To try to place Peake’s novels is difficult because they are both fantastic and psychologically realistic. If fantasy is thought of as the ability to see the world with different eyes or to juxtapose it with an alternate world, then Peake’s novels are classic high fantasy. Gormenghast Castle itself looks back to gothic novels such as Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Matthew G. Lewis’ The Monk (1796) with its dramatic use of settings and atmosphere, its picturing of tradition and ritual, its endangered heroines and self-aware villain-heroes, its mix of comic and horrific, its fatal pairs of characters, and its games with time and suspense. The characters themselves are like those Charles Dickens created, with their strong visual appeal, but the rich language Peake uses sets them apart from much twentieth century writing in English. Peake deliberately looked for words and names that were different, taking readers into a feast of language, one of the few things not rationed when he began the books. Also, as “Titus Awakes” shows, Peake developed plans over time for a full life of Titus.
When Peake published Titus Groan roughly halfway through his career as a visual artist, reviewers were not sure how to place the novel. Gormenghast, by contrast, received the Royal Society of Literature Prize in 1951. These first two novels tell a story universal in its themes of the burden of the past, the...
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