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Mervyn Peake (1911 - 1968)

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  • Mervyn Peake was a novelist, poet, playwright, painter, illustrator and children’s writer. Born in a small European settlement called Kuling, on 9 July, 1911 Peake spent most of his childhood south of Peking, in Tientsin, China, where he attended the Tientsin Grammar School. His family returned to England in 1923 when his father set up a medical practice in Wallington, Surrey. After a brief spell at the Croydon School of Art Peake enrolled at the Royal Academy in December, 1929. By 1935, when Peake began teaching at Westminster School of Art, he had already exhibited his work on several occasions in London and on the island of Sark. 1938 saw Peake’s first solo exhibition, and the following year witnessed the publication of his first book, Captain Slaughterboard. During the war Peake joined the Royal Artillery, but was given special dispensation by his commanding officer to finish his novel Titus Groan, the first part of his celebrated Gormenghast trilogy (although the trilogy was originally planned as part of a larger cycle). At the end of the war Peake travelled to Germany and France to illustrate Tom Pocock’s articles for the magazine New Leader. This included a tip to the Bergen-Belsen concentration camps, where he drew the dying inmates and collected ideas for his future poetry. Titus Groan was published in 1946, followed by Gormenghast in 1950. At the age of 46 Peake developed Parkinson’s disease, but was still able to complete Titus Alone which was subsequently published in 1959.

    Mervyn Peake died on November 17th, 1968, at his brother-in-law’s carehome in Burcot, near Oxford. Nowadays Peake is best known for the three novels which make up the Gormenghast trilogy. However, prior to their publication he was best known his poems, paintings, drawings, and book illustrations.

    Praise for Mervyn Peake (1911 - 1968) 'a landmark volume... a testament to a poet who never quite achieved the level of attention that he deserved.'
    Jay Parini, the Guardian
    '...full of a fastidious author's joy in the sheer music of language, shot through with the sensitivity, melancholy and savage realism that sings in all his work.'
    A L Kennedy
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