Mervyn Laurence Peake (1911-68)

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Mervyn Peake was born in Kuling, China, the son of a missionary doctor. He attended Tientsin Grammar School and, on his family's return to England, Eltham College in Kent; subsequently he trained at the Croydon School of Art, and 1929-33 at the Royal Academy Schools.

In 1936 he was commissioned to design the sets and costumes for the 'Insect Play', and began teaching Life drawing at Westminster School of Art where he met Maeve Gilmour.

In 1940 Peake applied to work as a war artist, but was refused, and was called up to the army. In 1942 he suffered a nervous breakdown, and was subsequently invalided out of the army. At the end of World War II he visited Belsen with journalist Tom Pocock, to act as an illustrator for a report for a periodical. He produced many drawings, but found the experience harrowing.

He continued to write and paint, having completed (amongst many other works) 'Titus Groan' and 'Gormenghast', until he developed Parkinson's disease at the age of 46. 'Titus Alone' was written during the first part of his final illness, and although it was completed, it was left in an unedited state. A version was published in 1959, based on his manuscripts, and a revised version was printed in the UK in 1970, edited by Langdon Jones.

His reputation as an author is based on the three Titus novels: Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950), and Titus Alone (1959; revised edition edited by Langdon Jones, 1970).

His other work includes the novel Mr Pye (televised by the BBC in the 1980s, with Derek Jacobi in the title role), the children's story Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (which he also illustrated), and illustrations for Treasure Island and The Hunting of the Snark.

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