17 May 2007

Graham Greene, Brighton Rock 1938

Graham Greene, BRIGHTON ROCK. Heinemann, London & Viking, NY 1938.

Current Selling Prices £20000+/ $40000+

Greene's most famous and most valuable book. A note of caution, the value lies almost entirely in the jacket of the British (Heinemann) edition. Our photo shows the US edition which is worth a fraction of the UK edition but has a much more attractive jacket. The artwork is by the revered graphic designer George Salter who was known for his multi dimensional images. The rarissimo British d/w is reddish orange and not illustrated.

A recent theory is that Greene got the idea for the book from watching the Jean Gabin movie Pepe le Moko which he had reviewed in early 1937. Greene wrote - 'I cannot remember a picture which has succeeded so admirably in raising the thriller to a poetic level.' Similarities include smiling villains and the trivialisation of murder and betrayal. The crimes of the racecourse gangs who created havoc in Brighton during the 1930s had been reported widely and it is likely he was drawn to this; also he had stayed in Brighton and responded to its seedy and violent undercurrents. Brighton still has a louche and sordid side to it, although possibly less palpable than in GG's day.

The first of Greene's overtly Catholic novels. Orwell said that they put forward 'the idea…floating around since Baudelaire, that there is something rather distingu√© in being damned; Hell is a sort of high-class night club, entry to which is reserved for Catholics only, since the others, the non-Catholics, are too ignorant to be held guilty.…'

Still much read and studied, also the 1948 movie has cult status. Richard Attenborough, the original lovey, is unforgettable as the baby faced psychopath. TRIVIA:- The four members of Pinkie's gang receive a nod in the Morrissey song "Now My Heart Is Full" from his Vauxhall LP. - "Tell all of my friends (I don't have too many) Just some rain-coated lovers' puny brothers -Dallow, Spicer, Pinkie, Cubitt / Rush to danger, wind up nowhere." Pete Doherty wrote a song entitled "Love You But You're Green" which makes many references to Brighton Rock. Rock band My Vitriol (who?) take their name from Pinkie's habit of always carrying a bottle of sulphuric acid for protection. The climax of the film takes place at the West Pier, which differs from the novel, the end of which takes place in the nearby town of Peacehaven. In the United States, the film was released under the title Young Scarface.' Lastly, I once read that Greene stayed at the Metropole Hotel on the sea front whilst recovering from an opium binge in South East Asia.

TRIVIAL TRIVIA. The title refers to a sweet or 'candy' sold mainly in British seaside towns. As a young American scholar says:- 'Rock is kind of like a stripey candy cane in the US, but it's sold in straight sticks, not curved canes.' It is made from sugar and glucose, often coloured a livid pink, and is pulled into shape when nearly cool. Flavour is added - usually mint. Writing often runs through it giving it a 'souvenir function' --words like 'Welcome to Brighton'. How the words get there is a great mystery. Greene once generously referred to Patrick Hamilton's 'The West Pier' as the finest novel ever written about Brighton. In fact 'it rocks!'

TOTAL TRIVIA. Greene appears as character and narrator in the Doctor Who novel, The Turing Test, which gives a fictional account of Greene's time as spymaster in Sierra Leone and World War II Paris. Finally I once attended a writer's group in Santa Cruz, California where I mentioned the work of Graham Greene - no one had ever heard of him. That does not bode well.

VALUE? About 2 years back there was a pretty nice jacketed copy of the 1938 UK first that went from book fair to book fair at £50K, something of a 'get lost' price. It seems to have eventually sold, possibly severely reduced and with time to pay. Very few people pay retail at that level. In auction it has made £18000 in slightly chipped jacket in 2000 and £4000 in 1992. The US first in a great jacket with wraparound band has made $3000 but decent examples can be had for less. The UK sans jacket is worth a few hundred pounds and is not scarce.

PROOFS? Someone wrote me the other day about proof values. They can vary alot. In the late 1980s there was a vogue for them and prices surged but the market quickly ran out of steam. Proofs were then looked upon by dealers with mild disdain except in the case of major works or controversial books and banned items. Typically they are plain and uninteresting in appearance. Ebay has slighly revived their fortunes but they are tricky and don't tend to hold to consistent patterns of value.

I sold a proof of Brighton Rock about 7 years ago for circa $4000, not in wonderful condition. They are not impossibly scarce. At first I was excited by it, but found there are almost no changes with the proof and the hardback first- Greene's period anti-semitic tone is retained (passages like '...he had been a Jew once, but a hairdresser and a surgeon had altered that...' and references to Jewish women as 'little bitches') although it was later expunged. The only difference is that Brighton is spelled Brihton on page 77 and one letter of damaged type has been repaired on page 13. Substantial differences would have made a substantial difference to the price- a good rule with proofs.


Derry said...

i have just sent a jacketed edition of the uk first to dominic winters to sell in their december 2009 auction
d howse

Bookride said...

Good luck with that one Derry--try to let us know what it makes. If it's fine in jacket it should break the record even in these times. N