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Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Atropos (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 12:44PM
I've recently been re-reading the Titus books, which I first read before coming to weird fiction (if by chance you are unfamiliar with these works, I highly recommend them). Actually, I'm trying to finish Titus Alone for the first time, as I stopped at Gormenghast the last time through. I can confirm what others have said: Titus Alone is a mere shadow of the first two novels. One can almost sense while reading Titus Alone Peake's mind slipping away from him as the degenerative nerve disease which eventually forced him to be institutionalized took its toll.
But I digress. What I have noticed upon the second reading of these novels are the remarkable similarities between Peake and CAS, namely their overweening obsession with decaying empires. Compare any one of Peake's loving and lyrical descriptions of a rotting wing of Gormenghast to a passage describing a ruined palace in a CAS prose poem or a tale of Zothique. Both of them share a similar obsession with mortality and violence, though Peake's morbidity is more in line with English eccentrics such as Beddoes or Webster while CAS is much more of a Poe man.
CAS and Peake certainly have their differences. While I wouldn't call Peake a humanist (his creations are too grotesque to evince any real concern with "the human condition" at large), he is certainly more interested in his characters than CAS and decidedly not a cosmicist. Also, I think that CAS's misanthropic streak runs wider than Peake's, though anyone who could have created Steerpike must have had some issues with humanity. However, I think that the similarities between these two idiosyncratic writers are worth exploring. Anyone have any comments?
-Daniel Harris

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Atropos (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 12:54PM
AAARGH! Why am I unable to type the plural of "book" without something wanting to turn it into a hypertext link? It's as if we don't know what a "book" (you'll have to imagine the plural "s") are, so the computer feels compelled to provide a link to a definition. How thoroughly irritating! Anyway, I apologize for the string of hypertext gibberish in my post.
-Daniel

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 02:07PM
Sorry, no direct comments from me, as I haven't read the Peake books. My sense--and correct me if I'm mistaken--is that they are more grotesque than weird, so I've never really been inclined to track them down.

What interests me, though, is your comment about Beddoes. CAS has cited Beddoes as a favorite poet on more than one instance, and CAS's Death Will Cuckold You (never a favorite of mine; I've always hoped that he was joking when he referred to it as his "masterpiece".) positively reeks of Beddoes's Death's Jest Book, almost to the point of parody. While Poe was certainly the bigger influence on CAS, I wouldn't discount that of Beddoes, who, in my view, at his fragmentary best rivals even the greatest of the English poets.

Sorry for the digression. I'm sure that several here have read the Peake books, and the parallels you cite do sound interesting.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Atropos (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 02:46PM
Aickman was an admirer of Beddoes too; see "The View" (ah, how many of us have dreamt of discovering voluptuous ghosts who are interested in setting Beddoes poems to piano). Of course, one can see a Beddoes influence on CAS thematically (as well as Webster), but Peake's prose seems to have the same texture as Beddoes: that simultaeneous combination of coarse anatomical exactness and melancholy lyricism. Also, Peake's work features carnivorous owls, a very Beddoes touch. I won't go into more detail ;-)
Kevin, I'd strongly recommend the Titus "novels." Even if they don't feature anything overtly fantastic, there are some very surreal set pieces and the Gothic excesses of prose, setting and characterization set them decidedly apart from realist tradition. Also, fans of CAS will probably appreciate their melancholy morbidity and decadence more than the quaint, conservative pastoralism of "the other English fantasist."
-Daniel

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 03:19PM
Sounds like a good topic for a LOST WORLDS article. :-)
Speaking of Gormenghast, I particularly recommend the DVD of the BBC series that they did a few years ago. Magnificent stuff.
Best, Scott

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: bobmann (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 03:42PM
CAS and Peake have in common a love of extravagant language, a highly ornate prose style to be lingered over and reread, a talent for the visual as well as literary arts - when I first saw the drawing on the title page of The Last Oblivion I thought it was by Peake - and a sly humour, a bizarre invention that knows only too well it is going over the top. They also have a mystical sense that merely to be alive is itself amazing enough. Not so sure about the misanthropy. They had off days and an awareness of the human potential for evil, but I think they also had an equally strong sense of our potential for transcending it. They just didn't put it into their fiction, but the poetry often implies it. In their lives they seem to have been sensitive and humane. I have loved Peake's Gormenghast since I discovered it at the age of fourteen, over thirty years ago. In contrast I've only known Smith's work for a few years, but I immediately felt that they were closely akin, and I'm sure that anyone who feels at home in Averoigne or Zothique will find the dank halls and crumbling towers of Gormenghast a congenial location.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 06:53PM
Daniel:

A propos of the "voluptuous ghosts who are interested in setting Beddoes poems to piano", let me guess: Is one of those poems "The Phantom Wooer"? lol Anyway, I'll have to look out for that Aickman tale. You certainly do make Peake sound more interesting than I previously thought. Perhaps one day I'll look into his work.

I do think that Beddoes's more Shellyean elevated moments had a great influence on CAS, as well.

Those who like the Gothic and poetic language in excelsis really shouldn't miss The Castle of Argol, by Julien Gracq.

Bob:

You and I have some rather differing interpreations of CAS, it would seem. I can't speak regarding Peake, but, to me, there's nothing the slightest bit "over the top" about CAS's verbal or pictorial styles, let alone a conscious knowledge of that "fact" by the poet himself. To me, it is a sign of the decadence of our (Post-) modern times that the elevated style, in whatever medium, seems to be "over the top".

Regarding misanthropy, it appears plain to me that CAS was a misanthrope of the Swiftian variety: That is, a person who loved particular individuals (and few of them, at that), but who despised humanity at large. For CAS, I do not think that there was ever any "we", in the sense that humanity collectively has any capability for transcending its limitations. In CAS's tales and poems, for instance, such transcendence is for a privileged few (aristocrats, poets, sorcerors). Even then it often leaves a bitter after-taste, and comes at great cost. The tone and content of his letters make plain his feelings on th subject, as well.

Scott:

On the subject of articles for Lost Worlds, I'd love to see a scholarly comparative analysis of Beddoes and CAS. It's a shame that I'm not qualified to write it!

Sorry once again to have veered off topic.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: bobmann (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 07:22PM
You may well be right. I haven't read Selected Letters yet. In describing the extravagant invention of CAS and Peake as 'over the top' I wasn't implying any insincerity or lack of integrity. I just feel they might have had more of a sense of humour than they have possibly been credited with...

Bob

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 3 May, 2004 07:25PM
Bob:

Thanks for the clarification. I certainly agree with you regarding CAS's sense of humor. His was very much present in his works, and often a wicked one, as his Devil's Notebook, vividly attests. Fictional examples, such as "The Monster of the Prophecy", are also not lacking.


Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 12:14PM
I am replying to the note about "The Dead Will Cuckold You".
In reading my recently acquired copy of "Strange Shadows" I found this
reference in the introduction - as his "masterpiece". Those who have
read my memoir in "sword..." will recall that while staying with Clark
and Carol in Pacific Grove for a couple of weeks, I typed(with carbon)
3 copies of the play, and on the following evening, the three of us
read it. We had quite a time (myself as the dead lover), and many
a good chortle in the process. Clark's reference to this as his
"masterpiece" was done in the sense that one might refer to Shakespeare's
"Falstaff" as his "masterpiece" = ie, the best play he wrote - ergo,
Clark's work is the "best" play he ever wrote - and, of course remembering his wit, it is also his only play -- note wry, twisted
grin, twitch of moustache, twinkle in eye, and a two syllable, suppressed chuckle accompanying the comment, and you have a picture
of Clark's actual opinion.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 01:31PM
Dr. Farmer:

Thanks for this. I suspected as much.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Tortha (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 03:03PM
Does anyone have any knowledge of what CAS may have actually considered to be his "masterpiece", the work he was most proud of?

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Scott Connors (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 06:19PM
I think that Clark tended to regard his total body of work as his accomplishment, although he definitely had favorites: "The Door to Saturn," "The White Sybil," the tales from THE DOUBLE SHADOW. However, to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, what Clark liked best about his work was what any artist really likes about it: getting paid. Remember, the only difference between poetry and poverty is the letter V (Walter de la Mare). Best, Scott

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 07:03PM
I am delighted this discussion has continued. Scott is quite right.
I can tell you, however, that the "Double Shadow" collection was
indeed way up on the list; and that in the years I knew him, his
fondness for his "love" poetry had grown considerably - or at any
rate so it seemed to me. My feelings in this matter may be due to
the fact that I, at that time, had a great fondness for reciting them.
The key ingredient in them, as we discussed it at the time, was the
presence of a "pulse", an undercurrent rhythym that was not quite
a "beat" and short of a "throbbing", that yielded a remarkable underscoring to the work itself - ie - Not altogether Sleep - "...where
time shall have none other pendulum..." and the l928 poem in
"Sword of Zagan" (I recited this when DSF & I did the book signing
at Barnes & Noble - very warmly received - deep nostalgic sigh from
the audience at its warm conclusion).

Dr. Farmer

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 09:34PM
Scott:

Quote:
[...] to paraphrase Terry Pratchett, what Clark liked best about his work was what any artist really likes about it: getting paid. Remember, the only difference between poetry and poverty is the letter V.

And also remember that the only difference between "prat" and "Pratchett" is the "chett". ;-)

Walter de la Mare: Now there's a first-class poet and story-writer, in every sense of the term; far too little known today. I'm glad that CAS's estimation of him seemed to rise with time. If only de la Mare had been less interested in human character...which reminds me....

Dr. Farmer:

Quote:
[...] his fondness for his "love" poetry had grown considerably [...]

Not that it matters, but I'm a little sorry to hear that. I realize, though, that the "a-human" cosmicist position is nearly impossible for most to sustain for even a few seconds, still less for a long lifetime.

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