After her arrival, and the first books had been published, my literary tastes encountered the purer waters of European socialism and feminism. Until , I had financed Virago by my work, a tiny bank overdraft all they would give me and, both then and later, through the deep eccentricities of my turbulent family. The first nine books were published in association with Quartet Books. This was insufficient freedom on all fronts, and the three of us - Ursula, Harriet and myself - struggled to raise money for Virago to become an independent publishing company. This we did in By , Alexandra Pringle, now editor-in-chief of Bloomsbury, and Lennie Goodings, publisher of Virago today, had made us a quintet.
Later, with the influx of a younger generation of women, ownership and the list changed, but these five women were the core of Virago when the novels re-published as Virago Modern Classics first entered the world. Ursula brought to Virago women who formed a part of our advisory group, 30 to 40 women made up of my connections, and hers. The historians and academics Ursula knew, already well versed in the new study of women's history, were experts on women's lives recorded in memoirs and autobiographies, in most cases books that had been out of print for decades.
Our advisers directed us back to women's writing of the past, suggested writers, wrote introductions, spread the word and for each of us, in different ways, became a community of friends retained today. Rosie and Marsha, after sterling work in the early years, had disappeared into the hectic life of Spare Rib, and I was sorely out of place in the sombre waters of socialist feminism. I had a libertarian dread of preaching to people and an Australian longing for people to answer back.
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And, god knows, those early days of feminism were serious days, which in many ways took me back to the atmosphere of my convent. In the service of The Cause, we were monstrously hard on each other. All movements thrive on a sense of pouncing disapproval in the air. And so, if founding Virago was my first light bulb, dreaming up the Classics was the second.
How could I publish Frost in May? The answer came quite easily: here was the celebration and fun I was looking for, here was a way of illuminating women's history in a way that would reach out to a much wider audience of both women and men. I would publish a multitude of novels, I would publish them in a series, I would market them as a brand, just like Penguin.
If one novel could tell the story of my life, there were hundreds more, and thousands of readers who would feel as I did. I consulted my colleagues, my fixation reaching such a degree that poor Harriet tells of me pinning our designer to the wall, demanding five colour covers, exquisite paper, washed tops, strings, and every production frill for my beloved new idea.
Penguin used a serious male thinker - Isaac Newton? The Virago Modern Classics list was meant to be more ebullient, a library of women's fiction with Boadicea rather than Newton waving the flag.
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I chose green because it was neither blue for a boy nor pink for a girl. I saw in my mind rows of green paperbacks with luscious covers on all the bookshelves of the world. The idea sprang in part from the women's movement, but also from my past: from my father's vast library in which I had buried myself during my childhood, and from my mother's love of reading, and of reading aloud to us, her four children.
To this day, she remains the only person I have known who read Dorothy Richardson's four-volume sequence Pilgrimage from beginning to end. And, of course, from hundreds of women and men who cared not one jot for feminism. In the pre-pill and pre-abortion days of the early 60s, those of us unfortunate enough to need abortions passed around copies of Rosamond Lehmann's The Weather in the Streets, in hardback editions bought at secondhand bookshops.
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This novel, alas, was all too often "the story" of women before the Abortion Act of In the publishing world of the 60s and 70s, women rarely had the opportunity to choose which books to publish, and paperback lists, particularly, reflected this. But now the choice of novels was mine. It was common to think of the literary tradition that runs from Jane Austen through Ivy Compton-Burnett to Barbara Pym as a clever and witty women's view of a small domestic world. This was not a ghetto we accepted. The female tradition included writers of vast ambition and great achievement: mistresses of comedy, drama, storytelling, of the domestic world we knew and loved.
I saw a large world, not a small canvas, with all of human life on display, a great library of women's fiction, marginalised, silenced, out of print and unavailable.
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Such writing has always been part of women's history. We despised the concepts of "woman novelist", and "female imagination", so often used to dismiss books we cherished. The first five classics were published in Holroyd and Angela Carter had a profound influence on the list.
Angie admired the ambitious and complex novels of Christina Stead as the very opposite of the "small English novel". Thirty years later, Virago still publishes Atwood's paperbacks. Then followed years of dedicated reading, and within four years the list was a hundred novels strong. In those days I was an insomniac, but I also curtailed my high life: 10pm and I was off to the stack of novels, usually borrowed from the London Library, which lay in piles around my bed. Those days spent in the London Library were some of the happiest of my life. One author led to another, for if Virago itself was very much the product of a particular generation of British publishers, the Virago Modern Classics became what Lennie Goodings describes as "a uniquely collaborative enterprise", as forgotten novels and neglected writers bloomed like a watered desert.
It seemed as though the whole world entered the fray. First came readers - their letters poured in, about books they loved they still write, but on the internet. Recommendations followed from bookshops, from academics, librarians, from our friends and relations, from literary agents and publishers, author's families too. But the biggest contribution came from writers whose names read like a roll call of the best of our time. Germaine Greer wrote about Henry Handl Richardson. Jenny Uglow and Hermione Lee would turn their hands to any of them, though I always thought of Hermione as the champion of Edith Wharton.
Margaret Drabble wrote about her friend Nell Dunn. The Classics became a sort of cultural game, one writer connected to another as in snakes and ladders. Snakes were few, though I became very tired of writers I was about to republish who would stare at me pointedly and say "I like men you know"; Christina Stead turned out to be a Stalinist monster of the very first order. But mostly they were ladders. Virginia Woolf had expressed the greatest admiration for FM Mayor. So had EM Forster. Woolf recommended the book to Elizabeth Jenkins. Rosamond Lehmann led me to Elizabeth Jenkins, and so the chain became longer.
In , many of my heroines were still alive. Sylvia Townsend Warner wrote to me comfortingly about my lack of knowledge of classical Greek; Sylvie Ashton Warner wrote, "Dear publisher with the exotic name, I would prefer it if you were called Karmin Kahlil. Of the older generation, the writer I loved most was Antonia White, who provided me with whisky, cigarettes and affection until her death in , and Rosamond Lehmann, my friend for a decade, who knew or recommended every writer of her time: May Sinclair, FM Mayor, Sybil Bedford, Rose Macaulay, Elizabeth Jenkins.
Dismissing Tillie Olsen's worthy sentiments about the limitations of the housewife's lot, Angela Carter wrote: "I can only say that the only time I ever iron the sheets or make meringues is when there is an absolutely urgent deadline in the offing. Graham Greene, who approved of me because of Antonia White, suggested Barbara Comyns her husband had been a colleague of his when both were some sort of British spy during the war.
The letters of Rebecca West to Virago are on occasion masterpieces of vitriol. Stevie Smith's executor wanted me to know how much she disliked George Orwell.
As the list grew, we covered the world. There were Irish classics, Scottish classics, Australian, Victorian, Canadian, American, New Zealand, Caribbean, 20th-century classics, but my favourites will always be the English classics, which reveal more about life on this island than a hundred history books. I have always loved flawed novels, as well as those of the great and good. In explaining my literary stance at the time I wrote: "by the word 'classic' we do not always mean 'great', though we often do. And then there is laughter: this is the secret key to instant republication as a Virago Modern Classic.
For some years I chose all the Classics, but as time went by first Alexandra Pringle and then Lynn Knight now a lecturer and biographer of the English potter Clarice Cliff joined me, to form a trio that read everything. We had a limit known as the Whipple line, below which we would not sink. Dorothy Whipple was a popular novelist of the s and s whose prose and content absolutely defeated us. A considerable body of women novelists, who wrote like the very devil, bit the Virago dust when Alexandra, Lynn and I exchanged books and reports, on which I would scrawl a brief rejection: "Below the Whipple line.
The Virago archive is a treasure trove of correspondence with some of the best women writers of the 20th and current century, and founded as the company was before the advent of email, everything is still there in those files, letters often adorned with my filing instructions "put wherever". Jul 19, Beth Bonini rated it liked it Shelves: romance , 20th-century-british , marriage , summer-mood. How many young girls, on the cusp of life at age 18, have felt the disturbing notion that infatuated love and devotion has been rather wasted on an inferior object or should I say subject?
When Harriet and Vesey are thrown together during a summer in their teenage years, Harriet develops an inexplicable and mostly pained passion for the awkward and unpleasant Vesey. Sixteen years later, after Harriet has married Charles and is a mother to teenage Betsy, Vesey reappears in her life. The reader is asked to believe that her childhood passion, which has been given absolutely no oxygen over nearly two decades, is suddenly lit again - with Vesey, this time, being a more enthusiastic participant. Harriet - I suppose we should designate her the protagonist - is a rather colourless, drippy, unknowable character.
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And thank goodness for that. Feb 15, Mary Ronan Drew rated it it was amazing. Elizabeth Taylor is best known for her novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, which in was made into a fine movie starring Joan Plowright. And if you have seen that film or read that book you have experienced the mix of laughter, tears, indignation, and sympathy that Taylor's stories evoke. In A Game of Hide and Seek we meet Harriet and Vesey when they are 18, he casually cruel to hide his insecurity, she shy and fearful.
They are in love but they dare not express their feelings. The closest th Elizabeth Taylor is best known for her novel Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont, which in was made into a fine movie starring Joan Plowright. The closest they come to outward expression of the intensity they feel is when playing hide and seek with two young friends.
Harriet Said. Beryl Bainbridge
They always hide in the hay loft together and they never say a word to one another about their love. It is quintessentially Elizabeth Taylor. In the second part of the book it is some years later and Harriett is married with a year old daughter. Vesey, who has become an actor, reappears in her life but time has not treated him gently.