The Titus novels of Mervyn Peake : a critical and contextual study
Titus Groan, Gormenghast and Titus Alone, written between 1940 and 1959, constitute the major body of Mervyn Peake's writing. Since the publication of Titus Groan in 1946, Peake has been acclaimed as a writer of undoubted, though highly individual, genius. The maverick eclecticism of his writing, however, has conferred upon his fiction a certain cult popularity, while at the same time discouraging serious academic consideration. Though there have been notable exceptions - and, in recent years, something of an upsurge in scholarly interest in Peake - serious study has largely tended to concentrate on biographical detail. While this study does not preclude such an approach - indeed, as the title suggests, it considers the ways in which the Titus novels articulate and respond to personal, social and cultural contexts - its organising principle is the internal structure of the literary work itself Peake began the novels with no clear idea of the final structure of the project. In fact, though the novels have frequently been called the "Gonnenghast Trilogy", they represent a work which is essentially unfinished. However, such an approach had the effect of creating an organic and therefore fundamentally coherent fiction. This study, in following Peake's organic method of development, therefore provides an interpretation of the novels which is both consistent with the author's approach, and suggestive of an inclusive and unifying framework for Peake's vision. Acknowledging the significance of Peake's organising criteria, the study considers in turn the three basic levels of contexture - world (Gormenghast), society (the inhabitants) and individual (Titus) - so as to establish the nature of the framework in which his fiction operates. The examination of the relationship between physical degeneration and psychological dysfunction, and the effects of this malaise on the emergence of the individual consciousness of the protagonist, reveals Titus as the representati~e of an intransigent world forced to accept radical change - thereby giving the novels a contemporary social and cultural relevance, as well as affirming their indebtedness to fundamental aspects of enduring Western literary traditions.