Someone's mention of Gormenghast reminded me that I didn't especially like Titus Groan (the first book) but that it did contain one of my favorite paragraphs/exchanges. Some day I'll get around to reading the second and third books, for cultural-literacy purposes even if I don't actually enjoy them. Anyway, here's the quote, Steerpike flattering Clarice and Cora Groan:

'Glorious,' said Steerpike, 'is a dictionary word. We are all imprisoned by the dictionary. We choose out of that vast, paper-walled prison our convicts, the little black printed words, when in truth we need fresh sounds to utter, new enfranchised noises which would produce a new effect. In dead and shackled language, my dears, you are glorious, but oh, to give vent to a brand new sound that might convince you of what I really think of you, as you sit there in your purple splendor, side by side! But no, it is impossible. Life is too fleet for onomatopoeia. Dead words defy me. I can make no sound, dear ladies, that is apt.'

'You could try,' said Clarice. 'We aren't busy.'

—Mervyn Peake, Titus Groan, p. 305 of the most common paperback edition

7 Responses to “Steerpike”

  1. Jay Lake

    I highly recommend the BBC production of Gormenghast, though I have always found the burning of the library to be one of the great crimes of literature.

  2. David Moles

    Jonathan Rhys-Meyers as Steerpike — what more could you ask for?

    The second book is better than the first. The third book
    is good but very different, and Peake could easily have
    written almost the same book without reference to
    Gormenghast at all; whereas the first two are I think really
    halves of one very long novel.

  3. Jay Lake

    What he said about the trilogy, it’s really a duology with a third separate work concerning the same character.

  4. Will

    trilogy … duology …

    I’ve only seen the miniseries (and loved it), but at the time, I was led to believe that Peake intended five books, and died after the third. Not the case? (Alas, must catch train so no time to do the research myself; besides, y’all are much more familiar with Peake than I am!)

  5. Susan Marie Groppi

    I’ve always felt that, at least among the sf-types I talk to, I’m Not Like the Others because I was thoroughly underwhelmed by Titus Groan. So I’m glad to hear this from you, Jed.

  6. David Moles

    It probably helps to be English. I’m sure it helped me that I was living in England when I read it.

    I kind of had to push myself through TG on account of having already gone and bought all three, in a fit of madness in Blackwell’s.

  7. Arthur Evans

    Love the quote. And I think that “A Fit of Madness in Blackwell’s” would make an excellent short story.

    You could try and write it. We aren’t busy.


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