The Worlds of Mervyn Peake


Illustration by Mervyn Peake for The Sphinx by Oscar Wilde (1949).

The centenary of writer, artist and poet Mervyn Peake is being celebrated this year with a number of events in the UK. Mervyn Peake: A Centenary Celebration is a small exhibition of Peake’s drawings which has been running since April at the Pallant House Gallery, Chichester. That show ends on July 17th so if you want to be glared at by Fuchsia Groan you’re advised to get your skates on.

The Worlds of Mervyn Peake is a more substantial affair opening this week at the British Library, London, which promises to have materials from the British Library collection and the Peake archive on display. Two evenings of talks are also scheduled although the first of these, Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast, is now sold out. The Guardian ran a feature at the weekend with pieces by some of the people who’ll be involved in the discussions, including Michael Moorcock, who’s been championing Peake’s work since the early 1960s, and China Miéville. For those who can’t make it to the exhibitions, there are also books: The Gormenghast Trilogy has been republished in a new illustrated edition, and the British Library is selling an American edition of Maeve Gilmore’s Peake’s Progress, a 592-page selection of writings, drawings and poetry which has been out-of-print in the UK for years. Essential purchases for any Peake enthusiast.

Update: There’s also an exhibition of artwork by Mervyn Peake and Maeve Gilmore at Viktor Wynd, London. Thanks to Vadim for the tip.

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
A profusion of Peake
Joseph Cavalieri’s stained glass
Mervyn Peake at Maison d’Ailleurs
Peake’s Pan
Buccaneers #1
Mervyn Peake in Lilliput
The Illustrators of Alice

A profusion of Peake


Bellgrove, young Titus and Barquentine by Mervyn Peake. Case designed by Robert Hollingsworth.

I’d thought about posting the covers of my boxed set of Gormenghast paperbacks a couple of years back when there was a flurry of blogospheric attention being given to Penguin cover designs…thought about it then never got round to it. The reason for doing so now is twofold: firstly I’ve been re-reading the books, and secondly some Gormenghast-related news emerged this week which gives this post an additional relevance.


Fuchsia by Mervyn Peake.

The set of Peake paperbacks which Penguin published in 1968 (and their subsequent reprints) were the first editions of Peake’s trilogy which I encountered so I can’t help but regard them as the ones, the only copies I could countenance reading. That may change, however (see below). I’ve no idea how scarce the boxed edition is but the books are reprintings from 1970 so I presume Penguin put out a boxed gift set to make the most of Peake’s posthumous success. I always liked the presentation which is the standard Penguin Modern Classics format of the period, it leaves to you how much you want to regard the books as works of fantasy or simply novels of a rather grotesque and highly imaginative reality. Titus Groan‘s sketch of a glowering and thoroughly unglamorous Fuchsia was a daring choice for a cover intended to lure a newer, younger audience to Peake’s work. The drawing says a great deal about the author’s unsentimental attitude towards his creations; compared to the florid and often delicate covers of the fantasy books being published by Ballantine in the late Sixties (a series which included the Gormenghast trilogy), it seems shockingly unpleasant.

Continue reading “A profusion of Peake”