Steerpike and Fuchsia Essay
“Steerpike and Fuchsia are more than narrative devices.
There are means by which Peake can examine the very nature of humanity”. Discuss.”Tradition becomes our security, and when the mind is secure it is in decay”- Jiddu KrishnamurtiSuch has been the case with Gorhmengast over the many years of its existence. Many Earls came and went, 77 in all, but nothing ever changed.
Here tradition had become an end, manifesting itself in the dominance of ritual that suffocates all life and whose origins are lost in time. Steerpike’s ambition does not allow him to remain content as a kitchen boy in the Earl’s castle. Manipulating circumstance and human weakness he worms his way up the Gormenghast hierarchy. Ruthless and murderous, with a Machiavellian mind and a talent for manipulation, he even tries to appear charming and noble.For an author characters are like puppets. He manipulates them, makes them dance to his tune and uses them as narrative devices; not so for Peake who uses the opportunity to play God to delve into the very nature of humankind.
In this essay I explore the many ways in which Mervyn Peake explores human nature through the lives and times of Steerpike and Fuchsia two characters from his epic ‘Titus Groan’.Peake during his lifetime was influenced by many events from the early part of the 20th century. As a soldier in the army he witnessed the harshness and brutality of war. Born in colonial China he later moved with his family to England.
The sharp contrast in human nature between the poor in China and the rich in England is in evidence in his writing. During his early childhood Peake also was affected by the Chinese and Russian revolutions, the depression and subsequently World War II and its fascist roots. All these influences can be seen in ‘Titus Groan’ where context is everything and cool control over incredulous characters the norm.No two people are the same. Each is unique in his/her own way. Yet human nature has a lot in common; whether it is love, adaptability, passion, reason or nature nurture.
Love is a central theme in the novel. From Peake’s writing two analogies about love emerge; the virtue of being able and unable to love. Love not only in terms of relationships but also for land, money and power.Titus’s sister Fuchsia’s character epitomises love as romantic relationship. At times snobbish, annoying, and self-absorbed, she is also warm and caring. She is a carefree romantic nature loving girl.
Peake describes her as:-“A girl of about fifteen with long, rather wild black hair. She was gauche in movement and in a sense ugly of face, but with how small a twist might she not suddenly have become beautiful. Her sullen mouth was full and rich — her eyes smoldered.”Even though Fuchsia might have a slightly ugly appearance, she is forever entranced by the power of love. She wanted to be loved as much as she wanted to love.
This is evident in the passage:”Someone will come then, if I live alone. Someone from another kind of world – a new world – not from this world, but someone who is different, and he will fall in love with me at once because I live alone and aren’t like other beastly things in this world, and he’ll enjoy having me because of my pride”The above passage is not only an example of romance as relationship, it also shows that it is in the nature of all humans to feel wanted and loved. The experience of rejection deeply impacts an individual. Peake has brought out this aspect through Fuchsia. She was unhindered by the ghastly looks of Steerpike when she first met him and readily embraced Steerpike’s story of being an adventurer – thanks to her romantic soul and need for romantic love. Fuchsia also learns to love her father Sepulchrave even though she hardly knows him and both father and mother had abandoned her as she being a woman is unable to succeed them to the throne.
Fuchsia’s love is child like. She yearns for love and lives in the hope that someone will love her. She likes Nannie Slagg and Dr. Prensquallor because they were the only people who showed her signs of affection.
Building adopting this story line Peake asserts human nature – love those who love you. Fuchsia’s childlike loving nature can be witnessed when she repeatedly troubles Nannie Slagg and when she goes to her attic to fantasize and/or sulk – in the same manner that a seven year old would do. She also falls in love with Steerpike, attracted by his exuberant personality and difference. That they both shared an interest in change also helped. Even Steerpike acknowledges her Fuchsia’s romantic nature when he says:”Her crimson dress was enough for him to go on.
She was romantic. She was a simpleton; a dreaming girl of fifteen years.”The author uses Steerpike to examine the other side of human love, not romantic love or passionate love, not love for people but love for land power and money; materialistic love for the things of this world. Steerpike longed for power and his love for power made him reach for great heights. This approach to love is radically different from the loving nature that Fuchsia presents.
The love that Steerpike professed for Fuchsia was only a means to an end, the end being social progression and wealth. Even though at times Steerpike might seem to be in love, this is never the case. Peake also explores other dimensions of love as human nature. For example Sepulchrave has his love for books and his library; Lady Groan’s has her love for her white cats.
Thus Peake exposes the reader to the full range of human experience that goes as love. He does not stop here. He even deals with the lack of love through the character of Swelter and his dysfunctional relationship with the cleaver projecting him as the ‘anti love God’ of the novel.”Mr Swelter was suckling it in his arms as though he was suckling it.”Swelter doesn’t know the true meaning of love and has never experienced it either. This is the reason his love remains confined to inanimate objects.
Thus Peake helps the reader explore the full range of human emotion that goes as love.Nature nurture is another aspect of human nature that Peake explores through his characters. It is useful to examine how in the course of the novel the role of Steerpike and Fuchsia are used by Peake to bring this out. On the one hand Fuchsia has been brought up in a wealthy background as the daughter of the Earl, with all the luxuries associated with it.
On the other you have Steerpike who emerges from the filthy kitchens of the Earl where the abusive chef Abiatha Swelter reigns. The common factor is that both faced oppression and experienced abandonment. Consequently they are joined by the desire for change. Yet their differing backgrounds result in a huge gap in the nature of Steerpike and Fuchsia.
Fuchsia is loving, understanding and simple. She does not long for worldly pleasures; all she desires is freedom, love and passion. She has not been corrupted by the need for worldly pleasures and has thrived on the marvel of nature alone. Her childlike innocence is derived from her lack of experience of the hardships of life.
Steerpike on the contrary has emerged from an oppressed childhood, feeling unwanted and inadequate for not being born into the privileged class. Therefore his ideals and goals are very different from those of Fuchsia – the influence of the way he was nurtured. Steerpike being the product of the way he was nurtured desires power, fame and authority. He therefore strives to manipulate circumstances so that situations become favorable to him.”There were few secrets hidden from him, for he had that scavenger like faculty of acquiring unashamedly and from an infinite variety of sources, snatches of knowledge which he kept neatly at the back of his brain and used to his own advantage as opportunity offered.
“Steerpike’s need for power is because he lacked it in his earlier days. Fuchsia is a marvel of nature for she longs for what nature has to give to her and does not want to fall victim to the evils of material want. This is an interesting portrayal by Peake where he shows the poor as those pushing for change and the rich as preservers of the status quo.Nature nurture is also linked to the role played by the environment in shaping human nature. This aspect of human nature can be seen in almost all the characters in ‘Titus Groan’.
Environment has a deep impact on Steerpike, it shapes his character his every moment is used in securing social and economic mobility. The character of Rotcodd and Flay is another good example of Peake’s attempt to show how nurture shares human nature. Rotcodd lives in the dark and damp room and intends to stay there all his life with a couple of paintings and statues to give him company. Thus his life is dull and boring life, no interest in socializing, no need to talk to anyone.”It is not easy to feel that any great thoughts haunted his mind nor- in spite of the sculpture whose bright files surged over the dust in narrowing perspective like the highway for an emperor – that Rottcodd made any attempt to avail himself of his isolation, but rather that he was enjoying the solitude for its Own Sake, with, at the back of his mind, the dread of an intruder.
“Flay’s nature has also been affected by his environment which can be seen when he is banished by the queen of Gorhmenghast. He knows not what to do, and finds it a very strange world because the palace has shaped his existence and character, he finds it difficult to adjust to another environment.”In his banishment he had felt the isolation of a severed hand, which realizes that it is no more part of the arm and body it was formed to serve and where the heart still beats.”Peake also explores passion and reason, and challenges the reader into considering whether these two qualities can work together. As portrayed by Peake in the character of Steerpike and Fuchsia you either have passion or reason, you can’t have both.
Fuchsia is driven by passion:”‘May I walk with you?’ said Steerpike sliding up.’Yes’, said Fuchsia. ‘Oh, yes; why shouldn’t you?’ She had never wanted him before, and was surprised at her own words”The above passage reveals that aspect of human nature where you involuntarily say what you feel even though what you say may be illogical or is a hidden feeling you never knew existed. Fuchsia follows what her heart tells her to do (passion) as opposed to Steerpike who follows what his mind tells him to do (reason). Both passion and reason have their own drawbacks and strengths and Peake deftly brings it out.
Passion tends to result in emotional and hasty reactions decisions, but they are quick and spontaneous. They may not always best of actions but they are genuine and often welcomed. Those who lack passion lack love and the effects of the lack of love can be clearly seen in Gorhmenghast where everything is dull and ritualistic.In Titus Groan, Peake therefore goes beyond what every author does i.e. to use characters as narrative devices.
By delivering such a rich and nuanced treatment of his characters he takes storytelling to another level, i.e that of commenting on the very nature of humanity. Steerpike and Fuchsia two people from completely different backgrounds are used by him with telling effect -everyone has something good and bad in them; the nature of humanity is unpredictable.