Sunday, June 30, 2013

The Two Marys, in more radical company

The two Marys, mother Wollstonecraft and daughter Shelley, are to meet in conversation this week, at the radical booksellers of Kings Cross. Joseph Johnson will doubtless be there in spirit, at Housmans Bookshop at 7pm on Wednesday, peering around and reflecting on the changing face of publishing over the centuries.

The Two Marys: A Conversation Piece, accompanied by cello, were heard at the Camden Archive Centre in March; my review is here. They will be reprising the piece, which was first performed in the National Portrait Gallery on 14 September 1997, marking the bicentenary of the death and birth. The change of venue is apt, wrenching the pair from history to current politics. "For the fifth year running Housmans will be giving over our summer events programme to a season of talks and book events celebrating radical aspects of the capital’s social history." Have you ever visited Housmans, in bricks and mortar or online? (I believe they dropped the apostrophe when Kings Cross did.)

Independent bookshops struggle; Charing Cross Road now sells pizza and Chinese medicine; the Amazon river has deluged us all; but there's always a place for specialist booksellers, which invariably attract knowledgeable and passionate people as both staff and customers. From its website:
Housmans is London’s premier radical bookshop – it’s one of the last remaining such shops, as well as having been one of the first (originally opening in 1945). ... Whilst acknowledging its roots in the peace movement – and, specifically, in the radical pacifist end of the movement – it aims to be a broad-based, non-sectarian shop, encouraging the dissemination of a wide range of progressive and alternative ideas. As the shop’s founders recognised, opposing injustice and oppression and the degradation of our planet are prerequisites of a more peaceful society.
You may remember that we popped into Housmans, with the Japanese historian and the Swedish theatre designer. We had just found the Wollstonecraft plaque in Somers Town and were about to board the bus to St Paul's, where Johnson had his publishing house, on our quest for the plaque in Southwark. Kings Cross is handy for transport connections, and was so, even in eighteenth century.

From the official description of A Conversation Piece:
Two months after Shelley’s death, Mary Shelley fights off her anguish for the sake of her remaining child. She clings to her books: Shelley’s poems; the works of her father, the philosopher William Godwin; the feminist writings of her mother, Mary Wollstonecraft, who died shortly after giving birth to her.
In her despair, the young Mary pours her heart out in a letter to an English friend who was her mother’s first pupil. If only she could conjure up her mother from the past, if only she could speak to her for an hour...