is not a formal history of Penguin, nor a biography
of Allen Lane and other Penguin editors. It is a collection of letters,
telegrams, and memoranda to and from Penguin staff (among them Allen Lane,
Bill Williams, Eunice Frost, A.S.B. Glover and E.V. Rieu), Penguin authors
(such as George Orwell, Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves, Dorothy L. Sayers,
Niklaus Pevsner and John Wyndham) and Penguin readers. These are
grouped around particular people, books or series of books, and themes.
The latter include such things as the role of Penguin during the war,
the almost numerological care with which series numbers such as 100 were
allocated, the problems finding a good illustration of a triffid, mistakes
and misprints, the expansion of Penguin to Australia and the United
States, run-ins with censorship (notably the trial resulting from the
publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover
), and all kinds of other topics.
The significance of Penguin's contributions to publishing is undoubted.
(If I try to visualise a "generic" book, it is a Penguin paperback that
appears, and I have reviewed more books of Penguin's than of any other
publisher.) Anyone interested in the history of English literature during
the middle forty years of this century should find Penguin Portrait
highly rewarding. But I also enjoyed it because it describes a milieu
in which I would have enjoyed working myself, in which creative and
intelligent people were thrown together to produce outstanding examples
of that most glorious of human creations — the book.
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