Titus Groan: Lord Sepulchrave – why the long face?
This chapter gives us a better idea of the melancholy Sepulchrave, the man and his world as he starts his morning in the Stone Hall, where his ancestors have before him. The raised table gives him a good view of the refectory and its ancient ceiling:-
On either side and running the entire length, great pillars prop the painted ceiling where cherubs persue each other across a waste of flaking sky. There must be about a thousand of them all told, interweaving among the clouds, their fat limbs forever on the move and yet never moving, for they are perfectly articulated. The colours, once garish, have faded and peeled away and the ceiling is now a very subtle shade of grey and lichen green, old rose and silver.
This man has no sentimental feelings towards his home – only a sense of duty and a weariness, which seems to be part of his disposition. His life is dictated by ritual – different ones for each day of his life. They must be adhered to because? He doesn’t know why exactly – only that it must be. There is not much narrative in this chapter, though Sepulchrave does sigh a lot. Here’s a description his breakfast – what a wonderful picture it paints!
The silver shone and the napkins were folded into the shapes of peacocks, and were perched decoratively on the two plates. There was a delicious scent of bread, sweet and wholesome. There were eggs painted in gay colours, toast piled up pagoda wise, tier upon tier and each as frail as as a dead leaf; and fish with their tails in their mouths lay coiled in sea blue saucers. There was coffee in an urn shaped like a lion, the spout protruding from the animal’s silver jaws. There were all varieties of coloured fruit that looked strangely tropical in that dark hall -. There were honeys and jams, jellies nuts and spices and the ancestral breakfast plate was spread out to the greatest advantage amid the golden cutlery of the Groans. In the centre of the table was a small tin bowl of dandelions and nettles.
This is the very first meeting with Sourdust, the ancient keeper of the rituals. Without him, Gormenghast would come to a halt. He is the Lord of the dance, the oil that makes the creaky repetition of Gormenghast gasp. His age is indeterminate, his beard black, white and knotted and:-
…His face was very lined, as though it had been made of brown paper that had been crunched by some savage hand before being hastily smoothed out and spread over the tissues……
What a wonderful explaination Peake offers us of the old servants face! More about Sourdust later. Here we get a more detailed description of Lord Groan’s physical appearance :-
…His face was very long and was olive coloured. His eyes were large, and of an eloquence, withdrawn. His nostrils were mobile and sensitive. His mouth a narrow line. On his head was the iron crown of the Groan’s that fastens with a strap under the chin…..
Sourdust reads from 3 huge books. All the rituals of the day are written there – hour by hour, minute by minute. The clothes to be worn, routes that Lord Groan will take, the gestures, the rituals that he shall perform. All lies within the books. Is it any wonder that the man is melancholy? This is all he has to look forward to – all his time mapped out for him. Yet, he loves his library and his books! Where does he find the time to enjoy it though? What time does he have to himself? He is enslaved to those ancient stones. He has no power over his own will. He has no will. The stones own him.
HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast
Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies