Fuchsia has gone on an adventure. She has pulled back her bed, opened a cupboard door and ascended into darkness with only a candle to lead her. This is Fuchsia’s secret world – her attic:-
One of these narrow beams lit Fuchsia’s forehead and shoulder, and another plucked a note of crimson from her dress. To her right was an enormous crumbling organ. It’s pipes were broken and the keyboard shattered. Across its front the labour of a decade of grey spiders had woven their webs into a shawl of lace. It needed but the ghost of an infanta to arise from the dust to gather it about her head and shoulders as the most fabulous of all mantillas.
What wonderful imagery! Peake is so descriptive with his words – he paints with them. This attic is filled with all sorts of junk – some of it very strange indeed, for example;-
Within reach of her hand the hide and head of a skinned baboon hung dustily over a broken drum that rose behind the dim ranges of this attic medley.
Now where did the skinned baboon come from? Did an ancestor actually leave Gormenghast to acquire it? Was an ancestor in touch with other countries, other lands?
I am alone,’ she said, her chin in her hands and her elbows on the sill. ‘I am quite alone, like I enjoy it. Now I can think, for there’s no one to provoke me here. Not in my room. No one to tell me what I ought to do because I’m a Lady. Oh no. I do just what I like here. Fuchsia is quite alright here. None of them knows where I go to. Flay doesn’t know. Father doesn’t know. Mother doesn’t know. Even Nannie doesn’t know. Only I know. I know where I go. I go here. This is where I go. Up the stairs and into my lumber room. Through my lumber room and into my acting room. All across my acting room and up the ladder and on to my verandah. Through the door and into my secret attic. And here it is I am. I am here now. I have been here lots of times but that is in the past. That is over, but now I’m here it’s in the present. This is the present. I’m looking at the roofs of the present and later on when I’m older, I will lean on the window- sill again. Over and over again.
I too used to have an attic that I used to escape to. An attic full of what most people would perceive as junk or rubbish. But I didn’t, it was a secret world to escape to – indeed a place to think and talk to myself (I still do that – with no attic). Every so often I would think ‘I must remember this moment and this scene when I am grown up’ And I do sometimes. At least I think that I do – memory can play strange tricks.
Further on, perhaps we have a clue to the adventurous ancestor:-
The other walls were less imposingly arranged, fifteen pictures being distributed among the three. The head of a jaguar, a portrait of the twenty-second Earl of Groan with pure white hair and a face the colour of smoke as a result of immoderate tattooing, and a group of children in pink and white muslin dresses playing with a viper were among the works which pleased her the most…..
She instinctively knows that there is something afoot in the castle, something that they are not telling her. I had the same sort of feeling when I was eight and my mother was expecting my sister. I don’t remember how I felt exactly – but I remember that I wasn’t exactly pleased at the time. With typical childishness my brother and I felt very much left out of things and isolated.
Another revelation is in this book is the wonderful poetry of Peake – unexpected. The style, I feel, is a cross between Lewis Carol and Edward Lear;-
The Frivolous Cake
A freckled and frivolous cake there was
That sailed on a pointless sea
or any lugubrious lake there was
In a manner emphatic and free.
How jointlessly, and how jointlessly
The frivolous cake sailed by
On the waves of the ocean that pointlessly
Threw fish to the lilac sky.
Oh, plenty and plenty of Hake there was
Of a glory beyond compare,
And every conceivable make there was
Was tossed through the lilac air
Up the smooth billows and over the crests
Of the cumbersome combers flew
The frivolous cake with a knife in the wake
Of herself and her curranty crew.
Like a swordfish grim it would bounce and skim
(This dinner knife fierce and blue),
And the frivolous cake was filled to the brim
With the fun of her curranty crew
Oh plenty and plenty of hake there was…..
As usual, it is up to poor Nannie Slagg to spill the beans about the prospect of Fuchsia’s brother. Needless to say, the girl does not take the news at all well:-
“No!’ shouted Fuchsia, the blood rushing to her cheek. ‘No! no! I won’t have it. Oh no, no, no! I won’t! I won’t! It mustn’t be, it mustn’t be!’ And Fuchsia flinging herself to the floor burst into a passion of tears.
Here is a wonderful detailed extract about the attic by Sebastian Peake, and The Gormenghast website
The whole of The Frivolous Cake poem HERE