Archive for February, 2010

Titus Groan – Climb upon my knee Nannie Slagg

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on February 5, 2010 by echostains

Nannie Slagg played by June Brown in the BBC adaptation

The reading is now 18 chapters ahead – the writing is following at a slower pace.  In this chapter we get another glimpse into Fuchsia’s bedroom;-

The sunlight was streaming through the eastern turrets and was lighting the Carvers battlements and touching the sides of the mountain beyond.  As the sun rose, thorn tree after thorn tree on Gormenghast mountain emerged in the pale light and became a mass until the whole shape was flattened into a radiant jagged triangle against the darkness.  Seven clouds like a group of naked cherubs or sucking-pigs, floated their plump pink bodies across a sky of slate.  Fuchsia watched them from her window sullenly.  Then she thrust her lower lip forward.  Her hands were on her hips.  Her bare feet were quite still on the floorboards

‘Seven,’ she said, scowling at each.  ‘There’s seven of them.  One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.  Seven clouds.’

It is curious that Peake uses the term ‘sucking-pigs’ instead of ‘suckling’, but I love the juxtaposion of them against the grey slate.  It’s not often we get a glimpse outside Gormenghast.  The battlements being  the hallowed ones used by the lucky  Bright Carvers who have earned the privilege to walk them.

Fuchsia loves to scrawl on her wall.  Scribblings which mean something only to herself.  She is superstitious too in her counting of clouds, rather like we count magpies – I can only get up to 10 myself and the tenth one is very dubious (being a bird you cannot miss), I talk of the children’s programme ‘Magpie’ now, popular many years ago.

But back to Nannie Slagg whose chapter this is.  When Fuchsia is trying to remember what the seven ‘clowds’ are for, old Nannie Slagg is preoccupied:-

Fuchsia stamped her foot and peered into the poor old nurses face.  Nannie Slagg made little noises in her throat which was her way of filling in time and then said “would you like some hot milk my precious?  Tell me now because I am busy, and I must feed your mother’s white cats.  Just because I’m of the energetic system, my dearheart, they give me everything to do.  What did you ring for?  Quickly, quickly my caution.  What did you ring for?’

 

Demanding a big breakfast, Nannie is dispatched to prepare it.  Nannie is an old woman – just how old? we do not know, only that she has been a Nannie for a long long time so was probably Lord Groan’s too.  What  we do know is that she is very small, ancient and of a nervy disposition.  She is prone to tears and much wringing of hands.  Yet both the Groan children are in her charge and she does take her duties seriously, even though she is always compaining about her ‘poor weak heart’.  In her haste to prepare the girl’s breakfast, she collides with strange Dr Prunesquallor.  This gives us an insight into the old nurse’s thoughts and feelings:-

‘Well, well, well, well, well, ha, ha, ha,, if it isn’t dear Mrs Slagg, ha, ha, ha, how very, very, very dramatic,’ said the doctor, his long hands clasped before him at his chin, his high-pitched laugh creaking along the timber ceiling of the passage.  His spectacles held in either lens the minute reflection of Nannie Slagg.

The old nurse had never really approved of Doctor Prunesquallor.  It was true that he belonged to Gormenghast, as much as the tower itself.  He was no intruder, but somehow, in Mrs Slagg’s eyes he was definitely ‘wrong’.  He was not her idea of a doctor in the first place, although she could never have argued why.  Nor could she pin her dislike down to any cause.  Nannie Slagg found it very difficult to marshal her thoughts at the best of times, but when they became tied up with her emotions she became quite helpless.  What she felt but had never analysed was that Dr Prunesquallor rather played down to her and even in an obtuse way made fun of her.  She had never thought this, but her bones knew it.

Poor old Nannie Slagg.  She is surrounded by larger than life characters.  Her whimperings are drowned out by the whinnyings of Prunesquallor, the monosymbolic barking of Lady Groan and the crushing caresses of Fuschia.   Out of all the characters in Gormenghast, Nannie Slagg is probably the most ordinary.  She might not be able to express herself vocally, being overshadowed by one and all.  But she does have feelings.  She feels the weight of responsibility at times, feels helpless at other.  When the mood strikes her she can be full of her own self-importance.  She cries a lot, is frightened a lot, sucks her knuckles a lot and loves babies so much that she could ‘eat them up!’

Nannie Slagg is coerced into sitting upon the long bony knee of Prunesqaullor.  I always find this image very surreal.  How long is the Doctor’s knee?  He is squatting at the time too.  How small is Nannie Slagg? and how frightened she must be of this strange man!  He does his best to put her at her ease though, by talking about her favorite subject:-

‘Do you like babies my dear Mrs Slagg?’ asked the doctor, shifting the poor woman on to his other acutely bended knee-joint and stretching out his former leg as though to ease it.  ‘Are you fond of the little creatures, taken by and large?’

‘Babies?’ said Mrs Slagg in the most animated tone that she had so far used.  ‘I could eat the little darlings, sir, I could eat them up!’

Nannie Slagg is very maternal, which offsets her character against the Countess.  Slagg is the only mother Fuschia has ever really known.  But Fuchsia is now 17 years of age and she has no friends – just her old nurse who she has now outgrown.  The teenager does love her old nannie but she does get frustrated with her times:-

‘Can’t wait until doomsday – you’re so SLOW!’

This is the note left on Fuchsia’s door.  She has given up waiting for her breakfast.

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

Lot’s of information about Peake and his work at Peake Studies

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Authors I have read – Thomas Hardy

Posted in Authors I've read with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 3, 2010 by echostains

‘The Authors I have read category only has one criterion – and that is I must have read at least more than one of their books.

The maddening Captain Troy

Of course, there are some books by this author I haven’t read yet like ‘Under the Greenwood tree’, and ‘A a pair of blue eyes’ but no doubt I shall get around to them.  It is my intention to critique some of these books properly when I get time.  In the meantime – some brief comments and my preferences, in order;

which is movie is the best though?

Far from the madding crowd  Definitely my favorite book, I have read this lots of times and am always thrilled with it.  I just like everything about this tale of vanity and patience.  Bathsheba has to be one of the vainest heroines ever!  We can excuse her age however.  Captain Troy is a bad un, but did he really love poor Fanny Robin?  He did turn up for the church so I suppose he must have.  All Hardy’s books have many layers and many morals, so each time you read them you find yet another aspect that you hadn’t even thought of before. Gabriel Oak is the real hero in the story though, winning out in the end.  I have also watched two films of this book.  I will contrast and compare these later, as each has some to commend them.

thomas_hardy the mayor of casterbridge

The Mayor of Casterbridge  Another brilliant tale about a man who sells his wife at a fair – and whose crime comes back to haunt him.  What a curious tale this is – lots of twists and turns.  I think that there is a moral in there somewhere (like in all Hardy’s tales) .  His future and past are dependant on each other.

TESS

Tess of the D Urbavilles  Although this book is loved, I  still prefer Far from the Madding Crowd.  The poor Durbeyfields are misinformed by the local vicar that they are related to the noble family of d’urberville.  the misunderstanding that ensues from this ends of course in tragedy.  This story has many layers: Angel Clare and Alec d’Urberville seem to exchange places throughout the book in goodness and badness.  Tess herself, I can never make my mind up about.  Is she weak, or willful  or just a victim of circumstance?

Jude the obscure – the DVD is good too

Jude the Obscure  This book is so well written, but heavy and so sad and tragic it made me cry.  I can’t let that stop me from making it number 4 though.  The tale of a man Jude Fawley who educates himself, marries unwisely and falls in love with his cousin Sue Brideshead who is married.  The pair run off together and live in ‘sin’.  The tragic end to this story still shocks me.  The film is true to the story too – but painful to watch.

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

The Woodlanders  I read this book for the first time last year – it made a pleasant read.  A woman plans to marry her childhood sweetheart, but finds that through education, she (Grace Melbury) has now risen above him.  Her father makes her marry the Doctor Edred Fitzpiers who turns out to be another bad one.  Another tragic tale of unrequited love and sacrifice.  And that is what is so good about Hardy – he does not have conventional happy endings – at best it is more a case of settling for, or making the most of what is left  (well, Far from the Madding crowd was I suppose)

Wessex Tales – another book I only read recently.   Nice gentle little stories about rural life, with lots of humour and observation.  A few of these have been made into plays or films.  I believe there is going to a film about them collectively – I shall look forward to that!

Titus Groan: Lord Sepulchrave – why the long face?

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on February 1, 2010 by echostains

sepulchrave played by Ian Richardson in the BBC adaptation

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