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Book Description

BETJEMAN’S AUTOBIOGRAPHY IN BLANK VERSE, WRITTEN WITH ‘CHARACTERISTIC ANIMATION, HUMOUR, SADNESS, AND ABUNDANCE OF DETAIL’

Octavo (229 x 164mm), pp. [8 (half-title, other titles by Betjeman, title-page, colophon, contents, blank, author’s note and acknowledgments, blank)], 111, [1 (blank)]. Illustrated title-page after Betjeman and 9 headpieces after Michael Tree. (A few light spots or marks, light spotting on edges of bookblock.) Original green cloth, boards blocked in blind with pattern based on the bell motif of the title-page, spine lettered and ruled in gilt, endpapers repeating bell pattern of boards, brown, laid paper dustwrapper lettered in red and black, upper panel repeating bell motif of title-page, lower panel repeating bell pattern of boards, price-clipped. (Light spotting and offsetting on endpapers, spine slightly leant, dustwrapper with a few small marks, slightly rubbed and creased at edges, spine slightly darkened and with very short tear at foot). A very good, clean copy in the dustwrapper.
Dealer Notes
First edition, trade issue. One of the best-known later works by Betjeman (1906-1984), the blank verse autobiography Summoned by Bells ‘gives an account of his early life up to schoolmastering days with characteristic animation, humour, sadness, and abundance of detail’ (ODNB). Betjeman had started work on the poem some twenty years before it was published, and consequently the final text was formed from an assemblage of the accumulated manuscripts and typescripts of two decades, as Jock Murray, its publisher, recalled: ‘I do not remember that a complete manuscript exists. As I remember, it was an amalgam constructed with infinite trouble from separate parts of draft typescript and bits of manuscripts’ (Peterson, p. 112). Betjeman was closely involved in the book’s production, choosing the Antique Old Face type in which the book is set, overseeing the design of the hand-drawn title-page, and choosing Michael Tree to illustrate the volume, which is printed on ‘antique laid paper made by Henry Bruce and Sons Limited’, as the colophon states. The first edition was published on 28 November 1960 and comprised the signed, limited issue of 125 copies in a green leather binding (priced at 6 guineas) and the present trade issue of 75,000 copies (priced at 16 shillings).

Summoned by Bells was well received by the public, and nearly half of the trade edition had been sold before publication, with a further edition called for before the end of the year. While its critical reception was more mixed, Philip Larkin was among its admirers: he disliked the design of the volume, but wrote of the poem, ‘Summoned by Bells comprises nine chapters of the kind of reminiscential verse Mr. Betjeman has already given us [...], demurely pedestrian, Leica-sharp in detail, recounting by selective episodic narrative his life from boyhood to involuntary departure from Oxford, done not in the spirit of farcical or shocking revelation [...], but with an eager pleasure in re-creating incidents and circumstances that still have power to move him. The personality is in abeyance. And indeed what first emerges from a reading of this poem is that Betjeman, though an original, is not an egoist: rather, he is that rare thing, an extrovert sensitive, not interested in himself but in the experiences being himself enables him to savour, including that of being himself’ (The Spectator (2 December 1960), p. 913).

Peterson A29a.
Author BETJEMAN, Sir John
Date 1960
Publisher London: William Clowes and Sons Limited for John Murray

Price: £45.00

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