Titus Groan

This book by Mervyn Peake (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mervyn_Peake) is set in the huge castle of Gormenghast, a vast landscape of crumbling towers and ivy-filled quadrangles that has for centuries been the hereditary residence of the Groan family and with them a legion of servants. The Groan family is headed by Lord Sepulchrave the seventy-sixth Earl of Groan. He is a melancholy man who feels shackled by his duties as Earl, although he never questions them. His only escape is reading in his library. His wife is the Countess Gertrude. A large-framed woman with dark red hair, she pays no attention to her family or the rest of Gormenghast. Instead, she spends her time locked away in her bedroom, in the company of a legion of cats and birds, the only things toward which she shows affection. Their daughter is Fuchsia Groan. At times snobbish, annoying, and self-absorbed, she can also be extremely warm and caring. Also in the castle are Sepulchrave’s identical twin sisters Cora and Clarice Groan. Both suffered from epileptic fits in their youth, as a result of which their left arms and legs are ‘rather starved’. They have virtually the same personalities and neither is very intelligent – they are perhaps even mentally impaired. Both crave political power and dislike Gertrude, believing that she robbed them of their rightful place in the hierarchy of Gormenghast. Also important to the life of the castle is Lord Sepulchrave’s personal servant, Mr. Flay who believes in strictly holding to the rules of Gormenghast.

At the beginning of the novel, two agents of change are introduced into the stagnant society of Gormenghast. The first, more obvious agent of change is Titus Groan, the heir to Lord Sepulchrave. His birth interrupts the daily rituals which are practised at all levels of the castle society, from the kitchens to the Hall of Bright Carvings in Gormenghast’s upper reaches. However, the novel covers only the first two years of Titus’s life, and he plays a minor role.

The second is Steerpike, a ruthlessly ambitious kitchen boy, who is the driving force for the plot. His entry into Gormenghast society, at the same time as Lord Titus is born, introduces a steady rate of change into a stagnant world. Steerpike has an intelligent, Machiavellian mind and a talent for manipulation, but he can also appear charming and sometimes even noble. Read on to see what happens in this fantasy of manners!

Brought to the screen as a TV mini-series (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0197154/?ref_=nv_sr_1) in 2000 starring Celia Imrie as Lady Gertrude, Christopher Lee as Flay, Warren Mitchell as Barquentine, Neve McIntosh as Lady Fuchsia, Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Steerpike, Ian Richardson as Lord Sepulchrave, Stephen Fry as Professor Bellgrove, Richard Griffiths as Swelter, Windsor Davies as Rottcodd, John Sessions as Dr. Prunesquallor, Fiona Shaw as Irma Prunesquallor, and Zoe Wanamaker as Clarice Groan.

Follow up an interest in Mervyn Peake with Winnington, G. Peter (ed.) (2006) Mervyn Peake: the man and his art. (London: Peter Owen)(http://www.amazon.co.uk/Mervyn-Peake-Man-His-Art/dp/0720613213/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1387130581&sr=1-1&keywords=winnington+peake)

First published 1946.

512 pages in Vintage Classics paperback edition

ISBN 978-0749394929

Mervyn Peake

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