Today I want to share some new titles from one of my favourite indies, Renard Press! I’ve sung their praises enough times on the Ramblings for them to need no introduction, so I’ll just get on with talking about the books instead. I have a monthly sub to Renard, which I think is a great way to support an indie, and the most recent arrivals were different but lovely! Renard specialise in bite-size treats which can be read in one sitting, and both of these fit that bill.

The History of England, by a Partial, Prejudiced and Ignorant Historian – Jane Austen

First up, a small but entertaining piece of juvelinia from the wonderful Jane Austen. Here, she turns her talents to relating the stories of the various monarchs of the country. Some warrant only a line or two, but titans such as Henry VIII earn entries of a decent length. I was particularly pleased to note that Austen refuses to believe the propaganda about Richard III declaring that she supposes him “a very respectable Man” (I’ve long felt that history has misrepresented him!) The entries are illustrated by Austen’s elder sister, Cassandra, but unfortunately she’s not able to present an image of Edward V as Jane tells us that “This unfortunate Prince lived so little a while that no body had time to draw his picture. He was murdered by his Uncle’s Contrivance, whose name was Richard the 3rd.” (Hmm – so perhaps Austen was being a little sarcastic in her views on the latter….)

This is such fun (as is all Austen’s youthful writing, which I’ve covered in the past). I particularly enjoyed these humorous vignettes, and the edition is enhanced by the colourful reproductions of Cassandra’s illustrations on the inner covers. A treat!

Morris’s Manifestos 1: Art, Wealth and Riches – William Morris

Renard also print some marvellous essays in free-standing editions – the Orwells they’ve done so far are stellar – and this particular title inaugurates a new series of ‘Morris’s Manifestos’ which promises to bring to readers a series of writings by the esteemed artist and polymath William Morris. His work has become absorbed into our culture, and he’s so often now thought of in terms simply of his beautiful and distinctive designs. However, Morris was responsible for much more than lovely images; he had strong Socialist and Utopian views and values, and these come to the fore in this work which is drawn from a talk Morris gave at the Manchester Royal Institution in 1883.

Morris was of course a champion of all that is useful and beautiful, and supported artisanal crafts produced individually and with love and care. His lecture is critical of mass-production, the creation of ugly objects in difficult and unpleasant conditions, and all to feed what he calls competitive commerce’. He obviously recognised early on the negative effects of factory work, the division of labour into piece work and the deleterious effects of unsatisfying toil. And he’s clear about how it’s the workers who suffer and not the bosses – it’s obvious whose side he’s on.

“Art…” also rails against the wealth of the country, in terms of its heritage and its artistic creations, being kept in the hands of those with riches, bringing them more funds, and keeping the mass of the people downtrodden. Morris seems always concerned for a fairer, more equal society and his beliefs are laudable and inspiring.

Since the time of Morris’s life and work we have moved on, of course, to technologies and populations of which he could never have dreamed. And perhaps the kind of Utopian, gilded life he proposed is out of reach for most. However, his work is a stirring reminder that we can make a difference by choosing to take something into our homes that will last, rather than something cheap and ephemeral; that we *should* still fight for equality for all; and that we should having nothing in our houses which is not beautiful or useful, to paraphrase his famous quote. This is a wonderful first volume in what promises to be a fascinating series, and I’m definitely looking forward to see which title of Morris’s Renard issue next!


So today’s reads were fascinating; a marvellous pair of little books which really packed a punch in different ways. Austen is always a treat, and Morris an inspiring commentator. Renard is a shining example of what can be done by a small organisation determined to produced quality items – in this case, books – and I’m sure William Morris would have approved!