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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