Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

The Final Word: Fictional spaces, Death and Literature. Mervyn Peake and the Gormenghast trilogy

With varying theories on the Literary Fantastic in mind it becomes more and more obvious that Peake’s trilogy fits none of them comfortably. So how do we define it? My argument is that in the face of such uncertainty, there is no obligation to confine Peake in this way. This is made more necessary by the fact Peake throughout the three books seems to play quite consciously with these different modes of the imaginative description. If Titus Groan reads somewhat like a Gothic fantasy, while Gormenghast plays with Tolkien-like imagery, then how can he explain the hybrid animal/cars, helicopters and planes described in the final episode? There are many anachronisms both in linguistic register and in historical accuracy in the trilogy and it is meant to be so. Even Manlove in his insistence on the inner cohesion of Gormenghast is perplexed by the incongruosly modern elements visited in Titus Groan[41]. Rosemary Jackson takes the trilogy as exemplifying latent ideological problems which, outside of Fantasy writing would remain untouched[42]. Other critics such as Edwin Morgan have stressed the essentially nature of his writing while Yorke admires his wilful stylistic independence. I agree with Yorke, and in the words of the great man himself I will finish. No one but Peake himself could describe his trilogy better:

“I enjoy the fantastic and the sheer excitement of having a sheet of white paper and a pen in one’s hand and no dictator on earth can say what word I put down – I put down what I want to put down”.[43]


[1] Garrett Stewart, Literature and Death: Styles of Dying in British Fiction (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harva
rd University Press, 1984) p.4
[2] Mervyn Peake, The Gormenghast Trilogy (London: Vintage, 1999)
[3] Ibid, back cover
[4] Peake, Titus Groan, p.7(abbreviated from this point as T.G)
[5] T.G, p.81
[6] T.G, pp.41-42
[7] T.G, p.304
[8] T.G,p.308
[9] T.G, p.310
[10] T.G, pp.314-315
[11] T.G, p.318

[12] G.P Winnington, Vast Alchemies: The Life and Work of Mervyn Peake (London: Peter Owen, 2000) p.189


[13] Geoffrey Moore, ‘Mervyn Peake’s Writings and Drawings’ , Oxford Art Journal, Vol.2, Art and Society (April, 1979), pp.49-5
[14] Edwin Morgan, ‘The Walls of Gormenghast: An Introduction to the Novels of Mervyn Peake’, Essays ( Cheshire: New Press, 1974) p.36
[15] Peake, Mervyn Lawrence, Literature Online Biography ( paragraph 15, accessed 28/4/07.
[16] Gormenghast, p.431
[17] Malcom Yorke, Mervyn Peake, My Eyes Mint Gold: A Life (London: John Murray, 2000) pp.11-12
[18] T.G, p.302
[19] Ibid, p.303
[20] Yorke, pp.161-162
[21] J.Hillis Miller, Illustration ( London: 1992) p.67
[22] Moore, p.51
[23] Reproduction in My Eyes Mint Gold of  The Nightmare life- in -Death,  p.126
[24] Yorke, p.144-5, Illustration p.154
[25] Yorke, p.152

[26] T.G, p.53


[27] Gormenghast, p.709
[28] Ibid, p. 709-710
[29] Ibid, p.716
[30] Colin Manlove, The Fantasy Literature of England (London: Macmillan, 1999) p.40
[31] Yorke, p.166
[32] T.G, p.7
[33] Rosemary Jackson, Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion (London: Routledge, 2001) p.162-163
[34] Gormenghast, p.373
[35] Manlove, p.37
[36] Gormenghast, p.467
[37] Gormenghast, p.470
[38] Titus Alone, p.777
[39] T.A, p.836
[40] T.A, p.811
[41] Tzvetan Todorov, The Fantastic: A Structural approach to a Literary genre, Trans. Richard Howard (New York: 1973)
[42] Yorke, p.296
[43] Jackson, p.162
[44] Yorke, p.175