Earlier this week some fellow Manhattan-based devotees of Persephone Books gathered chez Bookish NYC to discuss Round About a Pound a Week by Maud Pember Reeves. Mrs. Reeves was a founder of the Fabian Women's Group, and this nonfiction work arose out of that organization's attempt to raise awareness of the plight of the working poor in Lambeth, where it was not unusual for families -- even those with 5 or more children -- to subsist on a pound a week. While not a page-turner, this book was not without its quirky charm, setting forth typical weekly menus (heavy on bread-and-dripping, short on protein, devoid of fruits and vegetables and fresh dairy products), describing a typical day for a young mother, and the heart-breaking fact that the one "luxury" that many of these families allowed themselves was the payment of a shilling a week for funeral insurance so that they would be spared the indignity of a pauper's burial should one of their numerous children die.
Even birth control is touched on obliquely: "Though fond of the children when they are there, this life of stress and strain makes the women dread nothing so much as the conviction that there is to be still another baby with its inevitable consequences -- more crowding, more illness, more worry, more work, and less food, less strength, less time to manage with . . . Should we be able to conquer the problem of poverty, we should automatically solve the problem of the excessively large family."
That's a long preamble to this week's On the Shelf post, but here some photos of the Persephone Bookshop at 59 Lamb's Conduit Street, London (where I was privileged to visit this summer), with its shelves of lovely grey volumes:
Cheers to Kimbofo.typepad.com for kind permission to use the above photo.