Reading Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast as a City

An illustration of Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast by Alan Lee.

Robert Macfarlane has written a series of short pieces reflecting on literary representations of space. Among them, he includes a thoughtful discussion of Mervyn Peake‘s labyrinthine Gormenghast novels (Titus GroanGormenghastTitus Alone), and in particular the eponymous castle setting that will be etched into the minds of all its readers. At one moment, Macfarlane draws parallels between Peake’s castle and a modern city:

“Cities are, like Gormenghast, excessive and connective. They spawn, proliferate, self-generate: and they are sites of encounter and overlap. For every story you overhear in a city, every conversation you catch, myriad more are in the making at that moment. This is the affront that cities offer to reason, and the excitement they provoke in the mind: that they surpass all possible record. They are places of—to borrow again from Peake—intense ‘circumfusion’.”

— 1843 Magazine

Macfarlane concludes, “At such moments—in such places—it feels as if Peake has not mimicked the real but anticipated or supplemented it.”


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