Monday 19 March 2012

Rogue Male by Geoffrey Household; 1939 Chatto & Windus First Edition, Services Library Wrapper, Enid Marx Cover Design

Well the entries for my splendid Ilex Gift giveaway are rolling in, so if you haven't done so already, make sure to email me via the link in that post to be in with a chance of winning all those classic comics Little Books, Journals and what have you. But back to business. And business for the foreseeable future will largely concern a British writer of thrillers, suspense novels and spy fiction (among other genres) who I've touched on a number of times previously...

Geoffrey Household (1900–1988) had twenty-eight novels and novellas, seven short story collections and one autobiography published in his lifetime, but his best known book is still his fourth – his third novel – and his first thriller (the previous two novels being a children's novella and a philosophical character study) – Rogue Male (1939). I've written about Rogue Male before, when I reviewed it alongside J. G. Ballard's Concrete Island and William Boyd's Ordinary Thunderstorms – both of which, in common with Household's novel, feature protagonists who find themselves cast adrift from society – back in 2010, eventually ranking it the fourth best book I read that year. But this elegantly written, exciting, engrossing, landmark novel has only risen in my estimations since then – I'd probably place it at number three in that chart these days, beaten only by John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy and Richard Stark's The Hunter – which is why, despite owning a 1949 Penguin paperback first printing of the book (in fact two copies), I bagged this more recently, from Addyman Books in Hay-on-Wye:

A 1939 Chatto & Windus UK hardback first edition. Now, this isn't the first printing of the novel; it is, in fact, the third impression, issued in the same year as the first and second impressions. True (British) first editions are extremely uncommon, and even more so in a dustjacket: there are currently just two copies of the true first on AbeBooks, both sans jacket, one for £300, the other for £450. Even secondhand book dealers of long experience, such as Any Amount of Books on London's Charing Cross Road, have never handled a jacketed copy of the book. But as you can see, this third impression does have a jacket – designed by noted painter and pattern-maker Enid Marx; Independent obituary here – although its design differs from that of the true first.

See, with the advent of the Second World War in 1939, Chatto & Windus reissued ten of their books as Services Library editions, all with suitably patriotic red, white and blue dustjackets (and possibly blue boards; my copy of Rogue Male has blue boards, as opposed to the original printing's black boards), intended for British servicemen (and women). There's a list of the Services Library books on the back of this edition of Rogue Male:

In the case of Rogue Male, I'm uncertain as to whether the novel went into the Services Library as of the second or third impression – I've never seen a picture of the second impression, let alone a copy for sale online – so I don't know if the third impression is the first appearance of the novel in the Services Library wrapper (the original wrapper shows the novel's nameless narrator lining up in his sights the equally nameless dictator – obviously intended to be Hitler – he's attempting to assassinate); if anyone owns a second impression – or indeed a first impression – and is perhaps willing to show their copy to the world, do please leave a comment below. But what I do know – or at least think I know; I could be wrong – is that the copy of Rogue Male seen in this post was the earliest jacketed printing of the Chatto & Windus first for sale online (until I bought it, that is): there is one other jacketed UK first on AbeBooks at present, but that's a fourth impression from 1941 (priced at eighty-odd quid, plus shipping from the States).

So it's a nice addition to my select Geoffrey Household collection – select, but growing, as we'll discover in this run of posts. Before we get to some of those other Household books, however – one or two of which are really quite special – I thought I'd post a review of a much later novel – one I've actually covered before (bibliographically – and bibliophiliacally – rather than critically): the 1982 sequel to Rogue Male, Rogue Justice...


  1. I agree Rouge Male is a great book. I first read it probably in late 1950s. What a pity he did not get that "dictator". But how resourceful he was - a great story.
    I think I also read "Rough Justice" BUT did you notice the dust cover mentions a book of same title by C E Montague

  2. It does, Ron... but Household's sequel is ROGUE Justice. Still, it's pretty close. I'll have my review of Household's sequel up before too long, and there's lots more to come from Mr Household in this run of posts, so stay tuned! And thanks for commenting.

  3. Rogue Male has been reissued as a paperback by Orion Books. It is a good read certainly.