Friday, 15 January 2010

PEAKE ACHIEVEMENT

You probably missed me (briefly) wittering-on yesterday on BBC's Today programme: I was hauled in, once again, as 'an expert' - this time to comment on the work of the writer and artist, Mervyn Peake, author of the 'Gormenghast' novels: Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone...


As a former Chair of the Mervyn Peake Society and the person responsible for the Sony-Award-winning BBC Radio dramatisations of Titus Groan and Gormenghast (starring Sting as the villainous Steerpike) my opinion was sought - along with that of Peake's eldest son, Sebastian - on the recent discovery in the family attic of a fourth and concluding volume written by Peake's widow, the late Maeve Gilmore.


The opportunity to read this, as yet, unpublished manuscript was, for me, a most poignant experience, since 35 years ago, Maeve had shown me an early draft for the book and discussed its development with me. Now, at last, I was able to read the finished work...

Mervyn had begun a fourth book, Titus Awakes, shortly before he succumbed to the ravages of Parkinson's Disease, an illness that finally robbed him of his ability to write and draw and robbed the world of one of the most original creative talents of the Twentieth Century. Shortly after his death, Maeve began to develop a continuation of Titus' history from the fragments which Mervyn had left behind.

Now that final chapter in the Gormenghast saga has come to light and within its pages the conclusion to Titus' wanderings. Titus Awakes brings the history of the 77th Earl of Groan to an unexpected but totally satisfying denouement as the fictional character meets his creator and finds a resolution to his quest and, indeed, his being...

You can read the press accounts of Sebastian's discovery of the manuscript and an account of it's writing and content (along with snippets of my Today wittering) in the Guardian and the Telegraph.

Titus Awakes will, hopefully, be published in Peake's centenary year, 2011.


15 comments:

JPT said...

Yes I heard it but didn't of course realise it was you!

SharonM said...

Oh bugger - sorry Brian, I forgot to listen in and missed your witter.

Brian Sibley said...

It was a very brief witter (30 secs at most) but obviously good enough to be quoted in two national newspapers!

Suzanne said...

As I already told you Brian, I loved Gormenghast but struggled so much through "Titus alone" that I abandoned it. Would it be worth my while trying again in preparation for this intriguing new book?

Brian Sibley said...

Titus Alone is challenging (it is so very different in construction and driving narrative to the first two volumes) and I never recommend 'struggling' with a book (well, certainly not after you're through with exams!) so I'd say wait till Titus Awakes is available, read and see where it takes Titus and you and then decided whether to resume the struggle with Titus Alone.

Eudora said...

This Cristhmas the french-german channel ARTE shows the tv version of (2000) Gormenhast with Ian Richardson... but dubbed into french of course... or german.

In Spain Peake is not a very well known author.

Brian Sibley said...

In Britain he is, I would say, a 'cult' writer. I have several times thought (wrongly) that the cult was about to become mainstream. Perhaps it never will, and perhaps that is part of Peake's appeal...

Anna Bowles said...

Titus Groan/Gormenghast seen as a single continuum is one of my favourite books - I always thought it was a mistake to take Titus out of Gormenghast though.

Still, I'll be reading Titus Awakes I don't doubt. Finding an MS in the attic is an unusual take on the 'authorised sequel by family member' trope, at any rate. It'll be hard to accuse Maeve Gilmore of cashing in.

www.annabowles.co.uk

Brian Sibley said...

There is, I agree, something about the claustrophobia of the first two books that is never matched once Titus has left the Groan stronghold. But, as you say, Maeve's continuation can never be accused of 'cashing in' and, having read it, it is very much a resolution of Mervyn and her personal journeys through life.

Visited your web site - well done! - and discovered that you edited the David Benedictus' Pooh book about which I was mildly rude on this blog!

Suzanne said...

I shall it a try then! When is the book out?

Brian Sibley said...

Not sure, next year I suspect. I'll keep you posted.

James said...

In a coincidence worthy of Gormenghast's labyrinthine plots - just as you published your blog on Friday evening, I was reading the passage below from Michael Moorcock's bravura novel King of the City.

Moorcock depicts a lavish Thanksgiving banquet in a converted windmill near Whittington Park London, attended by the great and good, both real-life and fictitious:

[A dinner guest] was talking to the stately Maeve Gilmore, who somehow, with her fey sadness, her pale gold hair, reminded me of Guinevere after the deaths of Arthur and Lancelot.

Maeve was a famous stunner. Mervyn Peake had drawn her constantly. Dylan Thomas and half the poets in London had been in love with her. Her beauty had blazed out, pure and guileless, against the Blitz. A little distant, dignified, feminine, old-fashioned, she was quietly her own woman. I knew she was a painter. I began to wonder about her work. A few weeks later I would arrange to photograph her and those extraordinary murals she’d painted all over her Drayton Gardens house. Fairy-tale scenes for her grandchildren. Vast playing cards. Darker, more symbolic paintings revealing her own startling agony at Peake’s pain. Allegories of loss and desolation, of quiet, catholic hopes. But that night I apologized for not knowing her work, though I recognized her from Peake’s poems and drawings. I’d been a bit of a fan of Peake’s poetry but wasn’t familiar with his fiction, which seemed a bit too monumental for my shallow tastes. I fell in love with her like the others. Someone else asked her about Dylan Thomas. ‘He wasn’t very trustworthy,’ she said.

I’ve met few women with her elegance. I’m glad I took the photographs. Some years later, when she died, Rex Harrison’s wife bought the house and had the murals whitewashed over. And that was that.

Brian Sibley said...

Fascinating, James. Thank you. I met Michael Moorcock (although he wouldn't remember me) at a number of Maeve's Christmas soirées in the house at No 1 Drayton Gardens that he is describing in his piece.

I was a regular, monthly, visitor for a number of years, either having lunch in the basement kitchen where Maeve had painted everything - the doors, the dresser - even the Potterton boiler; or sitting in what she called the 'Petite Salon' with generously proportioned Bombay G&Ts while we talked about books and artists and where I first read the early drafts of Titus Awakes and, later, read her my draft scripts for the radio dramatisation of Titus Groan and Gormenghast.

David Bratman said...

Thank you for the information and useful links. I am a great admirer of "Titus Alone", a book mostly woefully misunderstood, and look forward to Titus 4.

Press accounts are notoriously incomplete, I know, so these leave some questions unanswered, which I hope you can address.

Is this actually a previously unknown work, as the Telegraph says, or is it the sequel titled "World Without End" which John Watney mentions in the introduction to the "Titus Awakes" fragments in the 1992 Overlook Press edition of "Titus Alone"?

If it is the same work, was its existence forgotten about, and why has the title been changed? (I suppose a title with "Titus" in it is more marketable.)

Also, Watney says that Maeve never completed her sequel, but the news accounts imply this work was completed.

Brian Sibley said...

To try and answer your questions, DAVID...

I don't have the manuscript before me now (for obvious reasons) but Maeve's 'sequel' was written in four manuscript books with each section of the writing meticulously dated.

They were begun in 1970 (some eighteen months after Mervyn's death), experienced a hiatus before resuming in 1975, when I first read the partially completed manuscript.

There is also a series of typescripts made from Maeve's hand-written text representing various stages of the books completion, the last of which has considerable amendments made I think in response to comments made, possibly, by myself and certainly by John Watney, whose notes on the book are with the manuscripts.

The book went through various possible titles: It was Titus Awakes when I read it in the mid 'seventies (so this is not the cynical marketing ploy you may have suspected!), but it had various other potential titles and subtitles including: 'Peradventure' and, a later possibility, 'Story Without End' which, as Watney pointed out to Maeve in a note, was inappropriate since the story now had an end!

There is no question that the story ends on the harbour of an unnamed island (Sark) where Titus meets the artist he has previously encountered as a patient in a hospital and a monastery and finds in him and his three children the home - or as Maeve puts it the 'anchorage' - that he has so long sought.

The fact that Maeve uses the closing words of Gormenghast as her final line unites her work with Mervyn's and concludes the cycle.

Hopefully, all of the details relating to the composition and editing of the story will find their way into the book when it is published. In the meantime, I hope this outline helps...