Don’t sink below the Whipple Line: Virago would not publish Dorothy Whipple, Persephone did

February 26, 2013 § 2 Comments

Wouldn’t we like to be Nicola Beauman, founder of Persephone Books? Wouldn’t we like to be the person that others must please, the person with the power to say ‘No’ ? I rather fancy the idea of sitting on the other side of the desk, being the one in charge. Let others try to please me for a change, because I am tired of trying to please them.

Persephone reissues books, but only those that Nicola Beauman likes.

Nicola Beauman had for much of her life, probably, no intention of founding her own publishing company. Years ago she tried to persuade Carmen Callil (Virago) to reissue the novels of Dorothy Whipple. But the novels of Dorothy Whipple were not at all to Carmen Callil’s taste. They were not good enough. We had a limit known as the Whipple line, below which we would not sink (Carmen Callil to the Guardian, Saturday 26 April 2008).

What are you supposed to feel when your read that, and like Dorothy Whipple’s novels? Are you to conclude that you have bad taste or even worse that you have a taste for the middlebrow?

I do like the novels of Dorothy Whipple. She was the only relatively unknown author I discovered at home. Sadly for me, those books have since disappeared. The Other Day, Young Anne, Because of the Lockwoods, The Priory and High Wages were the ones I read. Of those books, Persephone has only reissued The Priory and High Wages.

However, I have enjoyed all the Dorothy Whipple novels that Persephone has reissued. Yet I don’t think that I preferred those that were new to me Someone at a Distance, They knew Mr Knight, They were Sisters and Greenbanks to those I had read before. Perhaps our affection for books is strongest for those we read when we were young.

If you too have had the bad taste to like Dorothy Whipple, no doubt you will be consoled to learn that the once highly-regarded Ivy Compton-Burnett* kept Dorothy Whipple novels in her bedroom. Perhaps she left Proust in the drawing room.

So Virago was having none of Dorothy Whipple. Time passed, Nicola Beauman came into some money, and Persephone Books came into being. One of those businesses that was born, in part, out of frustration: if you want something to be done, do it yourself.

Nicola Beauman has been vindicated: Dorothy Whipple is her best selling author. Does Nicola Beauman have a line she will not go below? Is it the Sharp line?

*Can’t recollect where I read this, perhaps in Ivy When Young by Hilary Spurling


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§ 2 Responses to Don’t sink below the Whipple Line: Virago would not publish Dorothy Whipple, Persephone did

  • I also love Persephone books. Have you read ‘Round about a Pound a Day’. That was my introduction to this fantastic publishing house. The reading’s good but so is the design. You didn’t mention the end-papers…a delight in themselves!

  • Peripheria says:

    I haven’t read the book you mention. I do intend to write other articles about Persephone (including the quality of its book production). I wonder if readers tend to hold on to their Persephone books. I haven’t seen that many in Oxfam shops.

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