Archive > Happy Birthday Mervyn Peake

Peake coverHappy Birthday to Mervyn Peake, born on this day in 1911. Best known for his surreal gothic trilogy of Gormenghast novels, Peake was also a poet and playwright. His first success though was as a painter and illustrator in the 1930s and 40s. If you only know Peake as a writer, you’ll be astonished at how accomplished he was as an artist.

‘Probably one of the finest writers in the English language.’ – Alan Moore

Poet and playwright John Constable's acclaimed stage adaptation of the Gormenghast trilogy

Poet and playwright John Constable’s acclaimed stage adaptation of the Gormenghast trilogy

Mervyn Peake – The Man and His Art is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated volume. A collaboration between Peake’s son, the late and much-missed Sebastian Peake (1940–2012), Alison Eldred and acclaimed biographer G. Peter Winnington, the book collects together illustrations, paintings, photographs, letters, notebook pages and other material – much of which has never been published – to produce a unique memoir of the artist’s life and work. Contributors, who discuss various aspects of his literary and visual output, include the writers Michael Moorcock and Joanne Harris, Langdon Jones, editor of Titus Alone, artists John Howe and Chris Riddell, David Glass and John Constable, creators of the stage version of the Gormenghast trilogy, and Estelle Daniels, producer of the BBC dramatization. The book includes sections on Peake’s upbringing as the son of a missionary in China, his development as an illustrator, artist and writer, marriage and fatherhood, his wartime experiences, creation of the Titus trilogy, Mr Pye and other literary works, and his tragic decline as illness dementia with lewy bodies  overcame him, resulting in his early death in 1968. To order from AmazonUK, click here: Mervyn Peake – The Man and His Art.

‘Peake is in the great tradition of idiosyncratic English writers. His poetry and fiction, like theirs is sui generis and, like his drawing and painting, reveals authentic genius.’ – Michael Moorcock

Layout 1Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies
is an acclaimed biography by G. Peter Winnington, lecturer in English literature at the University of Lausanne and editor of Peake Studies, the journal dedicated to Peake’s life and work. In this revised version of the book, Winnington examines the novels, poems, illustrations and plays and discusses how Peake’s life and experiences were channelled through his unique imagination into his work. The biography charts Peake’s birth in China, follows him to art school in London, and describes his time in an artists’ colony in the Channel Islands. It covers in detail his experiences in the army during the Second World War – an unhappy period during which he wrote Titus Groan – and the huge influence that his visit to the newly liberated concentration camp at Belsen had on his work. The next ten years of his life were without doubt his most productive but by the mid-1950s he was beginning to show signs of the degenerative illness that eventually killed him in 1968. This new edition also features photographs, paintings and drawings specially released for this 2009 edition by the Mervyn Peake Estate. To order from AmazonUK, click here: Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies: The Illustrated Biography.

‘By far the best biography I’ve read of Peake, and closest to the reality that I perceived.’ – Michael Moorcock

Boy in Darkness is a selection of Mervyn Peake’s long out-of-print short stories, and a good number of never before published illustrations. The title piece comprises a chapter in the life of Titus Groan that unfolds beyond the pages of Peake’s monumental Gormenghast trilogy. It is Titus Groan’s fourteenth birthday; overwhelmed by the pomp and gruelling ritual of life in Gormenghast, he braves an escape from his hereditary gaol. Beyond the castle walls, Titus
boy-in-darknesswanders into a sinister and soulless land, where he is captured by Goat and Hyena, the grotesque henchmen of an evil master intent on claiming young Titus’s soul. A disturbingly atmospheric tale, told with the force and simplicity of allegory, ‘Boy in Darkness’ distils the strange logic of the Gormenghast trilogy into a story of pith and mystery, which bears comparison with Kafka and Poe. With a foreword by novelist Joanne Harris, this unique collection which also includes a ghost story, wry character studies drawn from Peake’s life in London and on the Isle of Sark reveals surprisingly different facets of Peake’s uncanny imagination. To order a copy from AmazonUK, click here: Boy In Darkness and Other Stories.

‘A master of the macabre and a traveller through the deeper and darker chasms of the imaginaton’ – The Times

Peter Owen also publishes Mervyn Peake’s A Book of Nonsense. The Centenary Edition includes a foreword by Sebastian Peake and an introduction by
book-of-nonsense-centenaryenthusiast Benjamin Zephaniah. With Mervyn Peake illustrations chosen for the book by his widow Maeve Gilmore, this is a winning combination of the whimsical, off-beat and occasionally macabre that will appeal to all ages. To order from AmazonUK, click here: A Book of Nonsense – The Centenary Edition.

‘Peake deserves a place among the eccentrics of the English tradition alongside Sterne, Blake, Lear, Carroll and Belloc.’ – Times Literary Supplement



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