The first book publication of Brideshead Revisited took place in London 75 years ago this week on 28 May 1945. In the period of slightly less than a year since Waugh had submitted his typescript to Chapman & Hall in June 1944, he had spent most of his time en-route to and from, or in Yugoslavia. His editing of the text was based on page proofs that were parachuted into Yugoslavia in November (with the help of Winston Churchill). Chapman & Hall incorporated those edits into the final text that was printed for release on 28 May. By that time, Waugh had returned to England and was there when the book was published. His diary entry for that date starts: “The day of publication of Brideshead. A charming letter from Desmond MacCarthy this morning promising to review it in the Sunday Times.”
The review appeared the Sunday after the novel was published (3 June 1945, p. 3) and began with this:
This is a remarkable novel and a moving one. I place it among the few best novels of the last twenty-five years, and at the top of Mr Waugh’s own achievements: both on account of the penetrating candour of its insight and the author’s firmly passionate grasp of his theme. […] There are fine examples of poetic realism, both descriptive and dramatic, in Brideshead Revisited, beautiful passages and pages.
MacCarthy goes on to describe the story and the characters who have a “marked individuality and are vividly drawn with a justice in which I could find no flaw.” The review concludes:
…this I must add, for it is the most striking thing about the whole book: this story of the strain Catholic doctrine may put upon different temperaments, and of the support it gives, is told with an impartiality which may even disquiet unintelligent and timid Catholics. Charles, the observer, remains sceptical and detached until the very end, when, having lost Julia and been present at the death-bed of her father, he has an inkling of its sublime, extravagant “other-worldiness.”
Waugh went on to engage in a constructive correspondence with MacCarthy about his review which is discussed in a previous post.
The first edition was jointly published by Chapman & Hall and the Book Society. The book was issued in 9000 copies on 28 May 1945 (of which 8700 copies were set aside for the Book Society whose paper supply exceeded that of C&H which was apparently allotted the remaining 300 copies).* The Book Society and trade editions were identical in appearance, with a few variations. Most copies (those released through the Book Society) on the title page stated publication by “Chapman & Hall and the Book Society”. On the copyright page there appeared at the top the statement “This edition issued on first publication by the Book Society Ltd. in association with Chapman & Hall Ltd. May 1945.” There is an “Author’s Note” in the middle of that page and information at the bottom about conformity with government standards and printer identification. On the few copies released by Chapman & Hall, the title page mentions only that firm. On the copyright page, the message about joint publication does not appear and the “Author’s Note” is printed in its place at the top. At the bottom, in addition to the standards and printing information, there is a box below that in which is printed “Cat. No. 5010/4”. There is also the word “and” centered between the standards and printing statements. Aside from those differences, the texts of the two versions printed at the same time are said by bibliographers to be identical.
The dust jackets were apparently also identical, although at least some copies had a wrap-around paper band on which was printed “Book Society Choice” on the front, back and spine and the Book Society’s colophon below that on the spine. Whether this band was included on those few copies allocated to Chapman & Hall is not known, although an internet offer of the book including that rare addition is the Chapman & Hall version. There is no mention of the Book Society on the dust jacket itself, and the wrap-around band appears to have been their sole source of identification on the book’s exterior.
Waugh notes in his diary (1 July 1945) that the first edition “sold out in the first week and is still in continual demand” which is not surprising given the limited number available for sale through book stores. Chapman & Hall’s advertising in the TLS, 2 June 1945, p. 261 (a few days after publication) stated “First Edition sold out, now reprinting”; a similar notice appeared in advertising copy in the Sunday Times, 3 June 1945, p. 3. The publishers issued a “Revised Edition” sometime before August when Waugh was discussing the revisions in a letter to Tom Driberg and at least one other (“third”) edition came out in 1945, both under the C&H imprint. Additional C&H printings appeared in 1946 and 1947.
*NOTE: The information about the allocation of copies between the Book Society and Chapman & Hall appears in an unpublished letter from F B Walker, Chapman & Hall, to A D Peters (Waugh’s agent), 1 March 1945. The letter is in the A D Peters papers at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas. It is possible that between that date and 28 May the allocation numbers may have changed.