Archive for swelter

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  He has been replaced by a bow-legged chef with a mule shaped head and mouthful of metal teeth!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…..


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: Swelter – poetry in slow motion’

Posted in Flashback challenge, Gormenghast journey with tags , , , , , , , on January 15, 2010 by echostains

Mervyn Peake's wonderful Swelter drawing

 Deep in the bowels of the castle,  Flay looks on furtively at  the drunken revelry  going on around him.  The celebration of the birth of the heir to Gormenghast is well underway now, the kitchen has celebrated all day and it really shows.  Peake is at his most descriptive here: you can almost feel the heat raging from those open doors  as joint after joint are forced into the already bulging ovens.  The floors are littered with mixing bowls,  grease and mounds of food covered in sawdust.  The Grey Scrubbers who see to the cleansing of the kitchen are blind drunk and sleeping it off.  There are eighteen of these men.  They are deaf by birth and their faces resemble the grey slabs that they scrub.  I find them intriguing.  I always imagine them scrubbing in a line – as one body, or like one relentless wave ebbing slowly backwards as they scrub.

The big quivering mound of white flesh, holding forth with a bottle in his huge fat hand, which he swigs from is Abiatha Swelter.  What a strange Christian name Abiatha is, I must google it and see if it’s a real name.  Peake’s depiction of the fat cook is almost Dickensian.  The cook is so wordy and disgusting at the same time.  The taciturn Flay is no match for him.  I really enjoy the contrast between these two characters: one fat, the other stick thin, one verbose the other almost monosyllabic.  The only common ground they share is their loyalty to the stones and tradition of Gormenghast.  They are woven like slubs into the fabric of the place – though perhaps in Swelter’s case – a fat silk worm content in his own roomy chrysalis.

swelter-as-played-by-richard-griffiths in the BBC adaptation

The characterisation of Swelter is masterly.  For example – the cook addressing the kitchen boys;-

“Now tell me thish, my stenching cherubs.  Tell me thish and tell me extshtra quickly”

Stenching cherubs is a great description of the young scullions, coupled with description of the smells and sounds – the senses are heightened and the being immersed in the whole noisy stinking cauldron of the kitchen.

Shilence,’ roared the chef.  ‘Shilence, my fairy boys.  Silence, my belching angels.  Come closer here, come closer here, come closer with your little creamy faces and I’ll tell you who I am.”

He then proceeds to tell the rapt audience exactly who he is – Abiatha Swelter!

Best description concerning the chapter ‘Swelter’ well, one of many;-

Swelter lowered his head yet again into the hot spindrift and then held up his right hand weakly.  He made one feeble effort to heave himself away from pillar and to deliver his verses at a more imposing angle, but incapable of mustering the strength he sank back. and then, as a vast inane smile opened up the lower half of his face, and as Mr Flay watched him, his hard little mouth twisted downwards, the chef began to gradually curl in upon himself, as though folding himself up for death.  The kitchen had become as silent as a hot tomb.  At last, through the silence, a weak gurgling sound began to percolate but whether it was the first verse of the long-awaited poem, none could tell for the chef, like a galleon, lurched in his anchorage.  The great ship’s canvas sagged and crumpled and then suddenly, an enormousness foundered and sank.  There was a sound of something spreading as an area of seven flagstones became hidden from view beneath a catalyptic mass of wine-drenched blubber’.

This makes me think of a great whale being harpooned or punctured air balloon capsizing.  For Swelter to cover seven flagstones he is either a considerable size or the flagstones in Gormenghast are smaller than normal ones – and I doubt that!

Best dialogue; again, spoilt for choice;-

“I am Swelter’ it repeated, ‘the great chef Abiatha Swelter, shcook to hish Lordshipsh, boardshipsh and all sortsh of ships that shail on shlippery sheas.’  Abiafa Swelter, man and boy and girls and ribbonsh, lots of kittensh, forty years of cold and shunny, where’sh the money, thick and hairy, I’m a fairy! I’m a shongster! Lishen well, lishen well!”

It is obvious from this diatribe that Swelter is blind roaring drunk.  I couldn’t imagine what ‘shunny’ was at first.  The man is a poetry in slow motion!  Swelter is one of my favorite characters in the book, and he just seems to get better and better.

Update:  I have just Googled the name ‘Abiatha’ and it is indeed a real name.  It’s a Hebrew expression meaning ‘abundant father’  He is indeed abundant, and a ‘real’ father to those poor kitchen boys….

HERE is the wonderful website of Gormenghast

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

Handy site for finding the meaning of names HERE