Archive for dr prunesquallor

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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Titus Groan: A gold ring for Titus

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on January 28, 2010 by echostains

I am galloping through this book, now on page 150 which is about halfway through ‘Titus Groan’.  The writing though is about 100 pages behind.  In this chapter his mother names him.  It also gives us another look at the Countess’s relationship with Slagg, Prunesquallor and her new-born  son.  Peake gives us a descriptive glimpse into Titus’s inheritance:-

Nannie Slagg entered, bearing in her arms the heir to the miles rambling stone and mortar; to the tower of flints and the stagnant moat; to the angular mountains and the lime-green river where twelve years later he would be angling for the hideous fishes of his inheritance.

The Countess, who cannot abide Dr Prunesquallor, shouts for him whilst he is in the act of drinking:-

My lady,” he said, when he had reached her door and was showing the Countess and Mrs Slagg nothing except his head around the door post in a decapitated manner, before entering.  “My lady, ha ha, he, he, I heard your voice downstairs as I er – was -“

“Tippling,” said Lady Groan.

‘Ha, ha – how very right you are, how very right you are, ha, ha, he, he, , as I was, as you so graphically put it, ha, ha, tippling.  Down it came, ha, ha – down it came.”

“What came?” interrupted the Countess loudly.

“Your voice,” said Prunsquallor, raising his right hand and deliberately placing the tips of his thumb and little finger together, “your voice located me in the Coldroom.  Oh yes it did.”

The Countess stared at him heavily and then dug her elbows into the pillow.

Being the Countess of course she informs the Doctor that she will be getting up the very next day.  To argue with her is futile.  She is a formidable woman, and a strange one.  She doesn’t seem to have any maternal instincts whatsoever, for her husband nor her children.  Any sentiment she has is reserved for her cats and birds.  Indeed she misses greeting the morning with her cloud of white cats (what a surreal image that conjures up).

“Isn’t he sweet, oh isn’t he the sweetest drop of sugar that ever was?” said Mrs Slagg.

Who?” shouted the Countess so loudly that a string of tallow wavered in the shifting light.

The baby awoke at the sound and moaned, and Nannie Slagg retreated.

“His little lordship,” she whimpered weakly, “his pretty little lordship.”

Slagg,” said the Countess, “go away!  I would like to see the boy when he is six.  Find a wet-nurse from the Outer Dwellings.  Make him green dresses from the velvet curtains.  Take this gold ring of mine.  Fix a chain to it.  Let him wear it around his wry little neck.  Call him Titus.  Go away and leave the door six inches open.”

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

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

‘Titus Groan: Dr through the spyhole’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on January 19, 2010 by echostains

Dr Alfred Prunesquallor by Mervyn Peake

Several clues to the next characters of the castle are given in this chapter.  Flay approaches one of the portraits in the octagonal room, pushes the frame to one side, to reveal a round hole in the panelling;-  

From his vantage point he was able to get a clear view of three doors in a corridor, the central one belonging to the chamber of her Ladyship, the seventy sixth Countess of Groan.  It was stained black and had painted upon it an enormous White cat.  The wall of the landing was covered with pictures of birds and there were three engravings of cacti in bloom.  This door was shut, but as Flay watched the doors on either side were being constantly opened and closed and figures moved quickly in and out or up and down the landing or conversed with many gesticulations or stood with their chins in their curled palms of their hands as though in profound medication.  

We are then introduced to Dr Prunsquallor and Lord Sepulchrave.   The whinneying laugh which the Dr interjects into his dialogue is strange (to say the least).  But this gives his character a uniqueness – it’s the sort of individuality that Dickens imbues in his own characters – a kind of quirkyness which Dickens exploits mercilessly.  I adore the description of the neighing Dr Prunsquallor;-  

His great vague eyes swam about beneath the magnifying lenses like a pair of jellyfish seen through a fathom of water.  His dark grey hair was brushed out over his eyes like a thatch.  For all the indignity of his position it was with a great sense of style that he became seated following with his eyes the gentleman who had begun to walk around him slowly………  

There is not much detail of Lord Sepulchrave’s personality, except that he carries a silver stick with a black jade knob and is prone to melancholia.  But more about him later.  

Best dialogue;-  

“Still here are you?  Still following me?”  

“You suggested that I should,” said Steerpike.  

“Ch! Ch!” said Flay, “What do you want Swelter’s boy?”  

“Nauseating Swelter,’ said Steerpike between his teeth but with one eye on Mr Flay, “vile Swelter.”  

There was a pause during which Steerpike tapped the iron banister with his thumb nail.  

“Name?” said Mr Flay.  

“My name?” asked Steerpike.  

“Your name, yes, your name.  I know what my name is.”  Mr Flay put a knuckly hand on the banisters preparatory to mounting the stairs again, but waited, frowning over his shoulder, for the reply.  

“Steerpike sir,” said the boy.  

“Queerpike eh? eh?” said Flay.  

“No Steerpike.”  

“What?”  

“Steerpike, Steerpike.”  

“What for?” said Flay.  

“I beg your pardon?”  

“What for, eh?  Two Squeertikes, two of you.  Twice over.  What for?  One’s enough for a Swelter’s boy.”……..

Apart from this early misunderstanding, these two characters come to understand each other only too well…..

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

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