Sunday, 21 June 2015

Two Forces for Civilisation

I've jut finished reading The Hopkins Manuscript by RC Sherriff.  This novel, about the moon colliding with Earth, was first published in 1939, so its vision of England surviving an apocalyptic event and its aftermath provide a fascinating imagining of the 1940s without the Second World War.  It's one of several wonderful reprints of forgotten gems produced by Persephone Books.  Over recent years, thanks to Persephone, I've discovered and thoroughly enjoyed Denis Mackail's 1925 comic novel, Greenery Street, Jocelyn Playfair's 1944 A House in the Country, and collections of short stories by Mollie Panter-Downes (Good Evening, Mrs Craven) and Elizabeth Berridge (Tell it to a Stranger). Not to mention, Monica Dickens' enchanting first novel Mariana (which my daughter has adopted/nabbed as one of her favourites. )  Persephone Books pride themselves on reprinting what they call 'neglected fiction and non-fiction by mid-twentieth century (mostly) women writers ... chosen to appeal to busy people wanting titles that are neither too literary nor too commercial.'  This is a difficult course to steer but I've rarely been disappointed by one of their selections and I'm grateful to them for broadening my reading horizons. 

Another publishing enterprise that never fails to surprise and delight is the magazine Resurgence which has been going since 1966.  Resurgence (which merged with The Ecologist in 2012) deals with the environment, activism, social justice, the arts and ethical living.  That might make it sound rather dry but Resurgence has always been a joy to behold - colourful, thought-provoking and an inspirational read.  The secret of the magazine's success and longevity is captured in the words of founder editor Satish Kumar:  "The purpose of Resurgence & Ecologist is to practice, pursue and promote Truth, Goodness and Beauty (TGB).  This ancient trinity is our foundation.  When we select our articles, reviews, poems and pictures we ask ourselves:  do they meet the test of TGB? Are they true and authentic? Will they do any good to our readers?  Do they embody a sense of balance and harmony, in other words, are they beautiful in themselves? ... The manifestation of truth and goodness, or science and spirituality has to be beautiful.  That is why the arts need to be an integral part of human fulfilment. Science correlates to truth, spirituality to goodness and the arts to beauty ..."  

In very different ways, I think both Resurgence magazine and Persephone Books are forces for civilisation in a fragile world.  Both offer us Truth, Goodness and Beauty.  Even if the moon is unlikely to collide with our planet, the good life on Planet Earth is delicate and vulnerable and, like the books Persephone rediscover for us, there is often value and joy to be found in neglected things.


  1. The Hopkins Manuscript is one of the most atmospheric and enjoyable novels I've ever read. I absolutely love it. I had been drawn to it because I had just read another book by RC Sherriff, A Fortnight In September, which again would have to be on my list of "desert island books" (and which again is published by the astonishing and wonderful Persephone Books).
    A Fortnight In September is all about a family holiday at the English seaside, and it just so happened that - as I read it - we were on a family holiday at the English seaside too, and this just seemed to make this book all the more powerful.
    It's one of those subtle, understated, quiet little stories that stay with you long after you have read them.
    It's rather sad without being tragic, but it's also witty and life-enhancing, with much to say about the passage of time (or even about being passengers in time, Tone), and about the changing dynamics of family life as children grow up and parents grow older.
    Incidentally, although this novel was written in 1931, one of the things that struck me as I read it on the beach, was actually how little the culture of the English seaside has changed. References to picture postcards displayed in wire carousels outside shops, for instance.
    This lovely story - about an ordinary family on holiday at Bognor Regis - holds a real power for me. It is the drama of the undramatic.
    And it also provides for us a little bridge between 1931 and the present day, demonstrating that really nothing very much has changed for we ordinary human beings going about our ordinary business, seeking contentment and hoping for the best.
    Just beautiful!

  2. Phil, Thanks for your lovely comment. I'll have to read 'A Fortnight in September' sometime. I like what you say about "we ordinary human beings going about our ordinary business, seeking contentment and hoping for the best..." Could almost be a description of your novel 'Shrewsbury Station Just After Six'.


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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).