Gormenghast – Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

This week is the start of the Gormenghast Read-Along:

Titus Groan: The Hall of the Bright Carvings ‘“ Near and Far (p15 ‘“ p136 in my edition, Vintage 1998)

I was a bit concerned that re-reading this book would spoil my memory of it. I needn’t have been, I’m finding it just as entrancing, whisking me off to the strange world that is Gormenghast.

Gormenghast, that massing of stone, the castle, surrounded by an ‘epidemic‘ of mean dwellings swarming round its walls, with its ‘irregular roofs‘, ‘time-eaten buttresses, of broken and lofty turrets’, and the enormous Tower of Flints:

This tower, patched unevenly with black ivy, arose like a mutilated finger from the fists of knuckled masonry and pointed blasphemously at heaven. At night the owls made of it an echoing threat; by day it stood voiceless and cast its long shadow. (page 15)

These first few chapters set the scene and introduce the characters, all eccentric, grotesque even and above all – strange. The castle is filled with excitement at the birth of an heir to Gormenghast, although not everyone welcomes it with delight. Indeed, Mr Flay, Lord Gormenghast’s personal servant, calls it a ‘Challenge to Change!‘ and he doesn’t want ‘Change!‘ And neither does Fuchsia, Titus’s older sister, and on hearing of his birth she refused to believe it. She’s a girl of

about fifteen with long, rather wild black hair. She was gauche in movement and in a sense, ugly of face, but with how small a twist might she not suddenly have become beautiful. Her sullen mouth was rich and full – her eyes smouldered. (page 51)

The descriptions are very visual, with a strong expression of colour and solidity and there is an emphasis on the importance of ritual and tradition.

List of characters so far (in order of appearance):

  • the craftsmen who created the Bright Carvings, the forgotten people living outside the Castle.
  • Mr Rottcodd, the curator of the Bright Carvings.
  • Mr Flay, the thin, bony and taciturn servant of Sepulchrave, Earl of Gormenghast.
  • the Grey Scrubbers, a company of 18 men who clean the kitchen, deaf slablike men.
  • Abiatha Swelter, the fat, drunken slob who is the head chef – Flay and Swelter dislike each other intensely.
  • Steerpike, a kitchen boy whose aim is to escape from the kitchen, loathing Swelter.
  • Doctor Prunesquallor with a high pitched voice and an alarming laugh.
  • Fuchsia, Lord Sepulchrave’s daughter.
  • Countess of Sepulchrave, Gertrude, dark red hair, huge, surrounded by birds and white cats.
  • Nannie Slagg, a little ancient woman, nurse for Titus and before that Fuchsia.
  • Titus, newly born baby with extraordinary violet eyes.
  • Lord Sepulchrave, bound by tradition, long olive coloured face, a melancholy man.
  • Sourdust, the librarian, knotted beard very lined face as though made of brown paper.
  • Keda, a woman from the Dwellings of the Bright Carvers, Titus’s wet-nurse.
  • Lady Cora and Lady Clarice, Sepulchrave’s sisters, resentful of Gertrude, wanting what she has that they think should be theirs- power.

Normally I like a book to move along swiftly – this one doesn’t, but I’m perfectly happy reading it slowly, enjoying the scenes it conjures up in my mind.

6 thoughts on “Gormenghast – Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake”

  1. I will be catching up with the readalong soon I hope. I just love all the names of the characters. They’re so evocative.

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  2. Margaret – This certainly sounds like a truly magical world. No wonder you didn’t mind the pace as you got swept up in it …

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  3. I’m really pleased that your re-read is living up to expectations.

    Your list of characters is great for demonstrating the number of the colourful descriptions in the book – even those short descritpions conjour up vivid images of everyone. I hope you enjoy the rest of the read-along.

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  4. A swiftly moving plot this book certainly isn’t. However, once I suspended time, inside Gormenghast, I became thoroughly entranced. (There were a lot of characters to keep straight, weren’t there? I ended up writing their names, fun as they were, inside the cover of my copy. Now I remember them much better.)

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