It sometimes seems that my mission in life is to accumulate; books of course, but also shells, little pebbles, shoes, postcards, pictures generally, bits of ribbon, odd socks (though I swear they start out as pairs) theatre programmes, stuff for the kitchen – well you get the idea, and all of it collects dust like nobody’s business, but within the general accumulation there are little hoards which are genuine collections and the one dearest to my heart is my collection of Virago books.
My love for this publisher stretches back over 18 years which I realise (though not entirely willingly) is half my lifetime. I first discovered those nice green books when I was fresh at university and beginning to realise there must be more to the canon than men and Virginia Woolf. Those were the heady days of discovering Molly Keane, and Rosamond Lehmann, Dodie Smith and E. M. Delafield’s ‘Diary of a Provincial Lady’. After graduating I worked in a bookshop for a while (the Blonde was my boss) and that’s when I started collecting (though I must admit to not really reading many at the time) and then for a while my reading tastes veered off in other directions.
My rediscovery of Virago was a happy moment (Florence King’s ‘Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady’, Mary Renault’s ‘The Friendly Young Lady’s’ Dorothy Baker’s ‘Cassandra at the Wedding’) and the point where I started looking for apples rather than authors on books – a strategy which has lead me to all sorts of happy discoveries – F. M Mayor, Muriel Spark, Barbara Pym, Alice Thomas Ellis, Elizabeth Von Arnim, and Barbara Comyns are all writers I would probably never have read without Virago’s livery to recommend them. I have a list almost as long of writers waiting to be read on my shelves all there for the same reason.