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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.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Atropos (IP Logged)
Date: 4 May, 2004 11:46PM
I find it interesting that CAS would count "The Door to Saturn" among his favorites. That story, with its grotesque extremes (even for Smith) and mordant satire has always been one of my favorites of the Hyperborean cycle, though I have always sensed that others did not share my enthusiasm for it. With CAS listing "The White Sybil" as well, he seems to have had a strong preference for the Hyperborean tales. I also remember that CAS was quite fond of "The Seven Geases" (one of my all-time ABSOLUTE FAVORITES) and "The Coming of the White Worm." It's sad that some of CAS's "other" cycles get slighted somewhat from all the focus on the Zothique cyclce (not to mention the excellent SF entries. I'm eagerly awaiting "Star Changes." Hint Hint, Scott, if you may have heard anything).
Kevin, what exactly were CAS's later feelings toward De La Mare? What I have read of CAS's literary criticism has evinced a discomfort with de la Mare's psychological focus. I'd like to know what his revised feelings were.
On a side note, if you are interested in coming to Peake through one of the more "weird" works in his oeuvre, I have heard that "Boy in Darkness" is creepy to the point of bordering on the downright horrific. I've got a copy near the top of my ever-growing "to read" stack; I'll let you know how she reads when I get to her.
-Daniel

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 5 May, 2004 12:03AM
Daniel:

I'm just basing my view on what I've read in the Selected Letters of Clark Ashton Smith. In a letter to Lovecraft dated c. December 4, 1933, for instance, CAS writes (I imagine that HPL lent CAS a volume of de la Mare's tales),

"I have greatly enjoyed the de la Mare volume. 'Mr. Kempe' is a fine tale, and one is not likely to forget either the setting or the central character. However, it seems to me that a stronger suggestive element could easily have been worked in. 'All Hallows', on the the other hand, is beyond improvement and beyond praise. To me, it is even more satisfactory than 'Seaton's Aunt'. The powerfully hinted idea of demoniac reconstruction is about as good as anything in weird fiction and is wholly original".

In a letter to L. Sprague de Camp dated October 21, 1953, CAS writes, "Among living writers, I probably admire Aldous Huxley and Walter de la Mare as much as any".

This isn't much to go on, to be sure, but it seems to suggest an upward curve. I should add that I'd be surprised, indeed, if CAS didn't appreciate de la Mare's considerable gifts as a poet.

Thanks for the further information regarding Peake's work. Yes, by all means let me know what you think of the work you mentioned.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Atropos (IP Logged)
Date: 5 May, 2004 12:38AM
WHOA! CAS was a Huxley fan? I would have thought that Huxley was slightly too modernistic for CAS's tastes. I've got to get Selected Letters; I'm missing out on some choice info :-)
Here is the quote I had in mind, from "The Tale of Macrocosmic Horror,"

"In authors such as Algernon Blackwood and Walter de la Mare, it seems to me that the accent is primarily on human character. But in their work (at least, in any of it that I have read) one fails to find the highest imaginative horror, the overwhelming sweep of black, gulf-arisen wings, such as is conveyed in the best tales of Ambrose Bierce, Poe and H. P. Lovecraft, where human character is treated more briefly and subversively."

Interestingly, while trying to relocate this quote, I discovered a quote from Lovecraft claiming that de la Mare WAS a cosmicist. Go figure ;-)
-Daniel
P.S. I'm not too sure about Lovecraft's assessment; on the one hand, we have the aforementioned "All Hallows." However, on the other hand we have the BULK of all de la Mare's non-weird fiction, which is decidedly non-cosmic in perspective, perhaps even more so than CAS's ironic-romantic fiction. "The Nap," anyone? This is not to say that de la Mare's non-weird fiction isn't any good; actually my favorite story of his is "Miss Duveen."

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 5 May, 2004 10:00AM
(Formerly K.S.)

Daniel:

Quote:
WHOA! CAS was a Huxley fan? I would have thought that Huxley was slightly too modernistic for CAS's tastes.

There are some disparaging remarks about Huxley in one of the essays in Planets and Dimensions, as well. I suspect that Huxley's satirical bent eventually won over CAS, as they had many of the same targets. In the same letter I quoted from CAS to Sprague de Camp, above, CAS goes on to mention that his tastes are fairly eclectic, and include Fritz Leiber, Jr. and John Collier! (terrain where I definitely cannot follow him! lol)

I figured that you had in mind the "Macrocosmic Horror" quotation. I think that CAS's dismissal of Blackwood in this respect is downright silly, but CAS seems to admit that he hadn't read as much of Blackwood's work as he perhaps should have.

Regarding de la Mare, in particular: I agree that weirds are a (too) small percentage of his work as a whole, but I suppose that HPL is focusiong on cosmicism in de la Mare's weird work per se. (In a letter, HPL also wrote that [I paraphrase], "De la Mare can be exceedingly powerful when he chooses, and I only wish that he'd choose oftener!") I'm much fonder of de la Mare's weirds than of his non-weirds, myself, but he is such an exquisite stylist that I find anything he writes to be worth reading, regardless of whether I find myself interested in his characters or his subject matter (This may sound like heresy, but that's often the way I approach Shakespeare, as well, whose extraordinary poetry is, to my mind, mostly wasted on exclusively humanistic themes and concerns. It's a tragedy of the first water, I think, that Shakespeare didn't try his hand at a Paradise Lost, but I digress, as usual [That wouldn't have paid the bills, I realize] ).

The question of who HPL thinks is and isn't a cosmicist is a vexing one, because HPL seemed constantly to change his mind on the subject. For instance, in Supernatural Horror in Literature, we learn that Arthur Machen is a master of cosmic fear raised to the highest pitch. In a later letter, however, HPL claims that Machen's imagination is not cosmic at all. De la Mare receives similar treatment, I think. At one point, HPL questions the cosmicism of even the revered Dunsany. The subject of HPL's idea of cosmicism, and his shifting opinions of what writers embody it, would make an excellent book-length study (does S.T. Joshi lurk in this forum? ;-) ), both for the intrinsic interest of the subject matter and the confusion and complexity of it!

Getting back to CAS: His opinions of authors certainly changed, as well. As I mentioned, I'm delighted to see his upwardly revised opinion of de la Mare, especially as they are kindred spirits in some respects, at least in verse. CAS favorably mentioned Bierce in the "Macrocosmic Horror" quotation, but then revised his opinion of him downward in a letter to Lovecraft. All this shows that we must all be careful in our assumptions regarding the tastes of our favorite authors, as their viewpoints were dynamic. Of course, one would expect no less of such individuals.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: calonlan (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2004 11:42AM
Several notes in response, connect them as is appropriate:

First, recall that HPL was frequently given to hyperbole in his
praise - please take "cum grano salis."

Clark and I both enjoyed some of de la Mare's stuff - I recall particularly relishing and evening's recitation where I delivered
"Master and Bosun's Song" -- "At Dirty Dick's and Sloppy Joe's we
drank our liquor straight; Some went upstairs with Marjorie, and
some, alas, with Kate..."

Clark's enjoyment of his own love poetry, I am sure, had to do with
the existential fact of being married - albeit late in life. Living
with a woman for some years (particularly such a volatile and expansive
person as Carol), as opposed to surreptitiously "plowing with someone
else's heifer" and the secret, forbidden joys appurtaining thereto,
brought Clark to a different (I would say - deeper) perspective on the
the subject.

His comment on Huxley had to do with stories, not the poetry.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Kyberean (IP Logged)
Date: 7 May, 2004 02:33PM
Brief counter-notes:

Here, it's less an question of Lovecraft's praise, I think, than it is of the way he would characterize an author's work; in particular, whether that author's work or perspective embodied "cosmicism". For instance, Lovecraft felt that Donald Wandrei was one of the few individuals of his acquaintance who shared the cosmic perspective, but he did not, to my knowledge, over-praise Wandrei's work.

Regarding Huxley: As I mentioned, I'm nearly certain that Huxley's satires appealed most to CAS. CAS singles out for praise After Many A Summer Dies The Swan, I believe.

I dare say that you are right regarding the reason for whatever changes CAS's perspective on love poetry and romantic love may have undergone in time. Like Lovecraft, I freely confess to finding romantic love mostly ridiculous, myself, and so I suppose that "deeper" is a matter of perspective. For me, the deepest comment on romance and the like comes from Shelley (although he couldn't put it into practice during his youth, and didn't live long enough to see its wisdom into his dotage): "I think that one is always in love with something or other. The error consists in seeking in a mortal image the likeness of which is perhaps eternal" (paraphrased from memory). CAS offers similar wisdom a fortiori in "The Muse of Hyperborea" and "The White Sybil".

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Dale Nelson (IP Logged)
Date: 24 October, 2019 11:07AM
The subject of Walter de la Mare came up in Oct. 2019 on the thread for Machen's Hieroglyphics -- not that Machen mentions de la Mare there, or, in fact, so far as I remember, anywhere.

I looked to see if there was a de la Mare thread here, and found that there are several threads relating to particular things by de la Mare or to other subject,s in which de la Mare came up.

That might be a good way to continue, rather than to start a thread simply on de la Mare.

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Sawfish (IP Logged)
Date: 29 October, 2019 12:40PM
Hello, Atropos.

I started Titus Groan for the first time and am about 10% into it and while I can agree that Peake uses an unusual vocabulary, like CAS, it's not the same sort of vocabulary, to my mind. I've seen CAS's word choice described as "lapidary", for example, and that's far from what I'm seeing in Peake.

While both dwell on the topic of dissolution, there's a nobility and grandeur in CAS that is absent in Peake, who dwells on the grotesque and disgusting aspects of decay, both physical and spiritual. Peake is (so far) a tour of the backstreets of Villon, while CAS explores the remnants of Persepolis.

Peake also emphasizes more of the natural grotesque--dwarves, fat men, filth--than does CAS, whose grotesquery is more of a cosmic or transcendent nature. In short, you can see Peake grotesques in everyday life, while CAS grotesques don't for the most part exist in this universe.

This establishes a very different tone, and because of this I'm not sure where Peake is taking me, which is very exciting. I am very happy that you brought Peake to the group's attention.

Thanks, and I look forward to finishing Titus Groan soon.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
"Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. But give a man a boat,
a case of beer, and a few sticks of dynamite..." -- Sawfish

Re: Of Peake and CAS
Posted by: Knygatin (IP Logged)
Date: 30 October, 2019 02:25PM
Sawfish Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
...
> I started Titus Groan for the first time and am
> about 10% into it and while I can agree that Peake
> uses an unusual vocabulary, like CAS, it's not the
> same sort of vocabulary, to my mind. I've seen
> CAS's word choice described as "lapidary", for
> example, and that's far from what I'm seeing in
> Peake.
>
> While both dwell on the topic of dissolution,
> there's a nobility and grandeur in CAS that is
> absent in Peake, who dwells on the grotesque and
> disgusting aspects of decay, both physical and
> spiritual. Peake is (so far) a tour of the
> backstreets of Villon, while CAS explores the
> remnants of Persepolis.
>
> Peake also emphasizes more of the natural
> grotesque--dwarves, fat men, filth--than does CAS,
> whose grotesquery is more of a cosmic or
> transcendent nature. In short, you can see Peake
> grotesques in everyday life, while CAS grotesques
> don't for the most part exist in this universe. ...


I look forward to hearing how you will evaluate this book, especially from a supernatural and fantastic aspect.

Otherwise your observations confirm my generally preconceived hunches when younger, and why I then chose to read CAS among a select few others, and rejected to read Peake along with most other offerings standing on the bookracks in libraries and shops. That may be a risky approach. Still, there is only time enough to read a very small part of everything available. Too much reading effort had already been wasted in my early teens. One needs be discriminate, and always look for the artistic and ecstatic best. But I have been proven wrong on occasions, and delightfully surprised with some authors I had previously ignored.



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