“The loss of his library had been a blow so pulverizing that he had not yet begun to suffer the torment that was later to come to him. He was still dazed and bewildered, but he sensed instinctively that his only hope lay in turning his mind as often as possible from the tragedy and in applying himself unstintingly to the routine of the day. As the weeks passed by, however, he found it more and more difficult to keep the horror of that night from his mind. Books which he loved not only for their burden, but intrinsically, for varying qualities of paper and print, kept reminding him that they were no longer to be fingered and read. Not only were the books lost and the thoughts in the books, but what was to him, perhaps, the most searching loss of all, the hours of rumination which lifted him above himself and bore him upon their muffled and enormous wings. Not a day passed but he was reminded of some single volume, or of a series of works, whose very positions on the walls so clearly indented his mind. He had taken refuge from this raw emptiness in a superhuman effort to concentrate his mind exclusively upon the string of ceremonies which he had daily to perform. He had not tried to rescue a single volume from the shelves, for even while the flames leapt around him he knew that every sentence that escaped the fire would be unreadable and bitter as gall, something to taunt him endlessly. It was better to have the cavity in his heart yawning and compeltely empty than mocked by a single volume. Yet not a day passed but he knew his grip had weakened.” (p. 247)
The twins Cora and Clarice, sisters of Lord Sepulchrave, long for power. This provides the perfect opportunity for Steerpike to lead them in plotting an act of arson within Lord Sepulchrave’s library. He tells them, “..if he lost his books, he would be all but defeated…it is his library that our first thrust must be directed. You must have your rights,” he added hotly. ‘It is only fair that you should have your rights.’
How our longings, what we deem to be justly ours, weakens us. These ladies, none too bright even without Steerpike’s influence, seem ripe for his plan.
We also have Keda who has returned to her home outside of the castle. There, she is torn between two men: Rantel and Braigon. It is not clear to me, nor perhaps to her, whom she will choose. They must battle it out between them for her hand.
Curiouser and curiouser, we come to the peak of this novel. Who will live, or die, or come to power in Gormenghast?
How is that I had never heard of this novel until Jackie mentioned hosting a read-along of it to start in June? A novel of which C.S. Lewis wrote, ” (Peake’s books) are actual additions to life; they give, like certain rare dreams, sensations we never had before, and enlarge our conception of the range of possible experience.”
After a sentence like that, there’s hardly a need for me to write of Peake’s first book, but I shall try. Titus Groan. At first, I was thinking of “groan” as a verb. “And in that case,” I thought, “shouldn’t it be Titus Groans?” But, he is “the Future of the Blood line. A tiny weight that was Gormenghast, a Groan of the strict lineage – Titus, the Seventy-Seventh.”
If you think that his name is strange, consider these: Lord Sepulchrave, the Countess Gertrude (his wife), Fuchsia (their eldest child), Doctor Prunesquallor, Mr Rottcodd, Flay, Swelter, Nannie Slagg, Steerpike and Sourdust. Such wonderful characters, created by Mervyn Peake, to inhabit this strange land of his where there are those who live within, the “Castles”, and those who do not, the “Dwellers”.
I cannot conceive what will come next, as the foundation has been laid for Titus, the heir apparent, to show us of which he’s made. For Steerpike, the seventeen year old boy apprentice who at the close of this section has just escaped from the room in which the cook, Swelter, had locked him. For Fuchsia, who cannot bear that she now has a little brother, Titus, with strange violet eyes. It is a story beyond my wildest imaginings, unique and spectacular in scope.
So far, I like Fuchsia the best. The daughter with a mane of black, curly hair who likes certain pictures more than others. “What Fuchsia wanted from a picture was something unexpected. It was as though she enjoyed the artist telling her something quite fresh and new. Something she had never thought of before.”
Just as Mervyn Peake is telling us in his wonderfully fabricated book.