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April 2013
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On the reliability of the texts in
Peake’s Progress


When Peake’s Progress was first published by Allen Lane in 1979, it contained hundreds of misprints, mistakes and omissions. (There’s a whole stanza missing from The Rhyme of the Flying Bomb, for instance.) This edition should not be used for reference.

The reason why this book is so unreliable is quite simple. Maeve Gilmore paid a secretary to type out all the texts, but she did not check this transcription against the original manuscripts. She carefully read the proofs of the book from Allen Lane, but this amounted to shutting the stable door after the horse had bolted. The mistakes had already been made, for it is much harder to read Peake’s handwriting and follow his deletions and insertions than it is for a printer to set type from a clean typescript.

Before publishing the paperback edition in 1981, Penguin gave me the opportunity to make corrections. In the short time available, I could only compare the reprinted texts against the versions published in Peake’s lifetime. (Lists of the main corrections were printed in MPR13.) Maeve Gilmore did not give me access to the manuscripts of the previously unpublished texts.

Stupidly, Penguin reprinted the uncorrected Allen Lane text in their edition of 2000. As soon as they realized their mistake, they withdrew the book. The reprint published by the British Library in 2011 is a facsimile of the corrected Penguin edition of 1981.

Since then, more reliable texts have been issued, as follows:
— all the poetry (with the exception of ‘The Touch o’ the Ash’ – see below) can be found in Collected Poems and Complete Nonsense respectively;
— the five short stories (with corrections) and ‘Boy in Darkness’ were published in 2007 by Peter Owen;
— a first volume of Peake’s plays was due to be brought out by Methuen in 2011, but they are putting off publication.

‘The White Chief of the Umzimbooboo Kaffirs’ and ‘The Touch o’ the Ash’ are available only in Peake’s Progress. Extracts from ‘Mr Slaughterboard’ and ‘The House of Darkstones’ were printed in Writings and Drawings; fuller texts in Peake’s Progress. No corrected versions of any of them have yet been published. (I cannot unfortunately recommend the transcriptions of these four texts published by Queen Anne Press in their expensive Collected Works of Mervyn Peake. Although I have not checked them word by word, I saw enough mistakes at first glance to convince me that they are not reliable. Reviewed in PS 13:ii.).

Now that the MSS can be examined in the British Library, I have gone over them and provide lists of corrections in pdf format here. The page and line numbers refer to the pages of Peake’s Progress. (For copyright reasons, I cannot supply the corrected texts themselves, only lists of corrections.)

Corrections to ‘The White Chief of the Umzimbooboo Kaffirs
Corrections to ‘The Touch o’ the Ash
Corrections to ‘Mr Slaughterboard’
Corrections to ‘The House of Darkstones’

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