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Mervyn Peake in Sussex : Miles Leeson
4th April 2018 at 2:00 pm - 24th May 2018 at 4:00 pm
For our very well attended April meeting, Dr. Miles Leeson gave us an interesting, illustrated presentation on the author of the Gormenghast, gothic fantasy trilogy. He focused on Peake’s golden period between 1940-1945 when he was living and working in Sussex.
From an early age he was obsessively writing short stories and showed talent in drawing and painting. Through projected photos and drawings we gained a greater appreciation of a gifted and visionary writer and artist who was influenced by his early childhood in China as the son of missionary parents. It has been suggested that the forbidding architecture of Gormenghast was influenced by the walled city of Beijing and the Forbidden City within. Others claim, perhaps less plausibly, that Arundel castle might have provided some inspiration.
Photos and paintings of some of the houses where he lived and examples of his paintings of Burpham and possibly Bosham were shown. He attended Art college at Croydon School of Art and the Royal Academy and taught life drawing at the Westminster school of Art. We saw dramatic drawings from his book illustrations to Rime of the Ancient Mariner and illustrations for Gormenghast. He also illustrated Alice in Wonderland, Ride a Cock Horse and Hunting of the Snark and wrote nonsense verse for children.
He visited Belsen as a war artist, soon after liberation and produced moving drawings and poetry from this harrowing experience.
Mention was made of the Peake Centenary Conference held at University of Chichester(2011) and the BBC production of the Gormenghast Trilogy (2000).
The Q & A session at the end provoked comments on his reputation as an artist, writer and poet with the observation by Miles that those who like him, tend to love him. He was somewhat of a cult figure, whose most creative period was after marriage and fatherhood. He died in 1968 after ten years of slow decline with Parkinson’s disease and dementia. He was only 57 but produced over 80, 000 works of art and the extraordinary, visionary world of the Gormenghast trilogy. He is buried with his parents at Burpham, Sussex.
The presentation was interspersed with appropriate readings, ably read by Dr. Frances White, a colleague and Iris Murdoch scholar.
Members were able to view a display of books by and about Peake, including an original, pencil sketch of Peake’s son, Sebastian aged ten.
After this illuminating presentation we all felt better informed about Peake and his achievements and more motivated to attempt reading Gormenghast. Edited version of notes taken by Kevin Maynard and Lois Coulthart.