The Book, Cat, & Cat Book Lovers Almanac

of historical trivia regarding books, cats, and other animals. Actually this blog has evolved so that it is described better as a blog about cats in history and culture. And we take as a theme the advice of Aldous Huxley: If you want to be a writer, get some cats. Don't forget to see the archived articles linked at the bottom of the page.

November 16, 2011

November 16 1968

Mervyn Peake (July 9, 1911, to the night of November 16/17, 1968) was a British artist, whose novels and drawings portray an intensely imagined and unexpected world. We quote passages from the article about Peake in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography to convey a sense of his achievement.

"[His illustrations for ] The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (1943); ... is considered to be his greatest achievement as an illustrator and he was praised for adding a new spiritual dimension to the work...[After the war] he was commissioned by The Leader magazine to tour western Europe with the journalist Tom Pocock. They witnessed the first war crimes trial at Bad Neuenahr in June 1945 and Peake sent back haunting drawings of Bergen-Belsen concentration camp... Titus Groan was published in 1946. It was the first in a projected series in which Titus, the seventy-seventh earl of Groan, rebels against his ancestral home Gormenghast Castle and its restrictive duties, and attempts to find a new identity for himself in another land. Although showing the influence of Dickens, Lewis Carroll, and Kafka, the Titus books defy ready classification....In 1951 Gormenghast, which confounded critics who described it as 'wonderfully weird' and the 'finest imaginative feat in the English novel since Ulysses' (Punch), and The Glassblowers (a collection of poetry based on Peake's war work) won the W. H. Heinemann Foundation prize of £100 and Peake was awarded an honorary fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature."

The critics' inability to deal with Peake's unique imagination meant, though, that years went by when he was out of public notice. We note this excerpted verse, which seems to project a lighter spirit than much of Peake's work:

My Uncle Paul of Pimlico
Has seven cats as white as snow,
Who sit at his enormous feet
And watch him, as a special treat,
Play the piano up side-down,
In his delightful dressing-gown;
The firelight leaps, the parlour glows,
And while the music ebbs and flows
They smile (while purring the refrains)
At little thoughts that cross their brains.

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