Sunday, April 15, 2007

Persephone Event, New York CIty

So I made my way yesterday to the Church of the Incarnation in Manhattan (NYC) for the Persephone Books Tea. First of all, the venue for this event was absolutely appropriate in terms of the time frame of the title being launched, Burnett's The Shuttle. (My review of that title is here while my review of the Persephone edition of The Making of a Marchioness is here.) The church itself is located at Madison and 35th which is just one block below the Morgan Library (as in J. Pierpont Morgan, noted robber baron of incredible wealth). The Church of the Incarnation reflects all the fabulous wealth of New York during that period with Tiffany stained glass windows, sculpture by Saint-Gaudens and art by Edward Burne-Jones. The image in this entry, for example, is a stained glass window featuring Florence Nightingale and was created in England and shipped over to the States for incorporation into the church. The building and its furnishings are an officially-designated historical landmark. As I walked through the church, some part of me was thinking what it must be like to be a participant at worship at Christmas and Easter. The pews, the chancel, the music. Oh, my! (I had to remind myself that we had good reason to leave New York City when we did.)

Once through the church, we climbed the stairs to the Assembly Hall which was rapidly filling with eager Persephone readers. The crowd was largely affluent upper East- and West-side ladies, but there were on the fringes some like myself -- traipsing in from the West Village, from Brooklyn and even a few British ex-pats. All in all though, as the colleague who went with me commented, not exactly the most diverse crowd. The Hall had large urns of tea on tables along with trays of brownies and scones ("hands across the water"-style refreshments as Nicola Beaumann, the Persephone representative/publisher herself commented). All of the Persephone representatives were charming, amidst the bustle of the American book-buyers.

While I'd expected more of a lecture approach, expecting to get something of an introduction to the author and the cultural milieu surrounding the novel, the talks themselves were actually quite brief. Nicola gave a quite modest marketing spiel and then Anna Sebbe who had written the introduction to The Shuttle spoke a little on the topic of the "Dollar Princesses" -- the wealthy American heiresses who married into a financially-depleted English aristocracy. Indeed, a large portion of The Shuttle is given over to Betty's and Mount Dunstan's efforts to revitalize the family estates and dependent village economies. Sebbe herself is author of a forthcoming biography of Jenny Jerome, a dollar princess who married Lord Randolph Churchill and later, became Winston Churchill's mother. She noted, as an interesting tidbit, the fact that Jennie Jerome before her marriage and later Frances Hodgson Burnett inhabited the same house, just off Berkeley Square. The house and in some ways, Jennie herself, came through in both Shuttle and Marchioness.

Persephone Books saw this event more in the light of facilitating the creation of social networks among existing readers and suggested that reading groups might evolve from the meeting. People did appear to mingle for the most part. It was a lovely way to spend an hour and a half or so; I did connect with some participants from LibraryThing and I had pulled the aforementioned professional colleague into attending.

It was, however, a most expensive jaunt. Besides the cost of a rail ticket to and fro, I robbed the piggy bank in order to purchase the following Persephone titles:

  1. Few Eggs and No Oranges
  2. Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary
  3. A Woman's Place, 1910 - 1975
Given that I am not myself a dollar princess or robber baron, the outrageous self-indulgence will have to be paid for by eating numerous peanut butter sandwiches for lunch and skipping expenditures at Starbucks and/or Borders. The books, I was told, may arrive in a week's time if the airmail post meets expectations....

I'll be posting my review of Idylls of the King later this afternoon. Really, reading Tennyson amidst all the luxury and wealth of a previous century was quite apt.