Weird Factoid of the Day

by wjw on April 29, 2009

I just found out that while working for Eyre and Spottiswoode— surely my favourite British publisher, just for the name alone— Graham Greene edited the first novel of a man better known as a fantasy illustrator:

“Greene scrupulously hammers Mervyn Peake for the facetiousness, prolixity, and overwriting in the original manuscript of Titus Groan. Peake, after reeling from the shock, reworked his book, now regarded as one of the summits of modern fantasy.”

Wow. It was even more overwritten, prolix, and facetious in its first draft!

I’m not sure what to make of the author of End of the Affair and The Power and the Glory laboring to better illuminate the tale of Lord Sepulchrave, Doctor Prunesquallor, Steerpike, and the Seventy-Seventh Earl of Groan.

Mrigashirsha April 29, 2009 at 2:23 pm

I love that, and can’t entirely say why. It’s a glorious little juxtaposition; thank you very much for sharing it.

Out of curiosity, what were you doing when you came across it?

dubjay April 29, 2009 at 7:44 pm

It’s a wonderful factoid, though like you I can’t figure out why I love it so much.

I came across it in an article on Graham Greene in the Weekly Standard:

Peter April 29, 2009 at 10:03 pm

What Greene actually wrote was: “I’m going to be mercilessly frank – I was very disappointed in a lot of it and frequently wanted to wring your neck because it seems to me you were spoiling a first class book by laziness. The part I had seen before I of course still liked immensely -– though I’m not sure it gained by the loss of the prologue. Then it seemed to me one entered a long patch of really bad writing [with] redundant adjectives, a kind of facetiousness, a terrible prolixity in the dialogue of such characters as the Nurse and Prunesquallor, and sentimentality too in the case of Eda [sic] and to some extent in Titus’s sister. In fact – frankly again –- I began to despair of the book altogether, until suddenly in the last third you pulled yourself together and ended splendidly.”

He did not edit the book; Peake made his own revisions.

You can find the full text of this letter, how Greene came to write it and how Peake revised Titus Groan in Vast Alchemies: the life and work of Mervyn Peake.

dubjay April 29, 2009 at 10:09 pm

Excellent, thank you.

Though that =is= the sort of thing editors do.

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