The First 10 Penguin Books

4 min read

In the years since its establishment, Penguin Books has become the most famous name in British publishing history. Founded by Sir Allen Lane in 1935, the vision was to create contemporary fiction that was affordable and accessible to all. Within the first year, the publisher sold three million paperbacks, laying down a clear path to success.

Ten Novels by Penguin Books

The first ten books to fly through Penguin Books' printing presses certainly contributed to this success. Penned by authors such as Agatha Christie and Ernest Hemingway, alongside lesser known writers, these books thrust Penguin towards an exciting future.

  1. Agatha Christie Penguin Books at Country House LibraryThe Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    First published in 1920, The Mysterious Affair at Styles was Christie’s debut novel. It saw the introduction of her famous Belgian detective, Hercule Poirot. Set on a country estate, the story is riddled with mystery and suspicion following a poisonous murder. The novel is a magnificent example of Christie’s literary talent which, decades later, is still admired by millions.

    Shop for more vintage crime fiction by Penguin Books

  2. Susan Ertz, Madame Claire, vintage Penguin Books at Country House LibraryMadame Claire by Susan Ertz, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Madame Claire tells the story of an elderly lady who attempts to sort the affairs of her family from her Kensington hotel room. Marriage, romance and spinsterhood threaten children and grandchildren alike while Madame Claire works to set them all on the right course. Susan Ertz tells her story with wit and charm, creating a lighthearted but utterly delightful read.

    Shop for more collectable titles by Susan Ertz

  3. Ernest Hemingway, A Farwell to Arms, vintage Penguin paperbacks at Country House LibraryA Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Much like Agatha Christie, Hemingway became one of Penguin’s most famous writers. His semi-autobiographical novel, A Farewell to Arms, tells of an American Ambulance driver and his passion for an English nurse. Set against the backdrop of WWI, it is an unforgettable tale of love, loss, loyalty, pain and passion – a true masterpiece penned by one of America’s most talented writers.

    Shop for classic works by Ernest Hemingway

  4. Eric Linklater, Poet's Pub, Penguin Books paperback classicsPoet's Pub by Eric Linklater, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Linklater’s snappy and subtly comedic novel, Poet’s Pub, tells the story of an Oxford poet who becomes the manager of the Pelican Pub in Downish. The peaceful Saturday Keith hopes to experience is broken as the pub starts to attract an eccentric mix of people. It is a madcap tale, filled to the brim with brilliantly bizarre characters, witty dialogue, misunderstandings and spirited farce.

    Shop for vintage Penguin editions of Eric Linklater

  5. Compton Mackenzie, Carnival, Penguin vintage classicsCarnival by Compton Mackenzie, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    First published in 1912, Carnival is a forgotten gem. The story focuses on Jenny Pearl, a dancer who falls in love with a young aristocrat but refuses to become his mistress. It is a tale of youthful romance but also of jealousy and lovelessness. The writing is detailed in its descriptions of landscapes and cityscapes and is told with wit and understated humour.

    Shop for vintage Compton Mackenzie Penguin paperbacks

  6. Andre Maurois, Ariel, Penguin paperbackAriel by André Maurois, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    André Maurois (known by birth as Emile Herzog) must have been delighted when his fictionalised biography of the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley was chosen as the first ever Penguin Book to be published. Ariel or The Life of Shelley, is a wonderful introduction to the interesting and diverse life of the famed poet. The writing is detailed and vivid, containing fascinating details and intriguing characters.

    Shop for vintage André Maurois Penguin paperbacks

  7. Beverley Nichols, Twenty-Five, vintage Penguin Books classicTwenty-Five by Beverley Nichols, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Twenty-Five is another brilliant Penguin classic. The first of six autobiographical novels by Beverley Nichols, it is an easy yet vivid read. Though it comes across as the show of a young man wishing to share his life with the world, Nichols’ deep interest in people is also evident throughout. The book is a series of recollections, revealing his fascination with fame and the frenzied pace of his young life.

    Shop for vintage Beverley Nichols Penguin paperbacks

  8. Dorothy L Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, PenguinThe Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club by Dorothy L. Sayers, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    This novel was Dorothy L. Sayers' fourth book featuring her serial character Lord Peter Wimsey. This time, the skills of the gentleman are required to solve the mystery of the elderly General Fentiman’s death. While the novel is a light read, it is riddled with mystery, exploring legal battles and the brutalising effects of PTSD caused by war.

    Shop for vintage Dorothy L. Sayers books

  9. Mary Webb, Gone to Earth, vintage Penguin Books paperbackGone to Earth by Mary Webb, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Set in the Shropshire hills, Gone to Earth tells the story of a Welsh gypsy’s daughter known as Hazel Woodus. While a spirit of nature, Hazel draws the attention of the local men who offer her their cruel love. Innocence is easily abused and the dangers of mortal desire become apparent. Webb writes with skill, exploring the power of nature, emotion and individualism between the pages of her book.

    Shop for vintage Mary Webb titles

  10. E.H. Young, William, vintage Penguin paperbackWilliam by E.H. Young, first published by Penguin Books in July 1935

    Like several of the books on this list, Williamis an often forgotten novel. Set in post WWI England, it is a subtly crafted and richly detailed story. The plot focuses on successful businessman William Nesbitt and the inter-relationships of his sprawling family. The characters carry an enduring charm that stays with readers long after the book has been closed.

    Shop for vintage Penguin classics

Penguin Books - The Secret to Success

The launch of Penguin Books was hugely successful; the first ten publications detailed above gripped the imaginations of millions of readers. Brilliant writing, paired with the bold coloured covers so famously associated with Penguin Books, appealed to readers across the country and beyond. With such an eclectic mix of fiction and non-fiction, Penguin Books kick-started a new age of publishing that endures to this day.

Leave a comment

Comments will be approved before showing up.

Also in Our Seasonal Book Selections

Summer romance - on holiday or at home
Summer romance - on holiday or at home

5 min read

list of romantic literature for you to fall in love with this summer.
Read More
'Anyone for Tennis?' - vintage books for summer sports
'Anyone for Tennis?' - vintage books for summer sports

4 min read

Popular sports and pastimes of the summer months, through the lens of vintage books.
Read More
Vintage books with inspirational outdoor food recipes
Vintage books with inspirational outdoor food recipes

3 min read

Some excellent vintage books for outdoor food recipes to try out this summer!
Read More