by Maeve Gilmore
Titus Awakes is a sequel to the Titus books, written by Peake’s widow, Maeve Gilmore. It is mentioned on this site only because it reprints (as chapter 1) the draft opening lines that Peake wrote in 1960 for what he called ‘Titus 4’ or, possibly, ‘Titus Awakes’. These notes first appeared in a slim issue of the Mervyn Peake Review (No 23, 1990), and they were repeated at the end of the edition of Titus Alone that I prepared for the Overlook Press in 1992 (A12l).
It was around 1980 when Maeve asked me to read her continuation of the Titus stories, titled Search without End. She had just finished revising an earlier version that she had spent ten years writing. (The first 22 chapters of MS date from 1970; the next ten were written between 1971 and 1976; and the final chapters, 32–40, date from the autumn of 1976.) In the version she had me read she had carefully removed all reference or allusion to events or characters (apart from the name of the hero) in Peake’s Titus books, so that her novel could stand alone. She made it quite clear that Search without End was all her own work. Never was there any suggestion that she had been given – or followed – any directions by her husband. In any case, when he was writing, he himself usually had no precise idea as to how the story was to develop. He was not one of those writers who work to a pre-conceived plan. And Maeve had such respect and admiration for his work that I doubt if she would have asked for my opinion if he had had anything to do with it.
I took away the typescript and a few days later we had quite a long talk about it. I did not encourage her to seek to get it published. After thirty years all I remember of our discussion is that I told her I found a particular episode unconvincing, and she retorted that it was the one thing in the story that actually happened. For me it was confirmation of the adage that a real fiction writer never lets the truth stand in the way of a good story. Maeve was not a born fiction writer. I know of only one published story: ‘Mrs Wilmington Sat Alone’, which appeared in an Arts Council anthology, New Stories 2, in 1978.
As soon as I heard from Sebastian Peake that the MS of Search without End had been dusted down, I sent him a copy of the typescript I had. The published book follows an earlier version than the one Maeve had me read. In it, characters from the Titus books are mentioned by name, and many passages are longer and less well written, so this book does not correspond to what I believe to have been her final intentions. On the contrary, everything has been done to link Maeve’s book to Mervyn’s, including borrowing the title from him. (GPW)
On the first page of this book, Maeve’s year of birth is given as 1918; it was actually 1917, but she lied about it so convincingly that her children believed her, despite the evidence of her birth certificate.
Duncan Fallowell, The Telegraph, 6 July 2011. ‘Those in charge have deemed it a good idea to bring it forth, with the outrageous subtitle “The lost book of Gormenghast”. The implication that this was some legendary manuscript, discovered after years of search, is a false one. It was always sitting in the family attic.… Maeve Gilmore’s book is a rather limp curiosity, and to attach it directly to Peake’s oeuvre was not a kindness.’
Fergus Fleming, Peake’s Progress. Literary Review, 9 July 2011. ‘Titus Awakes is more a stream of consciousness than a novel in the accepted sense. As Titus rambles from one disconnected situation to another, without explanation and to no obvious purpose, one wonders whether it’s worth the bother. Compared to the trilogy, with its wit and joie de vivre, this is a lead balloon. Perhaps it should have stayed in the attic. And then, towards the end comes a revelation: it isn’t a sequel at all, it’s an elegy.’
Sadie Heilman, in ‘Titus Awakes: Treading a Circle from Fiction to Metafiction’ calls it ‘Maeve’s attempt at catharsis’.
John Gray, New Statesman, 18 July 2011. Because MG has ‘Titus travelling through sites recalling those of Peake in real life, but in reverse order, [she] follows Peake in a counterclockwise journey, returning at last to a place of healing and happiness. The story ends with those words of the countess: “There’s not a road, not a track, but it will lead him home.” It is a moving conclusion to a grand modern saga, which fate denied Peake the chance to complete.’
Michael Moorcock, Los Angeles Times, 28 August 2011. ‘A fascinating, intensely personal homage, Titus Awakes, with its themes of baffled love and loss, turns the scraps of notes and list of chapter titles into a testament of Maeve’s devotion.… Thus Maeve as well as Titus finds resolution, affirming the deep love of life, the optimism she continued to share with her beloved husband.’
David Bratman, Mythprint [The Monthly Bulletin of the Mythopoeic Society], Vol.48, No 11 (November 2011) whole number 352. A useful summary of the ‘peripatetic journey’ recounted in the book.
‘A totally pointless book really. It would have been better if the manuscript had been left in the drawer where it was found. “The lost book of Gormenghast” it certainly ain’t!’—gardenque