The Worlds of Mervyn Peake (5 July - 18 September 2011)
Mervyn Peake (1911–1968) was a prolific and astonishingly original writer and artist, who touched at one time or another on almost every literary form. To celebrate the centenary of Peake’s birth, the British Library’s exhibition The Worlds of Mervyn Peake (5 July - 18 September 2011) examines Peake's output as novelist, poet, playwright and illustrator through the worlds he inhabited, both real and imagined.
The exhibition brings together a wealth of material from the British Library’s collections, including the recently acquired Mervyn Peake archive. Previously unknown works discovered amongst Peake’s papers include: the manuscript of the soon-to-be published fourth Titus book, Titus Awakes, completed by Peake’s wife Maeve Gilmore after his death; and the complete first scene of his sci-fi play ‘Isle Escape’, in which a couple escape to a tropical island to wait out a world war that they later discover failed to take place.
Other highlights include:
- Gormenghast notebooks beautifully illustrated with character drawings of the Prunesquallors, Flay and Barquentine
- Peake’s original drawings for Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass
- A letter home to his wife from Germany in 1945, where Peake attended the war crimes trial of Peter Back and visited Bergen-Belsen as war correspondent for The Leader magazine
- ‘Just a Line’, a storyboard for an animated television programme in which an ordinary little line transforms into pirates, princesses and other strange sights as it journeys across the screen
- ‘The White Chief of the Umzimbooboo Kaffirs’ the earliest surviving story by Peake, written when he was eleven years old on his return from China where he had spent the first part of his life
- Correspondence from Dylan Thomas, Graham Greene and C S Lewis.
Zoë Wilcox, Curator of The Worlds of Mervyn Peake exhibition, said:
“I hope this exhibition will encourage visitors to look beyond the label of ‘gothic fantasy’, which Peake so disliked, to see a man who had a profound understanding of humanity and a wicked sense of fun. Mervyn Peake’s archive was recently acquired by the British Library and this has provided a wealth of material for the exhibition, which focuses on the real places that inspired Peake’s imaginary worlds. As befits a master of nonsense, there are plenty of quirks: you can discover why Peake hated camels, had trouble with geraniums and nearly lost face over the purchase of a palm tree.”
Sebastian Peake, Mervyn Peake's son, said:
"The British Library's The World's of Mervyn Peake exhibition successfully lures the visitor into the disparate world of the writer and illustrator, poet and observer par excellence. China, which dominates the first section is to remain a central locus throughout my father's life, recurring in many guises both visual and written. The following sections of this inspired show, sustain the oriental leitmotif imbibed in youth, while emerging at times in the most unexpected ways. Nonsense, war and peace, humour and tragedy, the wildly different are incorporated within this eclectic cosmos as though germane to a nature that was able to take on the monumental, and succeed in making it accessible to all."
Events accompanying the exhibition include:
Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast (11 July) which will feature the launch and first reading of Titus Awakes, the recently unearthed fourth in the series, and contributions by China Miéville, Sebastian Peake and other special guests.
Mervyn Peake: A Celebration (26 July) an evening of words, memories and images with Peake’s associates, experts and family members.
Tickets are available at http://boxoffice.bl.uk, by calling 01937 546546 (9am-5pm Mon-Fri) or in person at the British Library.
For more information, please visit: www.bl.uk/peake
Notes to Editors:
The Worlds of Mervyn Peake is open from 5 July to 18 September 2011 in the Folio Society Gallery at the British Library. Admission is free.
Exhibition opening hours
Monday, Wednesday-Friday 10.00 – 18.00, Tuesday 10.00 – 20.00, Saturday 10.00 – 17.00, Sunday and Bank Holidays 11.00 – 17.00. For further information about the British Library and its exhibitions please see: www.bl.uk/whatson
Exhibition book and audio CD
Peake's Progress: Selected Writings and Drawings of Mervyn Peake
Peake's Progress is a selection, compiled by his widow, Maeve Gilmore, from every period of his work as a writer and draughtsman. It contains a remarkable work from childhood, 'The White Chief of the Umzimbooboo Kaffirs', the early 'Mr. Slaughterboard', which foreshadows the 'Titus' books, two plays, 'The Wit to Woo' and 'Noah's Ark', a broadcast version of 'Mr Pye', and a generous selection of Peake's short stories, poems and nonsense verses as well as his drawings. Including a new preface written by Mervyn Peake's son, Sebastian, this edition of Peake's Progress is published to coincide with the centenary of Peake's birth, and to mark the British Library's acquisition of Peake's archives.
Hardback £25 (ISBN 978 0 7123 5834 7), 592 pages, 229 x 155mm, 75 black and white illustrations. Available from www.bl.uk/shop (T +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email firstname.lastname@example.org).
A combination of short stories and poetry from Peake's Progress, including the epic 'Rhyme of the Flying Bomb', a selection of his nonsense verse, and some of the poems that resulted from his visit to the concentration camp in Belsen, Germany. The short stories were all written after the war and reveal his mastery of this difficult genre. They include 'The Weird Journey', 'Same Time Same Place', and 'Danse Macabre', originally told to family and friends round the fire on Boxing Night 1954. Read by Mervyn Peake's sons, Sebastian and Fabian Peake, and edited by Peake's widow, Maeve Gilmore.
Two CD set with booklet £15 inc. VAT (978 0 7123 5114 0), running time 147 minutes. Available from www.bl.uk/shop (T +44 (0)20 7412 7735 / email email@example.com).
The Folio Society was founded in 1947 to create exceptional editions of the world’s greatest books through the highest standards of printing, binding, typography and illustration. Over sixty years on, its aim remains the same - to publish reasonably priced books that will stand the test of time, in handsome, imaginatively designed and beautifully crafted editions. www.foliosociety.com
For more information contact:
The British Library
is the national library of the United Kingdom and one of the world's greatest research libraries. It provides world class information services to the academic, business, research and scientific communities and offers unparalleled access to the world's largest and most comprehensive research collection. The Library's collection has developed over 250 years and exceeds 150 million separate items representing every age of written civilisation and includes books, journals, manuscripts, maps, stamps, music, patents, photographs,
newspapers and sound recordings in all written and spoken languages. Up to 10 million people visit the British Library website - www.bl.uk - every year where they can view up to 4 million digitised collection items and over 40 million pages.