"MASTERPIECES OF MODERN FANTASY": FIRST EDITIONS OF MERVYN PEAKE'S GORMENGHAST TRILOGY, INCLUDING THE SCARCE FIRST BOOK, TITUS GROAN, "ONE OF THE GREATEST FANTASY NOVELS IN THE LANGUAGE"
PEAKE, Mervyn. Gormenghast Trilogy: Titus Groan. WITH: Gormenghast. WITH: Titus Alone. London: Eyre & Spottiswoode, 1946, 1950, 1959. Three volumes. Octavo, original red cloth, original dust jackets with designs by Peake. $2800.
First editions of the three volumes of Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, "one of the masterpieces of fantasy, a breathtakingly vivid and incomparably stylish tour de force of the imagination," in lovely original dust jackets designed by Peake.
Titus Groan "is one of the greatest fantasy novels in the language. Frequently described as 'Gothic,' Titus Groan contains no obvious supernatural elements. Yet it is unutterably strange, a tragicomedy of fantastic dimensions… Once experienced, the world and the characters of Titus Groan cannot be forgotten" (Pringle). "It is, if you wish, an allegory of what had been happening in Europe during the time when Peake was writing the book. But it is also pure fantasy, a totally original creation" (Burgess). The first novel was very highly regarded by reviewers, but did not sell well, which explains the common appearance of later state dust jackets on first printings of Titus Groan, with blurbs from favorable reviews and a higher price, likely issued to coincide with the appearance of Gormenghast in 1950, or perhaps even Titus Alone in 1959. "By the time the third volume was published [in 1959], Peake had a substantial cult following, one that was to increase as the years passed until the trilogy became widely acknowledged as a highly individual masterpiece" (Parker & Kermode, 360). "The second of Peake's great novels about Titus Groan and his environs has a somewhat different flavor from the first… but its finest moments, its revelations of character and landscape, are on a level with those of the first book. Both volumes are masterpieces of modern fantasy" (Pringle). "One of the masterpieces of fantasy, a breathtakingly vivid and incomparably stylish tour de force of the imagination" (Barron, regarding the trilogy as a whole).
"Part of the origin of Peake's singular vision must lie in his childhood circumstances. The son of a missionary doctor, he was born in Kuling, in southern China. From there, his family moved north to Tientsin, where the young Mervyn spent his early schooldays on an Occidental island set in an Oriental sea… Like Peake, the young Earl of Groan [Titus] spends his childhood in an enclave. Gormenghast, the family castle, is a vast and rambling structure, a country in stone, a way of life, a state of mind. Tradition is all. Titus is the seventy-seventh Earl, succeeding to the title when his father is eaten by owls… The kitchen-boy, Steerpike, dark counterpart of Titus, gnaws at the structure of his ossified society like a rat in the wall. Between Earl and kitchen-boy, rebels at opposite poles, the teeming life of Gormenghast loves, hates, suffers and rejoices" (Cawthorn & Moorcock). Titus Groan third state dust jacket (of three, as often found) with "Second Impression," contemporary blurbs and publisher's sticker with price "18/- Net" on front flap; book is first printing. Gormenghast second state dust jacket with publisher's sticker with price "18/- Net"; book is first printing. Pringle, Modern Fantasy: The Hundred Best Novels 1 (Titus Groan); 10 (Gormenghast). Cawthorn & Moorcock, Fantasy: The 100 Best Books 46 (entire trilogy). Barron, Fantasy & Horror 5-242. Burgess, 99 Novels: The Best in English Since 1939, 36.
Cloth of Titus Groan with minor discoloration; Gormenghast and Titus Alone volumes fine. Dust jacket spines very mildly toned, less so than often found; Titus Groan with small stain to rear panel, Gormenghast with short split to lower front flap, all unrestored and very nearly fine. A lovely set.