New York: The Macmillan Company, . Large 8vo. First American edition. (First published in the UK by Country Life in 1939.) Original pictorial boards. Illustrated from cover to cover by the author. Spine ends and corner tips slightly rubbed. Line of writing to top of front pastedown blocked out with black felt tip. 'From my friend Mervyn | Graham Greene' in black ink on the flyleaf. On the verso in shaky purple ink, 'Mervyn Peake 1967' and at the foot of that page a note in black ink, '* Signed at Burcot, Ox. with the assistance of Dr. Jim Gilmore, wife Sylvia and the N.O.C. for Mr. Green [sic]. (1968 and not 1967 as Mr Peake writes.) Elizabeth.' Contents fine. Near fine. Item #7180
The author's first published book was issued just as the Second World War began and struggled to find an audience. As a consequence, most copies were unsold and remained in a warehouse which was destroyed by a Luftwaffe bomb in 1940. It was re-issued in 1945. Twenty years later, the illustrations must have seemed visionary to American readers coming to terms with the counter-culture and things phantasmagorical. But this copy is very special in that it records the friendship between Graham Greene (1904-1991) and Mervyn Peake (1911-1968) in the last year of the author-artist's life when he was already in the nursing home in Burcot run by his brother-in-law. The two had become acquainted when Peake was commissioned to paint Greene's portrait in 1937. Peake then asked Greene to read Titus Groan during the war after Chatto & Windus had turned it down. Greene wrote him a 'mercilessly frank' letter telling him he was 'spoiling a first class book by laziness.' This shocked the author but led to his revising the text and improving it. On Greene's recommendation, it was published in 1946 by Eyre and Spottiswoode. According to his daughter Clare, Peake designed the logo for Pan Books with the publishers offered him either a flat fee of £10 or a royalty of one farthing per book. On the advice of Greene, who told him that paperback books were a passing fad that would not last, Peake opted for the £10. Greene moved to Antibes in 1966 but this book clearly reached him. A unique and fascinating record of the enduring friendship between two of the greatest English writers of the twentieth century.
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