Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Gormenghast is a fictional castle of titanic proportions that features prominently in a series of fantasy works penned by Mervyn Peake. It incorporates many of the elements of both mediæval castles and Regency period stately homes, though in practice it operates like a small city-state. Its features include a library, a large kitchen, walls, an art gallery (specifically carvings), a dining hall, a lake and a school. It has become synonymous with large, sprawling buildings and has been used as a reference point in other works of fiction.
Gormenghast is also commonly used in reference to this series, even though the castle is not present in Titus Alone. In fact, Peake intended to write a "biography" of protagonist Titus Groan, not the castle's history, so it would make more sense to name the series after him. The cycle consists of three novels, Titus Groan (1946), Gormenghast (1950) and Titus Alone (1959), as well as a novella, Boy in Darkness (1956).
At least two other books, tentatively titled Titus Awakes and Gormenghast Revisited, were planned, but Peake's health complications and ensuing death prevented him from writing down more than a few rough chapters and ideas for these. A brief excerpt from what would have been Titus Awakes appears in the Overlook Press omnibus edition of the main novels (ISBN 0-87951-628-3).
In 1984, BBC Radio 4 broadcast two 90-minute plays based on Titus Groan and Gormenghast, adapted by Brian Sibley and starring Sting as Steerpike and Freddie Jones as the Artist (narrator). A slightly abridged compilation of the two, running to 160 minutes, and entitled Titus Groan of Gormenghast, was broadcast on Christmas Day, 1992. BBC 7 repeated the original versions on 21 and 28 September, 2003.
The 30-minute TV short film A Boy In Darkness (also made in 2000 and adapted from Peake's short story) was the first production from the BBC Drama Lab. It was set in a 'virtual' computer-generated world created by young computer game designers, and starred Jack Ryder (from Eastenders as Titus, with Terry Jones (Monty Python's Flying Circus) narrating.
Irmin Schmidt, founder of seminal German 'Krautrock' group Can has written an opera called Gormenghast, based on the novels, and a number of early songs by New Zealand rock group Split Enz were inspired by Peake's work.
Inhabitants of Gormenghast
Peake populated his imaginary castle with a large cast of extraordinary characters. These include:
The ruling family
Titus Groan: The main character of the series. Heir to the Earldom of Gormenghast. He rises to the title while still a child, but as he grows older, he develops ambivalent feelings toward his home. He is torn between pride in his lineage and the desire to escape from the castle and its traditions. Eventually, he flees Gormenghast.
Lord Sepulchrave: Titus's father. He is a melancholy man who feels shackled by his duties as Earl, even though he never questions them. His only escape is reading. However, when the castle's Library burns down, he is driven insane and kills himself.
The Countess Gertrude: Titus's mother. An obese 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. However, once given the chance to use her intelligence she turns out to be one of the cleverest people in the castle, when (along with Flay and the doctor) she recognizes and investigates the worrying changes in Gormenghast's life.
Fuchsia: Titus's sister. At times snobbish and self-absorbed, she can also be extremely warm and caring. At first, she resents Titus, but soon develops a deep bond with him. Of all Titus's family, she is the one he loves most.
Cora and Clarice Groan: Titus's aunts. They are twins and virtually identical to each other. Both suffered from spasms in their youth, so the left half of their bodies are paralyzed. They have virtually the same personalities and neither of them are very intelligent, although Cora is slightly cleverer than Clarice. Both crave political power and dislike Gertrude, who they believe robbed them of their rightful place in the hierarchy of Gormenghast. Their mindless ambition and thirst for revenge lead them to become Steerpike's pawns.
Other major characters
Steerpike: An youthful outsider (his origins are never revealed) who worms his way into the hierarchy of Gormenghast for his own personal gain. Ruthlessly murderous, with an extremely Machiavellian mind and a talent for manipulation, he can appear charming and sometimes even noble. He has natural personal enmity with Titus.
Flay: Lord Sepulchrave's personal servant. He believes in strictly holding to the rules of Gormenghast. Nevertheless, he is not completely hard-hearted and cares a great deal for Titus and Fuschia. He is eventually exiled from Gormenghast for throwing one of the Countess's cats at Steerpike.
Dr. Alfred/Bernard Prunesquallor: The castle's resident physician. He is an eccentric individual with a high-pitched laugh and a grandiose wit which he uses on the castle's less intelligent inhabitants. Despite his acidic tongue, he is an extremely kind and caring man who also is greatly fond of Fuchsia and Titus.
Irma Prunesquallor: Doctor Prunesquallor's sister. Though she is anything but pretty, she is considerably vain. She desperately desires to be admired and loved by men.
Abiatha Swelter: The fat, sadistic chef of Gomenghast. His profound hatred for Flay leads him to attempted murder.
Nanny Slagg: An ancient midget who nurses infant Titus as she nursed Fuchsia before him. She is somewhat senile and has a inferiority complex.
Sourdust: The Master of Ritual when the series begins. He is the one who coordinates the various arcane rituals that make up daily life in Gormenghast. After his death, his position is taken up by his son Barquentine.
Barquentine: Follows his father into the role of Master of Ritual. He is lame in one leg, hideous, and unbelieveably dirty. He is a consummate misanthrope who only cares for the laws and traditions of Gormenghast. He makes the grievous error of allowing Steerpike to become his assistant.
Bellgrove: One of Titus's teachers, who eventually ascends to Headmaster of Gormenghast. He is incredibly ancient. In many respects, he is the standard absent-minded professor who falls asleep during his own class and plays with marbles. However, deep inside him there is a certain element of dignity and nobility. He begins a rather unique romance with Irma Prunesquallor.
Keda: One of the Outer Dwellers who lives just outside the walls of Gormenghast. She is chosen to be Titus's wet nurse, but eventually leaves this position. She has two lovers who eventually kill themselves over her, but not before one of them impregnates her.
Thing: The daughter of Keda. Due to her illegitimacy she is an outcast who becomes a feral child living in the wilderness surrounding Gormenghast. Believing that she is in every way the opposite of Gormenghast, Titus becomes infatuated with her.
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