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.