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December 2011
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Vast Alchemies: corrections and additions

Please note: all these points (and many others) have been addressed in the new edition, with the title changed to Mervyn Peake’s Vast Alchemies, which was published by Peter Owen on 1st October 2009


Page 16, the list of illustrations: the painting in the first photograph, facing page 160, has been identified as “Mr Brown’s Resurrection” which MP subsequently painted over.

Page 55: start a fresh paragraph after line 8, “a five-year course.”

Page 59, lines 8-10 and note 4 on page 234:
This painting came up for sale at Christie’s South Kensington in March 2003 and failed to reach the vendor’s minimum. When I saw a reproduction of it, I recognized it at once, wrote to Monica Macdonald’s son and he was able to buy it back for his family. So that’s a happy end to a 60-year hunt for this portrait. (It was printed in b&w on the back of PS 9:iii for October 2005, and in colour on page 47 of Mervyn Peake: the man and his art.)

Page 104, friendship with Walter de la Mare: It was probably de la Mare who got Peake to do a portrait of Ithell Colquhoun in 1939, as he was an admirer of her work. The brush portrait was reproduced in PS 4: iv (Spring 1996).

Page 108, line 4:
for “to accept the some of realities” read “ to accept some of the realities”.

Page 119, line 5: for “f^or” read “for”.

Page 125, line 26 (last line of para.): for “one hundred and forty guineas” read “one hundred and fifty pounds”.

Page 126, line 3: for “others been” read “others have been”.

Page 137, three lines up from the foot: for “according Mervyn” read “according to Mervyn”.

Page 151, line 7: The comment between dashes should have been printed just before the parenthetical reference at the end of the sentence (line 10), thus: “He did not know what he would do if he heard that he had been killed. In fact, he just wanted to cry when he thought of the stupidity of the war – and for once he gave vent to an angry expletive (letter dated 7 March 1942; in Smith, p. 85).”

Page 163, six lines up from the foot:
for “reissuing it once” read “reissuing it at once”.

Pages 197, 214–15, and index 252: for “Carey” read “Cary” [Maddeningly, this error was introduced by the publisher between my checking the final proofs and the printing of the book. Grrr!].

Pages 203, 205 and 207:
amend the running head to “1950–1952”.

Page 209, 3rd line of 2nd para:
for “creatively” read “creativity”.

Page 210, lines 9 and 10: for “in the 1950s” read “in 1953”.

Page 215, middle:
for “Mr Loftus, or A House of Air” read “Mr Loftus, or A Horse of Air”. Until 2007, when I was permitted to view the original MS of this play, my only source of information was Watney’s book; it’s another of his infuriating inaccuracies. “A Horse of Air” is a quotation from the old ballad of Tom o’ Bedlam.


Page 28 (middle): add to the paragraph ending “and writing.”:
There is even a direct allusion to the Spirit Way in Titus Groan: the sculptures in the Hall of Bright Carvings are seen “in narrowing perspective like the highway for an Emperor” (p. 19).

See page 59, above

Page 63, line 8: After the word “paintings.” add a new footnote, number 9, to appear on page 235 (top):

9. For more information about the Black Cat (as the clientele called the Au Chat Noir), see London Nights by Stephen Graham.

Page 112, re the portrait of a little girl in a red dress and associated footnote (no 5):
The sitter, Patricia Herington, made herself known to Sebastian Peake in 2004. She was apparently playing near to the Peakes’ home when she fell and cut or grazed her knee. Maeve called her in to bandage it and Mervyn took the opportunity to paint her. Patricia’s parents were so impressed by the portrait that they sent her sister round to sit for Mervyn too.

Page 146, insert at the end of the last complete paragraph:
There is an indirect reference to this episode in Gormenghast. One of the teachers “augmented the pall of tobacco smoke already obscuring the ceiling of the [Professors’] Common-room with enough of his own exhaling to argue … that the floorboards were alight” (p. 52).

Page 150, after “training” in line 13, add:
Now long since demolished, the mill was one of the largest in the area. Unlike the shoebox shape of so many northern cotton mills, it comprised two long wings on either side of a central structure. From contemporary photographs, I calculate that there were about three hundred windows in the facade overlooking the river on which sappers learned to assemble the Bailey bridge and pontoons. I suspect that this mill helped inspire the dreaded factory whose windows, each filled with an identical face, are reflected in the waters of a lake in Titus Alone (pp. 167–8). It certainly inspired Mervyn with powerfully negative feelings.
Start a fresh paragraph with “John Watney paints…”

Page 198, “Whizz Brown”
In 2005 Kit Peake decided to part with some of his uncle’s drawings, including “Buccaneer Whizz-Brown, The Oldest & Fastest scrum-half in the world”, “Caught and Bowled Copperknob”, andBOWLED!!

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