Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

"I Have My Battleground No Less Than Nations": Peake's Daydream of Gormenghast

Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

"I Have My Battleground No Less Than Nations": Peake's Daydream of Gormenghast

Article excerpt

Since the inception of psychoanalysis and its theories, critics have been attempting to discern underlying meanings in a text by researching the life history of an author or the characters within particular works. This theory of psychobiography, sired by Sigmund Freud, was linked to creative writing in his seminal essay "Creative Writers and Daydreaming," published in 1908. In this short yet seminal work, Freud claims that creative writers garner material for their works through an almost childlike sense of play, in which they "... create a world of fantasy which [they] take very seriously ... invest with large amounts of emotion--while separating it sharply from reality" (484).

Freud asserts that all adults fantasize or daydream as a way of wishing for the impossible or in order to create a world that is more pleasing psychologically or emotionally, however, creative writers take this a step further by putting dream to paper and sharing their unconscious daydreams with others. Readers, like peeping Toms, experience something called an incentive bonus from seeing an author's bare thoughts and fantasies laid out upon paper and are then further encouraged to share their own fantasies. This phenomenon explains why readers tend to identify with characters who are like them (or who are faced with a similar situation or problem, and in the process of bonding with a character, readers also feel a sense of kinship with the author who describes the leads character by "... sitting inside his mind ... and look[ing] at characters from outside" (Freud 486). Freud even claims that an author can "split up his ego, by self-observation, into many part-egos, and, in consequence, personify the conflicting currents of his own mental life in several heroes" (486). There ere several ways to use theories like Freud's to enhance and elucidate a writer's unconscious intentions, and one concept that produces interesting analytical results is to examine an author's creations as products of self-therapy--as receptacles for alleviating mental stress and anxiety (Lindauer 40) .

Freud never promoted the idea of using his theories to examine the psychological makeup of an author or a character, but he did praise a few attaints by other psychologists and critics, like his friend and pupil Marie Bonaparte. Bonaparte pioneered a theory she termed etude psychanalytique (now termed psychiobiography), and in a revealing study of the works of Edgar Allan Poe, she claimed that works of literature "profoundly reveal their creator's psychology, and ... their construction resembles that of our dreams" (qtd. in Wright 40). By tracing Poe's sordid and tragic life, Bonaparte was able to analyze the characters in Poe's short stories and label them as "internalized images which ere the result of [the author's] past experience" (qtd. in Wright 40).

If this the case, perhaps psychoanalytic criticism can shed same light on what readers and critics alike have struggled to gain for decades--an interpretation and understanding of the literary structure, symbolism, and hidden meanings in the Gormenghast Trilogy of Mervyn Peake. Using the tools and terms of this critical school in addition to two excellent biographies of the writer's life by G.Peter Winnington and Malcolm Yorke, it might be possible to tighten the critical focus and extract a psychological analysis of Mervyn Peake through his ties with several characters in the novel, especially his Machiavellian figure of Steerpike. Peake claimed that "[Titus Groan] is, and is not, a dream," and if this is true--if Gormenghast is the pleasing fantasy world Peake created for himself through writing--it is highly possible that there is more than just dust and ritual in the corners of his timeless castle (qtd. in Winnington 184).

Mervyn Peake, a British poet and artist renowned for his flamboyant dress, long hair, and pierced ear, was summoned into military service in the summer of 1940 just after the birth of his first child, Sebastian. …

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