Penguin Books


All Souls Church
Langham Place
London, W1B 3DA
United Kingdom
Date began: 
01 Aug 1935
Precise date began unknown: 

Originally an imprint of the publishing firm Bodley Head, Penguin Books was established by Allen Lane in 1935 and pioneered the paperback book, bringing affordable fiction and non-fiction to the British public.

V. K. Krishna Menon worked as general editor on the Pelican list from its inception in 1936 until 1938. Accounts of the extent and nature of his involvement in this non-fiction imprint vary, but it is generally acknowledged that he played a significant part in its establishment. In a 1967 history of the company, Victor Weybright describes Menon visiting Lane in the crypt (Penguin’s first premises) with written permission from Bernard Shaw for Penguin to publish a paperback edition of his Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism. Lane, who had, by coincidence, just overheard a customer in a shop mistakenly referring to a Penguin as a ‘Pelican’ and been struck by the appeal of this as an additional brand name, immediately decided to publish Shaw’s work as the first title of the brand-new Pelican list. Appointing Menon as general editor, Lane also asked the economist H. L. Beales and W. E. Williams, Secretary of the British Institute for Adult Education, to join the team as editorial advisors. The list, which consisted of paperback editions of existing titles as well as original titles, crossed disciplinary boundaries, extending from art to history to politics to science, and included work by eminent writers and scholars such as H. G. Wells, Harold Laski, Roger Fry, Leonard Woolf, Clive Bell and Sigmund Freud.

Correspondence between Menon and Lane throughout 1938 documents the gradual deterioration of the relationship between the two men and the eventual ejection of Menon from the company in December 1938. Penguin published K. S. Shelvankar’s controversial The Problem of India in 1941. Fiercely critical of the colonial government in India and considered to be dangerously polemical, the book was banned in India. Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable and Coolie were published in paperback by Penguin in 1940 and 1945, respectively, and in 1944 a second edition of US-based Indian author Dham Gopal Mukerji’s award-winning Gay-Neck was published by Puffin Story Books.

Key individuals: 
Key Individuals' Details: 


Mulk Raj Anand, H. L. Beales, Clive BellBonamy Dobree, Sigmund Freud, Eunice Frost, Roger Fry, H. B. S. Haldane, Allen Lane, Harold Laski, Ethel Mannin, Aubrey Menen, V. K. Krishna Menon, Peter Chalmers Mitchell, Dham Gopal Mukerji, Bernard Shaw, K. S. Shelvankar, Beatrice Webb, H. G. Wells, Leonard Woolf, W. E. Williams.

Published works: 

The first 30-40 titles of the Pelican list were edited by V. K. Krishna Menon. These are:

Allen, F. L., Only Yesterday (1)

Allen, F. L., Only Yesterday (2)

Bell, Clive, Civilization

Cole, G. D. H., Practical Economics

Cole, G. D. H., Socialism in Evolution

Crowther, J. G., An Outline of the Universe (1)

Crowther, J. G., An Outline of the Universe (2)

Dobree, Bonamy and Manwaring, G. E., The Floating Republic

Fabre, J. H., Social Life in the Insect World

Freud, Sigmund, Psychopathology of Everyday Life

Fry, Roger, Vision and Design

Haldane, J. B. S., The Inequality of Man

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (1)

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (2)

Halevy, Elie, A History of the English People in 1815 (3)

Harrison, G. B. (ed.), A Book of English Poetry: Chaucer to Rossetti

Harrison, G. B., Introducing Shakespeare

Huxley, Julian, Essays in Popular Science

Huxley Julian, et al., We Europeans

Jeans, James, The Mysterious Universe

Lambert, R. S., Art in England

Laski, Harold, Liberty in the Modern State

Massingham, H. J. and Hugh (eds), The Great Victorians (1)

Perry, W. J., The Growth of Civilization

Power, Eileen, Medieval People

Shaw, George Bernard, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism and Sovietism (1)

Shaw, George Bernard, The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism, Capitalism and Sovietism (2)

Stapledon, Olaf, Last and First Men

Sullivan, J. W. N., Limitations of Science

Sullivan, J. W. N., The Bases of Modern Science

Tawney, R. H., Religion and the Rise of Capitalism

Webb, Beatrice, My Apprenticeship

Wells, H. G., A Short History of the World (reissued in Pelican after appearing in Penguin series)

Whitehead, A. N., Science and the Modern World

Woolf, Leonard, After the Deluge

Woolley, Leonard, Digging up the Past

Woolley, Leonard, Ur of the Chaldees

Titles by South Asian writers published by Penguin are:

Anand, Mulk Raj, Untouchable (Penguin, 1940; first published by Lawrence & Wishart, 1935)

Anand, Mulk Raj, Coolie (Penguin, 1945; first published by Lawrence & Wishart, 1936)

Mukerji, Dham Gopal, Gay-Neck (Puffin Story Books, 1944; first published by J. M. Dent, 1928)

Shelvankar, K. S., The Problem of India (Penguin Specials, 1940)

Secondary works: 

Edwards, Russell and Hare, Steve (eds), Pelican Books: A Sixtieth Anniversary Celebration (Miscellany 12, Penguin Collectors' Society, 1997)

George, T. J. S., Krisha Menon: A Biography (London: Jonathan Cape, 1963)

Hare, Steve (ed.), Penguin Portrait: Allen Lane and the Penguin Editors, 1935-1970 (London: Penguin, 1995)

Lewis, Jeremy, Penguin Special: The Life and Times of Allen Lane (London: Penguin, 2005)

Penguin Books, Penguins Progress, 1935-60 (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1960)

Weybright, Victor, The Making of a Publisher (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 1968)


Letter from Mulk Raj Anand to Mr Maynard of Penguin, dated 20 October 1940, Penguin Books Archive, University of Bristol


The editorial files of Anand's Untouchable contain letters between the author and Penguin staff, suggesting a good relationship with Allen Lane and Eunice Frost. Anand's view of the political function of literature is evident from some of the content of the correspondence, as is his involvement with a range of literary and cultural projects and events in Britain.


Italics seem, from my experience, to confuse the English reader and to increase the gulf between him and my alien subject matter, when all my efforts are calculated to show, not how queer the Indians are but how human and like everyone else, in spite of these particular horrors.


Anand's request for Penguin to romanize the foreign words in his novel is a strikingly early example of an editorial debate more commonly associated with the late twentieth century. His rationale for this request underlines his belief in the social and political function of literature.

Archive source: 

Penguin Books Archive, University of Bristol