Gormenghast Read-Along Review: Titus Alone and Aftermath

BOOK THREE: TITUS ALONE

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  • So we’ve started Titus Alone which is how I wish he would leave me

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  • Peake has decided to switch time periods, genres, modes, registers of fictionality?? We’re in a weird pomo Little Prince riff and nothing means anything, way way more so than nothing was Real for the last 2 books.
  • Titus meets *essentially his mother in like 5 respects* his dick *twangs like a guitar string* & I think I said ‘what?’ audibly, so they bang, of course they bang, and also there are cars idk we’re kind of in Les Cites Obscures now
  • Titus remains obsessed with Gormenghast even though it’s not in this book. He spits at the moon. A camel and a mule fight. Juno is way more interesting than any man she has ever condescended to date.
  • Honestly still creeped out by the two Knight things perpetually following Titus tho? #stilldoesmynutintothisday
  • I worry sometimes that I read literature entirely through a materialist lens that in considering capitalism takes on its prerogatives, its narrow and temporally specific ways of thinking about character. But also Titus needs to get a fucking job.
  • Me earlier: why only adapt the first 2 books?
    Me now: oooooooh
  • what did Peake read before writing this? *suspiciously* was it Joyce?
  • An unnamed friend actually cried reading Titus Alone. ‘This is just so fucking miserable.’ My reaction wasn’t that strong but my lads; my lasses, my enbies, my friendbies: skip this one.
  • Noted birds rights activist Titus Groan is always uncomfortable when we are not about him. In the chapters ‘War Crimes Victims: A Huge Downer’ and ‘EUGH she’s STILL SAD’, we see—
  • In Titus Alone, Gormenghaston succeeds in being so annoying I’m like ‘rewind can we go back to the ivy and try the other one I feel even full crazy he still had some potential left in him—‘
  • Times Titus refers to his own boner in narratively obtrusive fashion: 5ish
    Times ol’ Skewbald hate-ace did that to me: *a most blessed 0*
  • Titus sends 🍆pics honestly believing you want to receive them. On all occasions, he lays a special emphasis on ‘YOU’RE welcome’. He says he doesn’t necessarily believe in the arguments he’s making over dinner, ‘he’s just presenting alternative perspectives!’ YOU’RE welcome! 🙂
  • the other day I was bitching to an anarchist friend on here about how annoying Titus is as a character&he was just like ‘I work on historical anarchists, so.’
  • I was slain bc it is exactly hot topic ‘A in a circle’ hoodie 15 yo boy stuff. Friend nailed the text, me, himself, he was like a nail gun
  • Titus Alone is the most confused I’ve been about the sexuality of a Cheeta since “Survival”. (This is a joke for 6 people ever I’m sorry)
  • Please kill me.

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  • HOW DOES CHEETA KNOW THE ‘GET IN THE SEA’ MEME?!

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  • In which Titus is invited to the cook out

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  • Omfg well I’m done with Titus Alone wooooow
  • my advisor yesterday: I love Titus Alone!

me: *a face journey*

***

AFTERMATH:

  • I think Gormenghast is neither over- nor underrated, but reasonably esteemed, enjoying a sound but not inflated reputation in fantasy.
  • People like to say that in the 50s there was something of a contest as to whether Lord of the Rings or this would ‘win out’ as the dominant text in fantasy, and that this lost (often followed by ‘would that it hadn’t!’).
  • Personally, I think the sub-Gormenghast imitators would be if anything even more embarrassing and off-base than the sub-Lord of the Rings school.
  • This dichotomy seems, and I may be ignorant here, to be chiefly in the minds of Peake fans, bc Gormenghast just can’t be approached and used in the way Lord of the Rings can.
  • There was never *as ready* an opportunity to make ‘sub-Gormenghast’ the commercial, mass audience and politically appropriable thing Lord of the Rings and its imitators became. (Gormenghast was never going to resonate with American counter-culture environmental movements.)
  • Peake’s short story “Danse Macabre” isn’t bad, but it’s a bit like those children’s ghost stories you read, red ribbon around her neck and all that.
  • Btw if you don’t know Sting is a vast Gormenghast Stan in a manner so shameful I cringe to think upon it, it is time for you to learn a fell truth:

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  • Molly: Sting named his dog Steerpike.
    Me: Weird, because like Killmonger, it seems like a natural cat name to me.
    Ana: You know when cats walk horribly on their hind legs, hunched and wobbling?
    Molly:

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I AM SCREAMING

  • I don’t even know that I could say I ‘liked’ these books, I just know that they happened to me, and that I have to live with that forever now.
  • idk maybe I DO like this canon, I’m so grumpy and confused. it’s a lot. I would fight anyone who talked shit about it, like HOW DARE YOU, MY HIDEOUS SON!!
  • Like why not

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  • And so the skewbald, throbbing, grey heartburn pranked up the vast stone—
  • If you did a Steerpike vs Uriah Heep rap battle, the tagline would have to be ‘let’s get ready to humble’. Send tweet.
  • ‘Throb’ in Titus Groan, Boy in Darkness, Gormenghast and Titus Alone

 #digitalhumanities

Groan: image.png

Considering the relative lengths of the books involved Peake undeniably throbs at an exponentially increasing rate as he ages. Thank you for my genius grant.

  • Remember when I told you each Doctor’s fav Dickens book? Of course you do. I’m here to officially announce that the Master, whose canon hobbies include listening to King Crimson, quoting Tennyson&otherwise making an ass of himself, likes Peake *too much*. Ainley is the worst about it.
  • Three DID like Peake, until he found the Master in a shit Professor disguise organising a Peake conference ostensibly for his cover, actually for the lols. Three then hard reversed. Eight reread and loves this series, also Too Much. This is word of god level truth.
  • I’m so annoyed this tank top I’m eBay listing is literally ‘fuchsia’ I’m so  tired of spelling this stupid word.
  • Ultimately I don’t blame Kate Bush for ending up a little Tory bc it took so much for that poor girl to escape Gormenghast and manifest in the real world&change her name&she’s still on a journey of personal growth, that’s a v conservative upbringing to overcome you know?

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Breakup song, stuck in the only dress she came over with, smh.

  • oh god we have over 30,000 words worth of notes on the Gormenghast books and miniseries oh /god/ why
  • I’ll just–condense this, shall i??????
  • NO ONE NEEDS TO HAVE THOUGHT THIS MUCH ABOUT BLOODY GORMENGHAST I AM FAIRLY SURE PEAKE DIDN’T

Gormenghast Read-Along Review: The Boy in Darkness and Gormenghast

TW: THE SORT OF NSFW BULLSHIT THAT HAPPENS IN THESE THIRST-TRAP BOOKS, INCLUDING ONE MENTION OF SEXUAL ASSAULT

BOOK ONE AND A HALF: THE BOY IN DARKNESS

Here we are in Boy in Darkness, Peake’s odd off-shoot novella that’s arguably book 1.5. Today Titus (but unnamed) is being sexually menaced by a goat.

  • NOT 🍆 EVERYTHING 🍆 HAS 🍆 TO 🍆 THROB!!!!

Bad breakup?

BOOK TWO: GORMENGHAST

  • Right when last we left these losers baby Titus was being dunked rather than dunked on in a baptism of ire: the Earling. Happy to report Titus now 7 or something, all grown up&ready to do modernist stream of consciousness narration.
  • Steerpike has developed a weird kink for aunt humiliation&is giving the heterosexualisms a go for Fuchsia’s HUGE tracts of land. Meanwhile Irma wants a party. There will be blood. There will be parrots.
  • A school that DID NOT PREVIOUSLY EXIST has materialised out of nowhere so we can do the next stage of a Bildungsroman because class and continuity mean less than nothing to Peake ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • Irma: I want sex so bad I can taste it in the air *lizard tongue slips out, vibrating frantically*
    Prunesquallor: where r u Sepelchure take me with u to the land of sweet death I am ready
  • Wild times at inexplicable public school—headmaster super dead (yo). Chair pusher removed himself from the narrative via death.
  • ‘that phantom ripeness throbbed, that thing called ‘noon’’
    🚓  Peake you are too horny on main sir  🚓 
  • Noon has ‘fled unfingered’ what /what/
  • The Countess is immense in all senses 👌

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  • Me, sobbing: you can’t say a tree throbs!!
    Peake, points at a tree: throbbing.

🌲🌳🤤 

Me: oh wow another sensual pages-long description of trees huh 

Peake: Main horniness is not a crime! / Open your heart and your mind!!

  • a LOT has happened since we left off guys. Flay has gone spelunking. Steerpike fucked up hilariously trying to kill his boss&now looks like a boiled lobster. Fuchsia wrote mediocre poetry. Titus, nominal protagonist and general timewaster, continued to pine for the fjords.
  • Steerpike was almost successfully heterosexual, but then a miscalculation involved his monkey being spurned&he was forced to contemplate rape. Luckily before that could happen he was discovered in a Taunting Dance over the bodies of ppl he’d gotten killed.
  • Now he’s off slingshotting people to death with tiny stones, hiding in the woodwork or the sewer system or some shit. Keda’s kid’s living as an ewok, and because numerous chapters just give us inane snapshots of this I guess we have to respect that. Yub nub.
  • Titus’ tenth birthday party, with Keda’s kid in the trees (this adaptation rocks):
  • Eugh do you know how easy it’d be to write abo Gormenghast fic it’d be like making a cup of coffee such sin should be more difficult to stumble into [A/N: Gertrude is an Alpha]
  • traveled back in time to 2004 to find an lj com with fic for this series:

    ‘This is obviously not the work of Mervyn Peake. He wasn’t a dirty minded fangirl.’

    I beg your fucking pardon?? Pal. Hombre. Amiga. You have misread.
  • ‘I am aware that this Steerpike may seem terribly out of cannon but it comes after many many months of RPing Steerpike’

    come, gentle death
  • Meanwhile in canon, male sexuality is inherently rapacious&i can feel Dworkin nodding somewhere.
  • Titus’ Ewok foster-sister just burnt to a crisp in a lightning strike and I’m so fucking done log me out
  • I know he’s just there to symbolise the death of Steerpike’s justifiable self-protective reasons for rebellion&his descent into an arbitrary cruelty that recalls how Swelter once treated him, but dammit, Satan the monkey was real to me!
  • What happened to him after the loss of his tail?! Where are you little monkey buddy??
  • If I didn’t have a goal I’d have crawled through Gormenghast, or taken breaks for days at minimum and thus lost the flow&stopped. I’m not disliking it, it’s just like trying to eat a fatty pork roast or claggy desert, like a giant boiled pudding, by myself in one go.
  • Titus apparently feels no guilt over the burning of the Thing, though she’d still be alive if he hadn’t chased her, because she’s more personal symbol than person to him. This is the most boy bullshit ever, but what did I expect from an analogue of a British aristocrat?
  • I don’t know if I’m angry about Fuchsia’s role in the ending exactly, but I’m not—comfortable with it?
  • Hey kids do u like DEATH SCENES what about 30 pages of DEATH SCENE what about a 3 stage multi-part DEATH SCEEEENEEEE

💀⚰️👻☠️💧🌧🌊🏰🌿🍃🐓🔪🗡🔪🔪

  • Whelp so that was Gormenghast

🐎🌕😭👋

  • Man I’m AMAZED I can’t find a Gormenghast map attempt, you’d think the challenge would be nigh irresistible.
  • However when I tried to image search google straight up outed @ActuallyAisha

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Gormenghast Read-Along Review: Titus Groan

This spring, I read the Gormenghast series. Did I love it? Did I hate it? I don’t know. I only know it’s lodged in me forever now, like an inoperable tumour that will certainly kill me. Since my read-along was scattered over a lot of twitter threads and since I have now locked my twitter, I thought it best to gather the whole journey for you here. (‘Best for who?’, you may ask.) The following are my tweets, unless otherwise noted. Think of it as something like an epistolary novel. Only shite. Relive the process of discovery with me!!

BOOK ONE: TITUS GROAN

  • @MollyRKatz: this is my conclusive proof Prunesquallor has a fake woke twitter account

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Me: damning, irrefutable.

[We would like to retroactively apologize to Dr Prune, a soft man who did not deserve this.]

  • Kickstarter to give Gormenghast to the National Trust who’ll fucking clean it.
  • This book is so frustrating I’ve spent 100 pages like ‘what if soap?’
  • No one warned me reading Gormenghast was gonna throw up this Dido/Aeneas cave thirst trap scene jiggly jesus

[Jurassic Park gif of man slowly putting on his glasses]

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  • I hope this fuckferret trips.

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  • Peake is just fucking with me now

 

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  • The Earl of Gormenghast: I’m the night owl!! 🌚🦉
    me: *extremely cheating to the 4th wall even though I am reading a book*
  • I’m sorry he’s the death owl sorry everybody
  • Making Molly choose her Dream Date: Willie Collins vs Mervyn Peake.

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And that’s what patriarchy feels like.

  • Mescaline is a hell of a drug

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  • Nah babe, this sentence sucks, wyd?

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  • You know, Petherbridge would have done well for Prunesquallor.
  • Right so we’ve now had a solid 2 pages on how Peake does not personally like summer, it is not his favourite season, no. Things I could have guessed for £200, Alex.
  • Peake is a basic goth news at never in this timeless netherworld which mirrors society and also his dark soul
  • ‘The fat man moved like an obese woman’ Melvyn stop ✋🛑
  • Oh that fuckin death owl is back. Ca-caw motherfuckers. 💀🦉
  • Get a job, Sepulchrave. 💀🦉  is not a real job it’s like Innovation Disruptor. 
  • Listen buddy I have depression too&once I lost all the data on my laptop it was real sad but I didn’t become a 💀🦉about it or any weak shit like that.
  • Whelp idk how that ho died. Did he jump? Did birds eat him alive? Did he just decide to do it&clock out, no cause necessary? Bye, somehow. I guess.
  • What colour is any given object in Titus Groan?

8% Grey

0% Still grey

25% somehow rancid jewel tone

67% Shouldn’t be grey: is

  • I have £1 on baby Titus growing up to schtupp Keda’s conveniently-aged daughter. [A/N I am NEVER wrong.]
  • You may not like my grotesquely distended jiggling pale body, but this is what Peake Performance looks like.

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Mid-Season Recap

Blog posts, journalism, etc. I’ve published so far this year:

STRANGE HORIZONS:
The Worst Witch (2017 tv series) (review)
Bone Swans, by C.S.E. Cooney (review)
Ronja, The Robber’s Daughter (review)
Paddington 2 (review)
Nirvana in Fire / Lángyá Bǎng (review)

Here I am on “Engage”, CBS’s official Star Trek podcast, hosted by Jordan Hoffman, for an episode about my Strange Horizons essay “Kirk Drift”.

VECTOR:
SFF Board Games of 2017 (review)

THE LANCET PSYCHIATRY:
“Just Typical”: on the Victorian origins of personality typology.
Power Failure: on diagnoses, agency, and the limits of ‘patient centred’ care in capitalist medical practice.

ACADEMIC:
“From ‘Shalom Aleichem’ to ‘Live Long and Prosper’: Engaging with Post-War American Jewish Identity via Star Trek: the Original Series”, a chapter in Set Phasers to Teach!: Star Trek in Research and Teaching
“The Charming Home”: a section of my thesis/some writing on the history of British domestic magic
‘Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla’, by Felix Barker (review)

– DICKENS:
David Copperfield, 1913 Silent Film (review)
David Copperfield, 1966 BBC series with Ian McKellen (review)
Canterbury: architecture and David Copperfield plot locations
“David Copperfield” Material in the BFI Archive
Dickens for Children

EROTICA:

1. No Holds Bard, a queer Shakespeare anthology I have a story in:

“Couched in a Curious Bed”: Having lost his youngest son, a shaken but still-living York is determined to bring the War of the Roses to a swift end – preferably one that will benefit his family. The Lancastrian queen and heir are dead, and, medieval diplomacy being what it is, the best hope for peace lies in a highly unexpected royal marriage.

You can purchase this book here.

2. I have a story in the erotica anthology Owning It. “Rereading”: Avery is about to leave for uni, and her step-father’s paralegal Sheba thinks they should actually talk about their long-running sexual tension before she does. Contains a nasty, loaded argument about Gaudy Night and realisations about one’s sexuality by way of a very butch haircut and very femme nails.

You can purchase this book here.

3. The erotica anthology Corrupted includes my story “Solo Exhibition”, in which cookbook writer Usha plays Scheherazade for her foreign rights agent (and definitely not boyfriend) Jory. You can buy it at Amazon and various other outlets.

***

I have at least two more erotica fiction sales and two nonfiction things pending, but they’re not out yet so I can’t direct you to them. I also have a chapter in an edited volume, but I’d like to see my contributor copy before I chat it up.

There’s three REALLY exciting things I can’t yet talk about unfortunately, but hopefully they won’t fall through (shouldn’t do, but you never know) and you’ll hear in due course!

‘Highgate Cemetery: Victorian Valhalla’, by Felix Barker (Review)

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(The book’s photographs were taken by John Gay. The photographs in this post are bad, and mine.)

Lawrence had this book at his house, so I jumped at the chance to borrow it. It’s hard to know what notes to take here: I need this for a project on London’s major Victorian commercial/garden cemeteries (the Magnificent Seven) I’ll be starting in earnest at the very earliest this time next year. I don’t yet know what that project’s organisational schema will be, and I’m quite tempted to make a copy of this whole damn book (only 44 pages of text, followed by 64 pages of photographs, an index to these and a very rough plan of the cemetery). But that accomplishes no organisational work at all, and so even if I have to refer back to the book later, I’d like to do some winnowing.

To begin, this is very much a ‘Friends of Highgate Cemetery’ production, and so while it’s enormously useful for its gleanings from archival records and the details derived from its access to first-hand knowledge about the restoration efforts, the book is somewhat limited in scope. It hardly mentions the other chief cemeteries which I consider very much a part of these grounds’ development, and it’s not necessarily focused on changes in death culture over time. The book’s comments about records absolutely convince me that I really ought to contact the various Friends Associations before I embark on my research project: they’ve very much got the archival hook-up, and seem to know a fair amount about the apparently sketchy records of burials/plot maps.

This book is out of print, difficult to get and almost 35 years old. If you track it down, it’ll be used anyway (good photos, worth a shout if you can get it cheap). Thus I’m really not going to scruple about over-citation here. I’ve provided all the page numbers; job’s a goodun’. If you’d like to support the Friends’ work, you can learn more about them here.

Some Notes:

  • Typical arrangements for a funeral: family coaches approach in order of precedence with blinds lowered (sounds like hired funeral coaches?), doctor in his own transport, then servants and co-workers. (p 7) These meet extended family and people alerted to the loss and funeral time by a newspaper advertisement at the cemetery, where a service may be held if this hasn’t already happened at the family’s local place of worship. This is the family’s first public appearance since the death. The coffin goes around one of the side-paths, the mourners walk up the more direct central path. There’s a short word from the minister at the graveside. Afterwards, mourners often return to the family home after for a reception with refreshments. (p 8-9)
  • Elaborate mourning-industry paraphernalia is phased out by moddish families in the 1890s, and goes completely in 1914. (p 8)
  • Before the trees grew, Highgate cemetery was especially prized for its views. (p 9)
  • 51,000 burial places; 166,000 names. Leather-bound records in the cemetery office show orderly rows of plots, but growth etc. has muddled them, and other remarks in the book lead me to believe these records are incomplete. (p 10)
  • Neglect began after WWII, and a lack of money thereafter exacerbated the cemetery’s decay. (p 10)
  • The cemetery and unaffiliated church behind it (St Michael’s) were built on the grounds of Ashurst House, a 17th c property from a period when the ‘isolated hilltop village’ of Highgate was popular with London gentlemen. Part of the terrace of this original house has been extended to form a wall of the catacombs. (p 10-11)
  • The house became a school in 1812, then was almost-entirely pulled down in 1830 to build the graveyard-less church (architect: Lewis Vulliamy). In 1836 a Parliamentary Act gave the London Cemetery Company (founder: architect Stephen Geary) permission to build in Surrey, Kent and Middlesex. The company paid £3,500 for the 17 acres of land the West Cemetery now occupies. (p 11) It had room for 30,000 graves, and each contained on average three bodies, making the company a gross proffit in excess of £225,000. ( p 15)
  • Stephen Geary, secondary architect and surveyor JB Bunning, and landscape gardener David Ramsey’s whole sales gimmick was predicated on their creating grounds of remarkable beauty and novelty. You could be buried for £2 10s, but in 1878 a vault on the Valley of the Kings on the approach to the Circle of Lebanon cost 130 guineas. A trick of perspective makes the Valley seem longer than it is (it hosts 8 vaults on each side). The cedar in the middle of the Circle of Lebanon is from the original overgrown Ashurst garden. The Circle has 20 vaults. It was so popular that 40 years after the Cemetery’s opening, a second circle of 16 vaults was built around the first. These tombs were more customisable. They cost 200 guineas, and had room for 15 coffins each. (p 13)
  • The Terrace Catacombs are in an underground gallery over 80 yards long. There are 840 single-coffin recesses therein. These cost £10, and could be covered with an inscribed slab or glass inspection window. The catacombs were also a popular ‘waiting room’ where bodies were stored while the family made decisions about and constructed monuments. (p 14)
  • Geary had previously designed London’s first gin palace, artificial fuel, a water supply apparatus, a method of street paving, and the King’s Cross George IV statue. (p 14) He was buried in his cemetery in 1854 at 56, and his grave was subsequently engulfed by thistles and lost for years. (p 16) Ramsey had previously worked at Brompton Nursery in Kensington. Bunning was under 30, and the keen antiquary possibly responsible for the cemetery’s classical and Italianate design influences. (p 15)
  • At the start of the 19th century, churchyards were overflowing, there were 52,000 funerals in London a year, and people had been advocating for the construction of cemeteries for decades. The 1832 cemeteries bill was passed in hopes of emulating Paris’s Pere Lachaise. Kensal Green was built that year, Norwood in ‘38 and Highgate in ‘39. Abney Park opened in ‘40, Brompton and Nunhead (also by Geary’s company) the same year, and Tower Hamlets ‘41. (p 14-15) Stiff competition (aharharhar).
  • The Bishop of London consecrated Highgate in 1839, save an unhallowed two acres in the North East behind a row of chestnut trees which were reserved for Dissenters. (p 15)
  • The first burial was three days later, on May 23rd, on the right path some ways up the main central avenue. Elizabeth Jackson of Golden Square, Holborn, age 36, was buried 10 feet down in a grave 6 ft 6 in long, 2 ft 6 in wide. Since the family paid three guineas (15 shillings more than the minimum), she was later joined by Alice, George and Grace Jackson. ( p 24)
  • There were 204 burials in the first year, and the average age of those interred was 36. The cemetery clerk recorded such information at the time, and the his records are stored in a cast-iron safe in the lodge. “Using this and other sources, long-lost graves are being found. Several hundred names have been checked against biographical reference by local researchers, and a working list of the more notable made available to those who are interested.” (p 25)
  • The less-attractive 1854 addition consists of 19 acres. About one burial a week takes place there, or did when this book was written. In 1855, the company completed Geary’s design for a hydraulic lift and accompanying underground passage to move coffins from the Anglican and nonconformist chapels across the road to the new cemetery: another gimmick. People went wild for this Age of Science Stygian goodness. (p 17)
  • Cool monuments: animal trainer/menagerie owner Wombwell with snoozing cross-pawed lion, cricketer with splayed stumps (Lillywhite, inventor and exponent of round-arm bowling, bowled out by the googly of death, p 41), comedian with ‘Alas, poor Yorick’, Sassy Atheist Inscription for Professor W.K. Clifford. (p 17-18) Grand piano with raised lid for classical pianist Harry Thornton. (p 27) Concertina for the Hobarths, a balloon for a Victorian aeronaut. (p 30) Captain Shaw of Iolanthe fame, and a fireman killed in action at the Alhambra Theatre fire with sculpted tools. Sporting-goods salesman Alfred Prosser’s headstone is essentially a business card, with illustrations. A huge brag for the inventor of THE PENNY POSTAGE SYSTEM on his tomb. (p 31) 
  • Millionaire shipowner William Mellish’s family moved his body here after its internment for added Cool Points. (p 18) A coachman’s horn and whip adorn the grave of stagecoach driver James Selby, a popular sportsman whose funeral procession was nearly a mile long, and whose body was preceded by a coach full of flowers from noble amateur coaching enthusiasts&co. (p 25) Tom Sayers, the boxer, whose funeral was more popular even than Selby’s, is guarded by his (sculpted) dog (who in life rode alone on the seat of his master’s phaeton to his funeral, with a black ruff around his neck). (p 30) 
  • Dickens’ name was added to his estranged wife Catherine and daughter Dora’s tomb. The author asserts that Queen Victoria as much as anyone pushed for Dickens’ non-con Westminster Abbey internment. I’m not sure about that. (p 32)
  • Victorian monument design staples included: draped urns, obelisks, clasped hands with ‘we shall meet again’ inscription, celtic crosses (there was a fad for them), gothic spires, seated draped ladies with inverted torches of life, and children for child-graves. Not many families commissioned individual sculptors. (p 27)
  • Stockbroker (and dilettante owner of The Observer) Julius Beer spent £800 in 1876 for the grounds of the biggest mausoleum in the place. He commissioned leading architect John Oldrid Scott for the monument, and paid £5,000. It’s loosely based on the burial chamber of King Mausolus at Halicarnassus (one of the Seven Wonders of the World). Beer transferred Ada Sophia, possibly a young daughter?, from another part of the cemetery for £150. There’s a sculpture of an angel lifting up a child by H.H. Armstead, who also did the Albert Memorial. Beer died at 43, in 1880. There are 5 total occupants in this vast vault. (p 32-33)
  • And shit got weird with the fifth one:

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  • This is where all that bullshit with Lizzie Siddal’s exhumation went down in 1869, but the chief fuckboi himself is burried elsewhere. (p 35-37)
  • There’s a straight-up wild story about the family of 71 year old Thomas Charles Druce Esquire, buried 1864. His relatives claimed ‘Thomas’ had secretly been the eccentric and reclusive fifth Duke of Portland, who’d lived a double life as a shopkeeper (specifically the owner of the Baker Street Bazaar) for years, and that thus they were the Duke of Portland’s natural children and heirs. These relatives claimed there’d been a half-mile secret passage between the Duke’s Cavendish Square home and the Bazaar. They claimed the coffin would be empty except for lead weights. The Home Office gave them permission to exhume the body (if any) in 1907. Surprise surprise, there was a body. It was not a Duke’s body, either. The expatriate Australian Druce went free, two key witnesses who’d backed him were imprisoned for perjury, and a third fled the country. (p 37-38)
  • Weird Jobs, and The Most Owned Man In The World:

 

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  • There’s a lot of important medical chappies about. You can see the master list of Famous Internments here. Because I don’t really gaf, I will just mention Dr Henry Joseph Green, President of the General Medical Council and LIFELONG FANCIER OF COLERIDGE, who he first met in 1817. Green is here because he wanted to be buried near him (Coleridge is in the crypt of St Michaels). A true Dracula, thirsting from beyond the grave. (p 39-40)
  • Speaking of The Gays, Radclyffe Hall, writer of The Well of Loneliness, is in here representing. She’s buried with her lover Mabel Veronica Batten, who predeceased her, and there’s a plaque on the door from Una Troubridge (‘And if God choose I shall but love thee better after Death’), Hall’s subsequent partner. Una unfortunately died and was buried in Rome before her wishes regarding her internment were known. (p 41)
  • In the East Cemetery, Marx gets visitors and vandals. Apparently he comes in for lots of red flowers from Chinese delegations. Curiously I’ve not seen these when I’ve been there, and it hasn’t seemed mobbed? Maybe they’ve stopped coming in such numbers. Eleanor Marx’s ashes were kept in the Communist Headquarters in London for a while, but the police took them when they raided King Street in 1921 in search of seditious pamphlets. The Marx Memorial Library in Clerkenwell had them until 1954, and it seems they’d just pull them out from under the desk if you asked?? Then when her dad was moved to a more accessible plot 100 yards away from the first, gravediggers working by night using oil lamps popped her in too. (p 42)
  • Lots of famous people are busily mouldering away in East Highgate. George Eliot, the Hovis Bread Man, the works. (p 42-43)
  • Weird shit: “William Betty, ‘the young Roscius’, (buried 1874) whose appearance in leading tragic roles, starting at the age of twelve, gave rise to ‘Bettymania’ and such hysterical enthusiasm that police were required to keep order for his Covent Garden debut.” I mean. If you say so. (p 43)
  • United Cemeteries Ltd took over the original firm, then closed Highgate in 1975. “Some say things were never the same after the first World War, and at the end of the second, deterioration could not be halted.” The company was running out of plots to sell and hadn’t planned for the perpetuity they’d promised. Costs rose, as the company frankly should have bloody well expected. Families did not necessarily keep up their graves, vaults and catacombs, making these “a liability”. (p 19) Some families of course must also have emigrated or died out.
  • From the Autumn and Winter of 1970 on, the under-patrolled cemetery was vandalised by occultists and general hooligans: vaults were broken into, coffins were prised open, and bodies were even taken out. (p 19)
  • There was some discussion of exhuming and reburying the bodies, razing the place and selling it for building or recreational use. Capitalism! ¯\_(ツ)_/¯  (p 19)
  • In October 1975, the Friends formed and collected 1000 signatures to prevent that. They were allowed in to preserve the place, but had to rely on subscriptions, donations and small grants from Camden Council to do considerable work. The Council could (and still legally has a right to) purchase the whole place, but balked at spending £1 million, and then £200,000 annually, to do the necessary repairs and upkeep. The Friends are advised by the Highgate Cemetery Trust, which at the time of printing was made up of representatives from the National Trust, the Historic Buildings Council, the Highgate Society and the Victorian Society.
  • In 1981 the owners pulled out and decided to sell the place for whatever they could get, because capitalism is a fucking illness. For legal reasons (what were these?) the whole thing had to be done inside 36 hours. Camden was again unwilling to buy the lot, and the Friends worried about whether they could, given their status as a Registered Charity. In the end a female solicitor and an accountant, both Friends, bought it via Pinemarsh Ltd for £50. Essentially but not legally, it belongs to the Friends (or at least this was the case when this was written). (p 20)
  • There were over 2000 Friends at the time of printing, and they were working with the Manpower Services Commission. There was a Projects Director, and we’re told ‘the recording of memorials is under way.’ (Query this!) (p 21)
  • They work(ed) to a landscape plan devised by an unnamed female professional landscape gardener. There is a lot of debate about finding a balance between ‘pleasing decay and unhappy dereliction’. They try to replace self-seeding sycamores (the shade they cast is bad for other trees and low-lying flowering plants, their roots are fairly destructive and they don’t encourage insects on which birds feed) with oaks, birches and willows. They hope to in part open up the famous views again. (Did they? The tours I’ve been on haven’t called attention to this.) (p 21-22)
  • The entrance to the Lebanon Circle and the circular mock-Gothic vault row (I think you pass this on the way out, on the tours?) are being tended to preserve or even encourage an atmosphere of gloom. (p 22)
  • ‘Teasing the wig’ is what keepers call deciding how much ivy or invasive creeper to remove from a grave. They always remove trees actively splitting masonry or a plot. They kill cow parsley and mare’s tail, but make case by case decisions about old man’s beard, buddleia and ivy. (p 22)
  • The Friends hoped to have the cemetery permanently open, beyond tours (they haven’t yet managed that, except in the East), and to convert one chapel to a museum (which they’ve sort of done). (p 23)