Pretty Penguins All in a Row

Duncan McLaren has undertaken a new project. This will eventually be a collection of all Penguin covers of Waugh’s books to be posted on his website. He has already posted two and they are well worth a look. Since Penguin was producing the most widely read versions of Waugh’s books (or at least the fiction) from the 1930s until today, the covers both reflect and influenced the changes in popular taste over this period. In the beginning, all Pengiuns were created equal and, since Waugh’s books were fiction, their covers were orange. Where he has them, Duncan also includes copies of the back covers which sometimes are unrelated to Waugh but are also markers of the time of publication. For example wartime back covers were frequently advertisements.

The first Waugh Penguin published was Decline and Fall in 1937. It was Penguin #75. The following year Vile Bodies (#136) and Black Mischief (#179) were issued. A Handful of Dust was passed over and was not published in a Penguin edition until 1951 (#821). Scoop was published during the war in 1943 (#455), following an earlier batch that year that included Put Out More Flags (#423). The 1943 POMF is a particular rarity, much sought after by Penguin collectors. According to the Penguin Collectors Society, this is due to the small print runs, poor paper quality and the tendency to pass on or trade paperbacks during the war.

Duncan has included Decline and Fall and Scoop in his first postings. It is to be hoped that readers who possess their own copies of those issues that Duncan is missing will forward information to him to fill in the blanks–mostly relating to back covers. The copyright page is also of interest because Penguin was hopelessly inconsistent in keeping up with Waugh’s revisions to his books. Beginning in the late 1950’s Waugh revised his novels for publication in a uniform edition by C&H and usually included a preface briefly describing his changes. The first of these revisions was Brideshead Revisited published by C&H in 1960, and Penguin issued that version in 1962. Decline and Fall was revised in 1962 but that version was not published by Penguin until 2001 (as Duncan notes in his text). Intervening Penguin editions between those dates would have lacked Waugh’s preface and edits. Similarly, Scoop was revised in 1964 but that version appeared as a Penguin perhaps as late as 2001 or 2011. Penguin is usually good about recording the history of their publication on the copyright page.

UPDATE (29 April 2019): The reason for the scarcity otf the first Penguin edition of Put Out More Flags has been restated based on information provided by James Mackay of the Penguin Collectors Society.


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