Sunday, April 18, 2010

Some Notes on the First Editions of Jocelyn Brooke

Jocelyn Brooke's gently idiosyncratic style is not to everyone's taste but he very much falls into that niche market of books by mid-twentieth century gay authors who convey their 'sensibility' rather than their 'sexuality'. Certainly, Brooke should never labour under the title "gay author" with all its limiting definition since he was a man whose life and writing were much broader than that.

I'm not going to attempt to biograph the man nor comment in sage detail upon his works because James Bridle did the world a great service in 2008 by putting up what ought to be a model for author fan sites at simple, judiciously edited and absorbing, there is plenty of biographical and bibliographical information there as well as links to some excellent articles on Brooke's writing.

I have found though, in my life of book collecting that it can sometimes be useful to actually see the covers of the books I'm looking for, and to have a sense of each book and so, with no pretensions to completeness nor to great insight, this post is a short, illustrated meander through some of Brooke's first editions. The illustrations are all from copies in my stock.

The Military Orchid Trilogy

A biographical trilogy which was re-issued in one volume in 1981 under the title The Military Orchid in both hardback (Secker & Warburg) and paperback (Penguin). A cracking introduction to the trilogy as a whole can be found on the Jocelyn Brooke website.

The Military Orchid. The Bodley Head, London, 1948. Brown Cloth.
A slim volume that, whilst it has a colour frontis that reproduces the jacket image, is clearly still being printed on war-economy paper. The jacket/frontis is by Stephen Bone who also provides b/w decorations for the part headings.

A Mine of Serpents. The Bodley Head, London, 1949. Blue cloth.
Again with decorations by Stephen Bone but the jacket this time signed "P. Vinten". If the title of the first book gave away one of the author's obsessions, Orchids, it will be no surprise to discover that a mine of serpents is actually a type of firework, another of Brooke's lifelong interests. This book covers the narrators adolescence and early youth. Each part and the title page is fronted by a reproduction of a mid-Victorian steel engraving. Brooke's use of engravings in his books would reach its zenith in The Crisis in Bulgaria.

The Goose Cathedral. The Bodley Head, London, 1950. Green cloth.
This time a much simpler production, no illustrations or reproductions at all in the text but a wonderfully colourful jacket by the much lauded illustrator and print maker Julian Trevelyan.


Brooke's poetry is often overlooked and even his fans can find it a little less to their taste, but I rather like the languorous somewhat fin-de-siecle feel of it. Which is why I republished his first book Six Poems. I can't show you a picture of the original which was a self-published pamphlet and now one of the great unfindables. But I have examined one so I can tell you it was printed in an edition limited to 50 copies by the Kemp Hall Press at Oxford in June 1928. Eight pages are sewn into green paper wraps with green thread and each is signed by Brooke. If you find one, let me know...
December Spring. The Bodley Head, London, 1946. Blue boards.
Again a poor quality war-economy production with a frankly peculiar typographical jacket design. Contains 39 poems.

Poems in Pamphlet 1952 XII Jocelyn Brookes: The Elements of Death and Other Poems. The Hand and Flower Press, Kent, 1952.
The Poems in Pamphlet series has been examined on the excellent Bookride blog. This title contains 29 of Brooke's poems. They are not individually acknowledge and so a great deal of detective work would be needed to establish if any are here 'first published' but there are general acknowledgements at the back to all the periodicals Brooke is known to have contributed to, including The Penguin New Writing, The Listener, The New Statesman and Nation and the Times Literary Supplement. 36 pages stapled into buff card covers.


Brooke was a respected amateur botanist with a deep expertise in British orchids. He wrote a number of academic papers on botany but his two most accessible books are:

The Wild Orchids of Britain. The Bodley Head, London, 1950. Red buckram. In an edition of 1,140 numbered copies of which forty were specially bound. The book, large though it is, does have a dustjacket but my copy does not. There are forty coloured plates at the read of the book each illustrating a different species, they were originally done by Gavin Bone who was at school with Brooke and, as he says in the forward, the first germ of this book was alive in the 1920s during his school career. The paintings have been given some attention and added to by Gavin Bone's brother and father, Stephen and Muirhead. I haven't yet worked out which was which.

The Flower in Season. The Bodley Head, London, 1952. Blue cloth. Illustrated by Charles W. Stewart. This book is a calendar of British flora: one month per chapter.

Other Novels

The Image of a Drawn Sword. The Bodley Head, London, 1950. Red Cloth.
Jacket Illustration once more by "P. Vinten". This is perhaps Brooke's most homoerotic book although it is thoroughly understated. There is a fascinating and insightful review of this book at The Asylum. Thought by many to be one of his most accomplished novels.

Conventional Weapons. Faber & Faber, London, 1961.
I don't have the first edition of this to show you but I do have a copy of the Uncorrected Proof Copy, the kind of thing that only the most die hard of book collectors / completists would want. The market in Advance Reading Copies or Proof copies was fed by the economic boom and it was, I suppose, something of a conceit to imagine that these were items which predated even the 'true first' edition of a book. Still sought after but not as fiercely as perhaps even five or six years ago. This book was published under a different title in the US as

The Name of Greene. Vanguard Press, [New York], 1961. Black cloth.

Other Writing

Brooke wrote all his life and so there is a host of articles, reviews, poems and so on to track down for his eventual bibliographer however, two books which fall into the category of 'other writing':

Private View. James Barrie, London, 1952. Burgundy cloth.
Four character sketches of personalities from Brooke's life. Very well done but not his best work is the general consensus.

The Crisis in Bulgaria or Ibsen to the Rescue. Chatto & Windus, London, 1954. Red Cloth.
This book is just sheer madness. Brooke illustrates it himself with collages made from Victorian steel engravings, one per double page, and facing each is a paragraph or two of a nonsensical story which he has made up to fit the images. Delightful nuttiness.

There are plenty of items I have missed from this survey but I would recommend that anyone interested in Brooke follow some of the links and make a thorough excavation of Bridle's Jocelyn Brooke website.

1 comment:

James Bridle said...

Callum - what a wonderful round-up, and thanks for your kind words about I hope you don't mind if I shamelessly lift all of these cover images for the site - I will of course link back to here.


Who links to my website?