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by Willa Cather
Willa Cather was one of the most important authors we reprinted in the Virago Modern Classics. No one has written better about the pull of solitude. In The Professor’s House, the ageing professor has a wife and daughters he loves, but thinks about ‘eternal solitude with gratefulness, as a release from obligation’.
The juxtaposition of another story, of a young man who feels pure energy – ‘Nothing tired me. Up there, alone, I seemed to get the solar energy in some direct way’ – with the overcrowded and now rather stuffy life of the professor is extraordinary. It’s the book I give most often to friends.
by Ford Madox Ford
I read a huge number of novels in my twenties. This was my first encounter with an unreliable narrator. It’s a tale of two couples, the Dowells and the Ashburnhams, who meet regularly in the spas of Europe.
They are not what they seem, and the unreliability of the facts, the shifting of identities, the grandiosity of the hopes, the endless disappointments, the huge emotional confusions and betrayals, the driving power of sex and love, all described in his bumbling way by the narrator Dowell, leave me devastated each time I read it. It makes you wonder what we can know about people – a very unsettling novel, but a great one.
by Mary McCarthy
I went to Florence for the first time with my husband when we were in our mid twenties. This was the most wonderful companion. Mary McCarthy combines history, art criticism, politics and social observation, and finds wonderful secret places – hidden churches, palazzos, little restaurants. Her description of the Donatello Mary Magdalene is deeply moving. I’ve never forgotten that ten days, and she was part of it.
by George Eliot
I read Middlemarch in a mountain village above Beirut in 1967. We had driven there from Oxford just after the 1967 war, and found a little summer house in Shemlan. I felt very homesick, and started reading the novel. There on the terrace, with grapes hanging down, and a spectacular view of the Mediterranean, I became absorbed in these people’s lives – Dorothea, Lydgate, Rosamund, the Bulstrodes. What I most love is that Eliot’s characters all possess ‘inner space’ – she analyses minutely their hearts and minds. Still my favourite 19th century novel.
by Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said
I’ve lived and travelled in the Middle East quite a lot and Edward Said has been important to me for years. So has Barenboim; his recent performances in London of the Beethoven piano concertos were simply astonishing. Parallels and Paradoxes: Explorations in Music and Society is the result of conversations between them. They talk about performance; how music is a means of defying silence; the differences between writing prose and music; the need for an ‘artistic solution’ to the Middle East crisis. Together they founded the West East Divan orchestra, with young musicians from Israel and Palestine: a heroic enterprise.
by Carolyn Steedman
We published this at Virago in the 80s, a time of huge rethinking of social relations and political culture. I was proud to be the editor for this book, which in some ways marked a turning point in how history was written, though it’s not history in any traditional sense of the word.
Finally, after all the scholarship boys’ stories, here is the scholarship girls’ version – angry young women catching up with Angry Young Men. It tells you about mothers and daughters, about class and the politics of envy, about the good father, working class conservatism, generational memory, about clothes and about women who don’t want children. It’s still read by students all over the world, and quite right too.
by Primo Levi
Primo Levi was a chemist, and chemistry may have saved his life at Auschwitz, where he was picked to work in a IG Farben factory. My father was also a chemist, and tried, without much success, to enthuse me about it. I did Chemistry at A level, and learned the Periodic Table – which Levi says is ‘the missing link between the world of words and world of things’. This book is a gem: 21 stories, each with the name of a chemical element. They include experiences of life in concentration camps, legacies from the profession of chemistry, what chemistry meant to him as a schoolboy. It made me see, as nothing else did, the beauty of the subject.
by Jumpa Lahiri
I recently discovered Jumpa Lahiri, who writes about Indian immigrants to America (where she lives). Her language is wonderfully and powerfully plain and her stories are about people who have assimilated into their new countries, something I’m particularly interested in as that’s what my family did here. Unaccustomed Earth looks at what becomes
of the second and third generations, no longer so constrained, as their parents were, by their communities of origin. They are stories of love and loss and belonging, or not, often unbearably poignant, and I read them over and over.
Ursula Owen is one of the founders of feminist publishers Virago Press
Grace Blakeley investigates the curious case of Carillion: how the company’s slow decline and abrupt liquidation reveals the nature of modern capitalism.
The collapse of Carillion could be a watershed moment. Let's seize it to end economically disastrous outsourcing schemes. By Cat Hobbs.
Campaign groups highlight UK complicity in Saudi Arabia's human rights abuses.
Three founders of Momentum talk to Ashish Ghadiali about the two years that have transformed their lives and the fortunes of the British left.
Andrew Smith from Campaign Against the Arms Trade gives the run-down on one of the UK's most profitable - and most deadly - industries.
The real story behind the fire in Grande Synthe’s Linière refugee camp, Dunkirk. From 'Bordered Lives – How Europe fails refugees and migrants' by Hsiao-Hung Pai
Javier Pérez De La Cruz writes about the working class Berlin neighbourhood wrung dry by gentrifiers.
Across the world, thousands of protesters are taking on the planet’s biggest fossil fuel companies. We should support them – and if we can, we should join them. By Kara Moses
Students are suffering the effects of financial instability, stress, and slashed mental health services. Mark Crawford reports.
They're not defending free speech - they're just seeking to shore up their own power, writes Ilyas Nagdee
Jeremy Hunt is poised to flog the last of the NHS
Peter Roderick sounds the alarm on an 'attack on the fundamental principles of the NHS'.
Viva Siva, 1923-2018
A. Sivanandan, who died this week, was a hugely important figure in the politics of race and class. As part of our tributes, Red Pepper is republishing this 2009 profile of him by Arun Kundnani
Sivanandan: When memory forgets a giant
Daniel Renwick calls for the whole movement to discover and remember the vital work of A. Sivanandan, who died this week
A master-work of graphic satire
American Jewish cartoonist Eli Valley’s comic commentary on America, the US Jewish diaspora and Israel is nothing if not near the knuckle, Richard Kuper writes
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns