Archive for gormenghast

Titus Groan: Swelter receives a surprise

Posted in Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on March 15, 2010 by echostains

Titus Groan, read but still writing about it

Well I finished Titus Groan  a several weeks ago.  I saw him safely come into his Kingdom and I have been propelled five years into the future.  Ghosts haunt Gormenghast – but some aren’t dead.  Flay is living, not roughly but quite nicely thank you.  He has now acquired two caves for himself, which he has furnished sparsely.  He had become a keen hunter, he cooks, he cleans, he still slips into Gormenghast from time to time, he watches and he waits – but what for, he doesn’t know.  But he has survived.

So has Steerpike.  he has dispensed with the Doctors dispensary and spare room and ensconced himself in a nice apartment befitting his new position – but I am getting beyond myself: far into Gormenghast.  I am following on from Keda, Titus’s wet-nurse.

sepulchrave played by Ian Richardson

Sepulchrave haunts the burnt out library.  He travels from shelf to shelf reciting the classics.  he is joined by burnt up Barquentine – minus head.  If you remember, his head had to be replaced with that of a small calf as the original had been stolen.  Well, the original does turn up again, in a further chapter…

Swelter is another ghost.  He has been replaced by a bow-legged chef with a mule shaped head and mouthful of metal teeth!  Where do they get their staff from?  I digress.  Back to Titus Groan.

It is the morning of the Titus’s christening and all are preparing for the event.  Even the head gardener Pentecost (where does Peake get these names from) is cutting flowers and polishing the apples in his little leather cape.

In Gormenghast violet eyes are an unfortunate disfigurement.  Titus’s are mentioned quite a few times in a uncomplimentry way.  It’s a good job Elizabeth Taylor wasn’t born in Gormenghast – her career would never have taken off.  But I digress…..

flay

Nannie Slagg is trying to awaken Fuschia, Sepulchrave and Sourdust are eating breakfast together.  Rottcodd is still dusting and the Dr is singing away in his bath.  The main action in this chapter comes from Flay and Swelter though:-

Suddenly the door opened and Flay came in.  He was wearing his long black moth-eaten suit, but there had been some attempt on his part at getting rid of the major stains and clipping the more ragged edges of cuff and trouser into straight lines.  Over and above these improvements he wore around his neck a heavy chain of brass.  In one hand, he balanced on a tray, a bowl of water.  The negative dignity of the room threw him out in relief as a positive scarecrow.  Of this he was quite unconscious.  He has been helping to dress Lord Sepulchrave. and had made a rapid journey with the christening bowl as his lordship stood polishing his nails by the window of his bedroom……..

I love this encounter between these old adversaries, but Flay is no match for Swelter’s dripping sarcasm..

A voice came out of the face: ‘Well. well well,’ it said, ‘may I be boiled to a frazzle if it isn’t Mr Flee.  ‘The one and only Mr Flee, Well, well, well.  Here before me in the Cool Room.  Dived through the keyhole I do believe.  Oh, my adorable lights and liver, if it isn’t the Flee itself.’

swelter as played brilliantly by Richard Griffiths

To add insult to injury, Swelter then proceeds to introduce Mr Flay to his kitchen boys:-

‘Mr Flee, I will introduce you,’ said Swelter as the boys approached, glueing their frightened eyes on their precarious cargoes.  ‘Mr Flee – Master Springers – Mater Springers – Mr Flee.  Mr Flee – Master Wrattle, Master Wrattle – Mr Flee.  Mr Flee – Master Spurter – Mr Flee…….

For Flay, this proves too much.  He strikes Swelter across the face with the heavy chain.  But before there can be any retaliation, Flee manages to escape.  The next encounter between the two enemies is interrupted by Sourdust being there, so there can be no return match.  Later.

Titus Groan: Keda

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , on February 25, 2010 by echostains

Alas no image of Keda

I’ve not wrote about my re reading of Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake for a while.  But that doesn’t mean that I’ve haven’t been reading it.  I have and am very nearly finished the first book and shall be soon into Gormenghast itself.   But as far as the writing concerned, I am up to the chapter about Titus’s wet-nurse Keda.

This woman seems to alien compared to the other characters – even the Dwellers.  I think this is down to her having a kind of vitality and beauty.  Beauty in the Gormenghast region seems very scarce. The Dwellers have it for such a short time before premature ageing.  They have a hard life and cluster around the bottom of the mountain – like they have been  cast out of Shangri la..

Keda has a past, and she’s running away from it.  Her ancient husband died and she had to choose between two lovers.  She is glad to go to Gormenghast.

With the dark cloth hanging to her ankles and caught in at the waist with the thong of jarl root: with her bare legs and feet and her head still holding the sunset of her darkened day, she was in strange contrast to little Nannie Slagg, with her quick jerky walk, her dark satin dress, her black gloves, and her monumental hat of glass grapes.  Before they descended the dry knoll towards the archway in the wall, a sudden gutteral cry as of someone being strangled, froze the old womans blood and she clutched at the strong arm beside her and clung to it like a child.  Then she peered towards the tables.  They were too far for her to see clearly with her weak eyes, but she thought she could make out figures standing and there seemed to be someone crouching like a creature about to spring…….

Keda had not long ago buried her baby.  She came willingly to be Titus’s nurse, though her first meeting with the little boy was fraught with sorrow:-

Keda stared down at Titus.  Tears were in her eyes as she watched the child.  Then she turned to the window.  She could see the great wall that held in Gormenghast.  The wall that cut her own people away, as though to keep out a plague; the walls that barred her view the stretches of arid earth beyond the mud huts where her child had so recently been buried…..

The relationship between the wet-  nurse from the Dwellings becomes increasingly unbalanced as the story unfolds.  It seems that Keda has two babies to look after (the other being Nannie Slagg who becomes more and more reliant on her).  Meanwhile:-

Titus had stolen the limelight and Keda’s indifference was soon forgotten, for he was beginning to cry, and his crying grew and grew in spite of Mrs Slagg dangling a necklace in front of his screwed up eyes and an attempt at singing a lullaby from her half-forgotten store.  She had him over her shoulder, but his shrill cries rose in volume.  Keda’s eyes were still upon the wall, but of a sudden, breaking herself away from the window, she moved up behind Nannie Slagg and, as she did so, parted the dark brown material from her throat and freeing her left breast, took the child from the shoulders of the old woman.  Within a few moments the little face was pressed against her and struggles and sobs were over.  Then as she turned and sat at the window, a calm came upon her as from her very centre, the milk of her body and the riches of her frustrated love welled up and succoured the infant creature in her keeping.

What a tender moment this is between baby and Keda – the only mother Titus will ever know.

Titus Groan – Nannie Slagg’s outing

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2010 by echostains

nannie Slagg played by June Brown in the BBC adaptation

Back to the story.  I am now more than half way through ‘Titus Groan’, the writing is miles behind though…. This chapter deals with Nannie Slagg undertaking to get baby Titus a wet-nurse from the dwellings outside the castle.

The acacia trees, silhouetted on her right, cut patterns against the mountain and on her left glowed dimly with a sort of subterranean light.  Her path was striped like the dim hide of a zebra from the shadows of the acacia trunks.  Mrs Slagg, a midget figure beneath the rearing and overhanging of the aisle of dark foliage, awakened small echoes in the neighbouring rocks as she had moved, for her heels beat a quick uneven measure on the stone path.

Whenever Nannie Slagg is mentioned,  her height (or lack of it) is always alluded to.  I should still like to know how tall the old nurse is.   I am sure I saw a picture somewhere of her perched on Prunesquallor’s knee and she looked miniscule.

The Dwellers live in mud huts and always ate their suppers out in the open on long tables arranged in rows.  The actual terrain outside the castle walls is curious – drab grey dust and cacti which sounds more like a desert:-

From the lush shadows of the acacia drive Mrs Slagg had suddenly broken in upon an arid world.  She saw the rough sections od white Jarl root and their bowls of sloe wine standing before them.  This long tubular Jarl root which they dug each day from a wood in the vicinity, stood upon the tables every evening, sliced up into scores of narrow cylinders.  This, she remembered with a flutter that her social status was very much in advance of that held by these poor mud hut dwellers….

I have searched in vain for ‘Jarl root’, but it seems to be a delicacy that Peake invented.  I would think it would be like bamboo which panda’s eat or bamboo shoots.  Full of fibre probably. They are using spoons to eat with, so it must be quite soft.  It doesn’t seem very appetising, but it’s all they have.  The Castle people are luckier with Swelter’s cuisine, though it shall be seen that the Dwellers do get a few scraps from those enormous kitchens thrown them 

Nannie is very proud to announce the purpose of her visit to the Dwellers and let’s them know in  no uncertain terms of the honour that is being bestowed upon them.  That a wet-nurse from among them shall be selected to feed the heir of Gormenghast:-

We are all proud.  All of us.  The Castle,’ (she said this in a rather vain way) ‘is very very satisfied and when I tell you what has happened, then you’ll be happy as well; oh yes, I am quite sure you will.  Because I know you are dependent on the castle’

Mrs Slagg was never very tactful.  ‘You have some food thrown down to you from the battlements every morning, don’t you?’  She had pursed her mouth and stopped a moment for breath.

A young man lifted his thick black eyebrows and spat.

‘So you are very much thought of by the Castle.  Every day you are thought of aren’t you?  And that’s why you’ll be so happy when I tell you the wondrous thing that I am going to tell you.’……

It is decided almost immediately who shall be going with Mrs Slagg back to the castle.  Her name is Keda.  Her story is next.

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

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: The 76th Countess of Groan’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , , , , on January 25, 2010 by echostains

Gertrude by Mervyn Peake

Peake excites our anticipation  of seeing the Countess, by allowing us a look through the keyhole into the room of white cats.  The black door of her room has a white cat emblazoned on it and on the landing outside, pictures of birds adorn the walls. The interior of the room is not as orderly though.  Bird seed is piled up, there  are wax stalactites and a tottering pyramid of tallow.  Peake  gives us the most wonderful description of the room and our first physical encounter with the Countess;-

“As the candles guttered or flared, so the shadows moved from side to side, or up and down the wall, and with those movements behind the bed there swayed the shadows of four birds.  Between them vacillated an enormous head.  This umbrage was cast by her ladyship, the seventy sixth Countess of Groan.  She was propped against several pillows and a black shawl was draped around her shoulders.  Her hair, a dark red colour of great lustre, appeared to have been left suddenly, while being woven into a knotted structure on the top of her head.  Thick coils still fell about her shoulders or clustered upon the pillows like burning snakes.”

What a curious woman the Countess Gertrude Groan  is!  Obsessed by cats and birds to the exclusion of her children.  She certainly does seem to have a way with the wild birds which flock to her.  I wonder if subconsciously she longs for freedom herself?  If she does, she would be the last person to do anything about it – she seems to have accepted her lot.  From her description we  know that she is a huge person with green slanting ‘cat’ eyes and wild dark red hair.  This part was played by Celia Imrie in the BBC series.  I thought the actress put over a wonderful sense of the presence of this character.

Celia Imrie as Gertrude

Her favorite bird is a rook called ‘Mr Chalk’ who the Countess has a particularly tender relationship with.  She  talks to the bird like he was her own child;-

“Three weeks it is,” continued the Countess, “three weeks, I’ve been without him;  wasn’t good enough for him, Oh no, not for Mr Chalk, and here he is back again, wants to be forgiven!  Oh yes!  Wants a great treeful of forgiveness, for his heavy old beak and months of absolution for his plumage.”

In this chapter we get a glimpse into the Countess’s personality: we feel her strength and unusually for her, even some tenderness .  The Countess sticks to the rules, even though they sometimes interfere with what she really want to do (converse with her animals).  She has no time for chit chat and Prunesquallor in particular gets on her nerves – she likes to get straight to the point.  This is how she deals with poor old Nannie Slagg (more of her later);

“What?” shouted Lady Groan.  “What d’you want?  What are you hitting my door for?”

Whoever it was,  raised her voice nervously and cried, “Nannie Slagg. it is.  It’s me, my lady, Nannie Slagg.

What d’you want?” repeated her ladyship, settling herself more comfortably.

I’ve brought his Lordship for you to see,” shouted Nannie Slagg a little less nervously.

“Oh you have, have you?  You’ve brought his lordship.  So you want to come in, do you?  With his lordship.”  There was a moment’s silence

What for?  What have you brought him to me for?”

“For you to see, if you please my lady,” replied Nannie Slagg.  “He’s had his bath.”

Lady Groan relaxed still further into the pillows.  “Oh you mean the new one do you?” she muttered.

“Can I come in?” cried Nannie Slagg.

Hurry up then!  Hurry up then!  Stop scratching at my door.  What are you waiting for?”

“A rattling at the door handle froze the birds along the iron bed-rail and as the door opened they were all at once in the air, and were forcing their way, one after another through the bitter leaves of the small window.”

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