking problem that I’ve wondered about and it seems to almost derail the simile, going on and on about the problem of imperfectly spread currants…]
So wonderful to find this gorgeous prose meet the promise of the wrapper.