Archive for nannie slagg

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 – 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

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