THE ORIGINAL 10
Where Are They Now?
Allen Lane launched Penguin Books in 1935 with ten titles. Some of the authors who were part of Penguin's introduction were well-known at the time, and continue to be today (Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway). But some of the other authors and books have faded into publishing history, and are no longer available. Below, we've taken a look at "The Original Ten" (as they've became known) in order to find out what they've been up to in the past seventy-five years.
1935 was a hell of a dramatic year. The world was cast into a global economic downturn known as The Great Depression, a major ecological crisis — the Dust Bowl — laid waste to a huge swath of American and Canadian prairies, and in Europe Chancellor Adolf Hitler announced German rearmament, thus setting the stage for another bloody world war. But 1935 was also the year in which one man had a vision that would stand book publishing on its head.
Allen Lane had the revolutionary idea to offer cheap, quality books through outlets like railway stations and newsagents. He wanted to make good books as accessible and as cheap to procure — six pence! — as purchasing a pack of cigarettes from a kiosk. Lane launched his new line of books with ten inexpensive paperbacks, all of them reprints.
Simply designed with broad bands of color (orange for general fiction, green for crime fiction, dark blue for biographies), and using the font Gill Sans-Serif, the original ten books immediately established themselves within the history of design.
Skeptics dismissed Lane's idea as imprudent and crazy, but by March 1936 — ten months after the company's launch — one million Penguin books had been printed. Within a year Penguin had sold 3 million paperbacks. By April 1938 the first 140 titles had been published, as well as 30 Pelicans, 18 of the Shakespeare series, and one Penguin Special. The skeptics were proved wrong and a new, innovative publishing model was launched into the world.
Today the original first editions of those famous ten Penguins are extremely difficult to find, especially in good condition. In 1985, to commemorate its 50th anniversary, Penguin reprinted facsimiles of its ten original trendsetting books as a boxset; this set of reprints is almost as hard to find as the originals.
Most of the authors who were a part of Penguin's initial launch are well-known, bestselling authors that continue to be widely read today: Agatha Christie, Ernest "Papa" Hemingway, Dorothy L. Sayers. But others have since faded into publishing history and are either no longer available or else are exceedingly difficult to find. Seventy-five years after Lane launched Penguin, who's read or even heard of E.H. Young, Susan Ertz, or Eric Linklater?
Additional fun facts:
- Elvis Presley is born in 1935 and, a little over 20 years later, he would have his first #1 single on the US charts, forever changing the landscape of popular culture and ushering in a new age of celebrity superstardom.
- PENGUINS SOLD OUT
"The Bodley Head found itself, at the beginning of the week, sold out of 'Penguins,' 150,000 having been sold out in four days. Mr. Allen Lane has asked us to say that he will supply the waiting orders as soon as his printers and binders allow him to do so."
— , August 8, 1935
- According to Penguin historian Steve Hare, the famous first ten was actually eleven due to a contractual misunderstanding. Christie's Murder on the Links replaced The Mysterious Affair at Styles; ultimately, both books remained on the list.
- Books 11 to 20 were: South Wind by Norman Douglas, The Purple Land by W.H. Hudson, Patrol by Philip MacDonald, The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett, Four Frightened People by E. Arnot Robertson, The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West, The Informer by Liam O'Flaherty, Debonair by G.B. Stern, The Strange Case of Miss Annie Spragg by Louis Bromfield, Erewhon by Samuel Butler.
Sure, some of these initial works now seem dated or "unmemorable" (as Jeremy Lewis described them in Penguin Special). But many worthy books and authors from the interwar period were left behind, as publishing changed to reflect a rapidly changing culture.
The '40s and '50s were largely restrained and straight-laced, but some bestselling books managed to challenge the conservative climate. The Catcher in the Rye and Lolita each made waves in publishing, and by the end of the '50s one of the most celebrated trials in publishing history cleared the way for the publication of Lady Chatterley's Lover (a book that Allen Lane published in paperback, resulting in an obscenity charge). Once the post-war era had faded, the permissiveness of the '60s supplanted the staid ways of previous decades. Sentimental romantic tales of life in the English countryside had fallen out of vogue, and the genre of bodice-ripping romance began to reveal more flesh. Harold Robbins titillated readers with the graphic sexual nature of his books; the writers Danielle Steel and Nora Roberts would later follow and claim the throne to become rulers of the romance genre.
As the middle class expanded and more individuals had greater leisure time and disposable income, publishing began an inexorable course of bifurcation as authors and publishers invented new genres and sub-genres.
Crime fiction championed by Agatha Christie still remains a perennially bestselling genre, but modern technology inspired new possibilities in the form of Arthur Hailey's industrial potboilers and, later, the military thrillers of Jack Higgins and Tom Clancy, and the bestselling espionage thrillers of John le Carre, Robert Ludlum, and Ken Follett. Legal thrillers by John Grisham, Scott Turow, and Linda Fairstein occupy top positions on bestseller lists today.
Scientific advancements of the 20th century inspired the popular Science Fiction genre, with Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, and Arthur C. Clarke being major writers within the form. Dystopian worlds were also explored in the works of Ray Bradbury and George Orwell. Science fiction and fantasy have since mutated into sub-genres for every interest: retro-futurism, cyberpunk, space opera, mannerpunk, historical high fantasy, urban fantasy; the list continues to expand as readership grows.
Stories of the occult have been around since the penny dreadfuls of the 19th century, but Stephen King solidified the horror genre and brought it to new and dizzying heights. His contribution to publishing was acknowledged when he was awarded the National Book Award's Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters in 2003.
Biographies and autobiographies continue to be some of the most successful genres in publishing. Nonfiction bestseller lists today are monopolized by memoirs and biographies, and every year these genres receive some of the industry's highest accolades and awards.
The seeds of all of modern publishing — its successes, breakthroughs, and innovation — can be found in the original ten Penguins Allen Lane used to launch his company in 1935; the following is an in-depth look at each.
Penguin No. 1
Ariel or the Life of Shelley by André Maurois
First published in 1924, Ariel is a biography of English Romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It was hailed upon its publication as "a book of fascinating originality" which "has avoided the dry bones of biography altogether, yet without straying away from the precious sense of reality." André Maurois had already established his reputation with The Silence of Colonel Bramble, translated from the French (and still in print), but his lighthearted biography of Shelley didn't sit well with some critics who attacked its dubious veracity.
André Maurois was the pen name of French writer Emile Herzog, who was born in France but maintained close ties with America and England until his death in 1967. Maurois became recognized as an interpreter of the English to the French public, and upon the publication of Prophets and Poets in 1935, Time magazine declared that he had the "distinction of being more English than most Englishmen."
Maurois went on to write more biographies that garnered greater critical acclaim than Ariel, including one of Proust (which was among the first published by Penguin's now defunct imprint, Peregrine). He also wrote biographies of Disraeli, Byron, George Sand, Victor Hugo, among others; many of these titles are still in print today. Wildside Press has published Ariel as recently as January 2009.
Penguin No. 2
A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
Does Ernest Hemingway really need an introduction? The success of 1929's A Farewell to Arms made him famous and financially independent, and the book is now a staple in classrooms around the world. His standing in publishing has only increased throughout the years.
Considered a classic of American literature and one of the most famous war novels in the English language, this semi-autobiographical novel tells the story of an American ambulance driver during World War I. (Hemingway was badly wounded performing that same role in the war.) Even though there wasn't a Nobel Prize awarded the year Penguin published the paperback version of A Farewell to Arms, he was eventually recognized with a Nobel Prize in 1954.
Hemingway's writing was characterized by an economy of style, and his influence on 20th-century fiction is enormous. His adventurous life and the public image he cultivated captured the imagination of his adoring readers. In 1921 he returned to Europe and moved in the same circles as Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, James Joyce, and Pablo Picasso. He also spent many years in Key West and Cuba before spending his last days in Idaho, where he took his own life in 1961.
Penguin No. 3
Poet's Pub by Eric Linklater
Scottish but born in Wales, Eric Linklater served as a sniper in the World War I with the elite Scottish infantry regiment, the Black Watch. Linklater was prolific in multiple genres and, in addition to novels, he published short stories, travel pieces, satires, war histories, a history of Scotland, a study of the Icelandic Sagas, and acclaimed books for children.
Linklater published Poet's Pub — the story of an Oxford poet who, after complaining about its service, becomes the manager of The Pelican pub in Downish — while living in America in 1930. What unfolds is a lively story about the eccentric people who gather at the Pelican (imagine a literary Cheers set in small English town). One critic wrote of the book, "Improbabilities run all through but great fun."
Poet's Pub became a 1949 British comedy film directed by Frederick Wilson and, although the book is no longer in print, excerpts from it were published in 2009's Penguin Books: Webster's Timeline History, 1724 – 1971.
Among his books still in print include his Prohibition-era Juan in America, a precursor to a new genre of 'innocent in America' novels, and The Wind on the Moon (New York Review Children's Collection — 2004), which began as a story he told his two daughters when they were caught in the rain. The Wind on the Moon later won the Carnegie Medal and was nominated for best book of 1944. Linklater also published two volumes of autobiography that are no longer in print.
Penguin No. 4
Madame Claire by Susan Ertz
Madame Claire was Susan Ertz's first book, and it enjoyed a tremendous success in both England and America. The Daily Mail wrote that, "Miss Ertz uses skill, humour and deep insight into human nature…" However, it hasn't stood the test of time and has essentially disappeared. It was published again by Kessinger in 2004, but is temporarily out of stock. None of her other books are in print.
Born in England of American parents, Ertz moved back and forth between the two countries until she eventually settled in England at the age of 18.
Ertz wrote "sentimental tales of genteel life in the country," and a common theme running through her work involves a female character who is thrust from a sheltered existence into a heartless world of menacing characters of mostly men. Madame Claire is the story of an elderly woman forced to arrange her estate affairs from her Kensington hotel suite.
One of her most highly regarded books was The Proselyte, the story of a London woman who marries a Mormon missionary and moves with him to Utah. A later work, In the Cool of the Day, was made into a movie in 1963 starring Jane Fonda, Peter Finch, and Angela Lansbury.
Penguin No. 5
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers
Along with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers was one of the doyennes of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction of the '20s and '30s. This fourth novel in Sayers's most famous mystery series features English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. However, the novel also explored the difficulties of World War I veterans.
Born in 1893, Sayers was one of the first women to obtain an Oxford degree. Her longest employment was as an advertising copywriter where she worked on many successful campaigns (versions of them are still used today). She is also credited with coining the phrase, "It pays to advertise."
She was a renowned Christian scholar who wrote religious plays — particularly the radio drama The Man Born to be King — many of which reached a very wide audience. But Sayers considered her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to be her best work; her translation is still in print in a Penguin Classics edition.
Sayers was also well connected in England's literary circles. She was good friends with C. S. Lewis, and several others in the discussion group the Inklings. But she also had her share of detractors. W. H. Auden and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein criticized the background material in her novels, and J. R. R. Tolkien derided her later work, especially 1935's Gaudy Night, which can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine and is described as "the first feminist mystery novel."
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club was adapted for television in 1972, as part of a series starring Ian Carmichael, and over 50 years after Sayers's death all of her books are still in print and continue to attract a large audience.
Penguin No. 6
The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
One of the most celebrated writers in the world, Agatha Christie was known as the Queen of Crime. She is best remembered for her eighty detective novels, as well as her successful West End theatre plays. The Guinness Book of World Records lists her as the best-selling writer of books of all time and the best-selling writer of any kind, along with William Shakespeare. Only the Bible is known to have outsold her collected sales of roughly four billion copies of novels. Her stage play The Mousetrap holds the record for the longest initial run in the world: it opened at the Ambassadors Theatre in London on 25 November 1952, and is still running after more than 23,000 performances.
Christie made publishing history in 1948 when 100,000 copies of each of her ten titles were issued by Penguin simultaneously; this proved so successful that they were all reprinted in a matter of months.
In 1955 Christie was the first recipient of the Mystery Writers of America's highest honor, the Grand Master Award and, in the same year, Witness for the Prosecution was awarded an Edgar for Best Play. Most of her books and short stories have been filmed, and many have been adapted for television, radio, video games, and comics.
This, her first novel, introduced the eccentric and ingenious detective, Hercule Poirot. In addition, The Mysterious Affair at Styles features many of the elements that, thanks to Christie, have become tropes of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. Set in a large and isolated country manor with several suspects, most of whom are concealing facts, the book also contains maps of the house and the scene of murder along with a drawing of a fragment of a will. The Times Literary Supplement praised the book, stating that, "The only fault this story has is that it is almost too ingenious."
Upon her death in 1976, the Times wrote of Christie: "She belonged to the great period of detective fiction – she was recognized as the undoubted queen of her profession."
Penguin No. 7
Twenty-Five by John Beverley Nichols
John Beverley Nichols was a versatile author, playwright, journalist, composer, and public speaker. Twenty-Five, the first of six autobiographical books, is the story of his life up to that age (which he thought was the "latest age at which anyone should write an autobiography"). Somerset Maugham said of the book, "I have read every word of it. It has life and good nature. It is full of fun – written with an easy vivid English."
Between his first book and his last — a book of poetry published in 1982 — Nichols wrote more than sixty books and plays. Besides novels, mysteries, short stories, essays, and children's books, he wrote a number of non-fiction titles on travel, politics, religion, cats, and parapsychology. He also contributed pieces for magazines and newspapers. Nichols made one small appearance on film in 1931's Glamour; the film is now lost.
Nichols is now best remembered for his gardening books, the first of which, Down the Garden Path, was illustrated (as were its two sequels). This bestseller has been in print almost continuously since first being published in 1932. A book about his city garden in London, Green Grows the City (1939) was another big best seller and is also still in print.
Pomona Press published Twenty-Five in late 2008, and it is still in print.
Penguin No. 8
William by E. H. Young
Although her work is barely read today, Emily Hilda Young was a popular novelist of her time and William — her semi-autobiographical novel of middle-class domesticity published in 1925 — was just one of several bestselling novels.
Young's tales depict the clash between the intense inner life of her female characters and the conventions and restraints of their sex and class, a conflict which Young herself experienced.
A suffragette and also an accomplished rock climber, the author entered into an unconventional ménage à trios for several years; it was during this period she published her most acclaimed work. Seven major novels followed during this productive period, including William, The Misses Mallett, and her 1930 novel Miss Mole, which garnered the James Tait Black Award for fiction.
Young wasn't solely absorbed with the brutality of domestic life. She also wrote books for children, all of which are largely ignored today.
William, Miss Mole, and Chatterton Square were dramatized during the '40s and '50s on BBC radio. A four-part series based on her novels, shown on BBC television in 1980, renewed interest in her books. The feminist publishing house Virago reprinted several of her books. William was published as recently as 2006, and The Misses Mallett last appeared in 2008. Both books are still in print, as is Moor Fires.
Penguin No. 9
Gone to Earth by Mary Webb
Mary Webb was an English romantic novelist and poet who was publicly admired by Stanley Baldwin, the British Prime Minister (1923–1924). Her novels, primarily set in the Shropshire countryside, thematically deal with pessimistic ruralism and are directly descended from the "loam and lovechild" tales of Thomas Hardy.
Gone to Earth is the story of a beautiful girl who gets drawn into the world of normal human relationships through her great beauty. Escaping the hostile clutches of men, she holds on to her beloved pet fox as she (spoiler alert) throws herself down a mineshaft to escape. This novel inspired the famous parody Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons.
Many of Webb's books have been successfully dramatized, most notably the film Gone to Earth in 1950 by Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger. The film fell into relative obscurity until it was restored by the National Film Archive to great acclaim in 1985. It is available now on DVD.
Most of Webb's work is still in print; Gone to Earth was published in January 2010 by Nabu Press.
Penguin No. 10
Carnival by Compton Mackenzie
Sir Edward Montague Compton Mackenzie was an English-born Scottish novelist and nationalist who was born into a famous theatrical family. He also worked as an actor, political activist, and broadcaster. He wrote more than ninety books, but is most famous for two comedies that were later turned into a film, 1947's Whisky Galore, and a television series, 1957's Monarch of the Glen.
Mackenzie wrote prolifically on many subjects, and published ten volumes of autobiography (My Life and Times, 1963-1971). In terms of his fiction, The Four Winds Of Love is considered to be his masterpiece; it was hailed by Dr John MacInnes as "one of the greatest works of English literature produced in the twentieth century."
A zealous Jacobite, and one of the founders of the Scottish National Party, Mackenzie served with British Intelligence in the Eastern Mediterranean during World War I. He later wrote four books about these experiences. He was the co-founder (with his brother-in-law Christopher Stone) of The Gramophone, the influential British classical music magazine that is still around today.
His work about the Persian wars, Marathon and Salamis: The Battles that Defined the Western World, was published in April 2010. Nabu Press published Carnival in January 2010, seventy-five years after Allen Lane chose it to be one of the first ten Penguins.