Persephone Reading Weekend 2011

There are few things sadder than a forgotten, neglected book—but nothing so joyous as a rediscovered one.

With this blog—maintaining it, being part of the larger book blogosphere with it—I’ve discovered many things about my reading habits, even tastes, among them my penchant for lost or forgotten books. Not so much obscure texts [with all its snooty connotations], but more of the literature that has, over the years, have faded from the public consciousness, and not because of any shortcomings in their quality, or their capability to stir one’s soul. Hand in hand with my “education” in the tried-and-tested Classics, I’ve become better acquainted with books that should have been Classics, if only the public of yore weren’t so capricious with their treatment and esteem. And I feel really good about it.

It’s not an advocacy, per se, but a broadening of my reading horizons. Never mind that it’s occasionally glum reading if only because of the constant, “How could they let this disappear?!” There’s a smugness, yes, haha—but, always, joy.

I’ve wanted to read Persephone Classics for all of the above. The opportunity to discover the books that made men and women years and years ago ecstatic with the very presence of literature in their lives—books reissued in that delightfully cool gray with its shock of textile as endpapers. Yum.

And I’ve finally read one. Two, actually. After months of moping-ly reading about Persephones in all of your blogs, after all those vicarious Persephone Weeks—I finally have the dove-gray books in my shelves. The first—my first ever!—Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey. Is it so strange that I trembled as I breathed in the [carefully] opened book?

* * *

My First Persephone:
Cheerful Weather for the Wedding by Julia Strachey

It seems as straightforward as they come—and quaint: there is a wedding, a family is in chaos, the bride idly wonders if she is about to make the biggest mistake of her life. The first half of the book deal with all the downstairs-preparations: the clueless mother fluttering about, the bride’s best friend struggling to engage the bride’s other friend in small talk, and—a detail that, to my bewilderment, had me giggling too many times—the bride’s cousins, fixated on “proper” socks for a wedding. It’s all very typical slice-of-life, ol’-fashioned funny, with the narrative slipping in and out of several characters’ heads—but one does wonder where it’s going.

One wonders where the angst is.

It arrived, halfway through, with Dolly the bride nursing a half-empty bottle of rum. And trying to see the life in store for her as the wife of the Hon. Owen Bingham. And, more importantly, wondering about a man downstairs, drinking herself to a truth-telling stupor, who she may or may not love, who may or may not love her enough to carry her away from the impending ceremony.

“Supposing, just supposing,” went on Dolly, “that Joseph came up to me now, five minutes before the wedding though it is, and confessed, at last, that he had loved me all along, begged me to run off with him, by the back door, across the fields, while everyone was sitting waiting in the church for me, now what should I do after all?”

And a handful of paragraphs later, it’s the aforementioned Joseph’s turn to wonder. But with Dolly’s idle drinking—deceptively idle, I’ll want to argue—is Joseph’s panicky state:

In the turmoil of the feelings which had descended upon him quite unexpectedly, during the last half-hour, and which he was utterly powerless to disentangle or make the least head and tail off, one idea had now come up to the surface at last, and beat like a little hammer all the while in his terrified mind.

“Stop the wedding! Stop the wedding! Stop the wedding! Stop the wedding!” it went.

But it’s all conjecture. That’s the maddening thing about the narrative that uncoils from page one. Because from the very first paragraph, we are told that Dolly Thatcham and the Hon. Owen Bingham do, indeed, get married.

Then why bother to relay all this? Why would Strachey choose to focus on all this inconsequential chaos and thumb-twiddling, made more inconsequential because we know it’s all for nothing anyway? And even without the foreknowledge, we feel that Dolly’s musing [rum, too] isn’t that dire, and even Joseph isn’t sure about his own intentions. Dolly and Joseph—they make the novel a novel about having cold feet about having cold feet.

It’s a tidy little book, though I did find certain aspects of this read underwhelming. I mean, while I do appreciate Strachey’s care to intersperse the cheer and the uncertainty, I feel that there was something mildly annoying about the concentration on the former. The cheer-chaos of the first half of the book made for some boggish reading, and had the overall effect of stifling the undercurrent of doubt of Dolly’s wedding day. I understand juxtaposition and all that jazz, but, personally, I’m a sucker for angst.

That said, as you’d expect, the feeble sprinkles of cold feet-squared had me wondering about what lies ahead for Dolly and Joseph, and Owen the Bridegroom. One of the more effective scenes in the novel was when Dolly and Joseph, struggling to be understood, hug it out—and Owen steps in, a little flustered at the sight, but willing to overlook it. Would this augur well for the marriage? Or is it simply a taste of things to come, Joseph or otherwise? Will the seed of doubt that managed to thrive beneath the shell-shocking gaiety of their wedding day bloom into something more dire?

Overall, although I wasn’t floored by my first Persephone, I wasn’t disappointed either. I have realized, though, with this blog entry, that the actual experience of reading the book, although a pleasant way to spend two hours, pales in comparison to my enjoyment of talking about Cheerful Weather for the Wedding considerably—speculating, wondering, making conjectures! Not bad at all.

PS :: Tomorrow, for the last day of PRW, I’ll be posting on No.90, The Winds of Heaven by Monica Dickens, which I love like crazy. [I do hope this is the beginning of a long love story between me and Persephone Classics.] For other crazy-loving for Persephones, do visit the hosts of Persephone Reading Weekend, Claire and Verity, for updates on how it’s all going, and who’s been gushing.

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12 comments

  1. Such a beautiful, heart-warming and enthused post, Sasha! I am thrilled that you have read your first -and second- Persephone book and that you have joined us for Persephone Reading Week. I am even more delighted that with your second read, your love affair with Persephone is blooming.

    I was underwhelmed by Cheerful Weather for the Wedding when I read it but I find that it is one that improves with time and reflection; I thought the cheer was satirical of wedding days and have been tempted to reread it by your post and others this weekend.

  2. I’ve had that happen too, where I thought that a book was just “fine” when I read it but, with through the process of articulating some of I’d felt a bit disappointed about, I came to realize that there was actually more to it than I’d realized when I was reading. It always surprises me, but in a good way!

  3. […] Sasha reviews her first Persephone, Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. An eloquent review and a heartwarming post about the beginnings of one reader’s love affair with Persephone Books. […]

  4. This is one I don’t like very much, but as you say so much to talk about even so! I loved The Winds of Heaven too though so am looking forward to your review of that even more.

  5. I loved this book so much, but I know that I got a bit carried away by the humour, partly because I wasn’t expecting it. It was fitting, perhaps, that Dolly did get married and that Joseph didn’t stop her, because the way he was didn’t suggest that he would stop it, but it was sad knowing what they were thinking.

  6. “Is it so strange that I trembled as I breathed in the [carefully] opened book?

    No. no. no. no. no! I had the exact same reaction. I am glad you are so excited about Monica Dickens, she has been on my list of must-try-Persephone-authors for a while, based on a completely random notion, so I’m glad you liked her so that I can substantiate that claim :)

    I’m sorry Cheerful Weather for the Wedding did not blow you away. I was hoping it would. For the same reasons as listed above.

  7. I’ve seen mixed reviews for this book. Some people like; others hate. It’s nice to see a review where someone both likes and dislikes a book. I’ve not read Cheerful Weather, but I intend to at some point.

  8. I enjoyed reading your wonderful review. This was my first read for the PRW and I was mixed about it too. I am gald you’ve found Persephone and will look forward to your review on the Dickens. Both endpapers are beautiful, aren’t they.
    You’re not alone in breathing in the book before you begin :-)

  9. Lovely post!

    I adore this novel, mostly for its odd style – but it’s not a very representative Persephone novel, really. Looking forward to hearing what you think of others!

  10. I haven’t read either yet but I plan to at some point (of course!) First NYRB and now Persephone, you’re going to have a lovely collection of books:)

  11. […] Cheerful Weather for the Wedding, by Julia Strachey. […]

  12. I think there will more or less be an underwhelming quality about most of the Persephones. My latest Persephone, The Fortnight in September, was such as well. It was very sweet and charming, but did not entirely captivate me.

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