Exiles in the Aegean.London: Victor Gollancz Ltd, 1938 Stock Code: 144783
The surprisingly uncommon first edition, first impression; from the library of the celebrated film critic Dilys Powell, with her pencilled signature on the front free endpaper. Bert Birtles was an Australian author and journalist and Exiles in the Aegean, his only book, "was admired for revealing the experiences of the communists exiled to the islands of Anafi and Gavdos" (Australian Dictionary of Biography).
"Over a remarkably long career, Dilys Powell never lost in her writing the freshness of an affair with her two greatest passions, the cinema and Greece. It was as a film critic that she was most widely known, but her writing powers were most fully expressed in her autobiographical books, most especially in An Affair of the Heart, which places her with Lawrence Durrell, Patrick Leigh Fermor, Kevin Andrews and Henry Miller as a writer for whom the essence of Greek reality is the journey towards personal discovery" (The Independent obituary, 5 June 1995, retrieved 13 November 2020). After graduating with a first-class honours degree from Somerville College, Oxford, Powell (1901-1995) was employed as secretary and literary assistant to Lady Ottoline Morrell, before joining the Sunday Times in 1928. In 1926 she had married the archaeologist Humfrey Payne, who was appointed director of the British School of Archaeology in Athens, and from 1931 to 1936 they divided their time between Oxford and Greece. "She often shared Payne's attentions at excavation sites and during long walks over the Greek mountains. Not long after Easter in that year, however, at Mycenae, after some slight lesion at the knee spread blood poisoning throughout his body, he died. That shock wed her forever to the ground in which she buried him" (ibid.). In 1939 she became film critic for the Sunday Times, a position that she was to hold for the next four decades. In this appealingly well-thumbed and clearly treasured copy there are a number of marginal markings by Powell in the early chapter on Athens, where Birtles writes with beguiling delicacy about the city.
Of humble origins, Bert Birtles (1900-1994) was an exact contemporary of Powell's. "He worked as a clerk while developing his journalistic skills by reporting the talks of speakers along the Yarra Bank for Ross's Monthly and the Socialist, the newspaper of the Socialist Party of Victoria" (ADB). In 1923 he married the writer Dora Toll and in the mid-1930s the couple lived in Greece - coinciding with the period when Powell and her husband were there - travelling extensively and conducting research on Greek life and politics. Following this they settled back in Australia, where "both made significant contributions across several fields of writing and enjoyed large and diverse audiences" (ibid.).
Octavo. Original black cloth, gilt-lettered spine.
Monochrome frontispiece, 7 similar plates from photographs, two full-page cartoons.
Spine cocked, gilt rubbed, frontispiece a little tattered at fore edge, some dog-earing, a well-used copy.
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