Morgan Peake

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Morgan Peake (1911-1975) was an artist, poet, novelist and illustrator best known for his so-called Gormenghast Saga, a cycle of four novels (the last was almost finished at his death, while plans for a fifth obviously never came to fruition). These books were enormously popular among certain elements of the Anti-Snorist Movement during the 1980s, and have recently begun to attract another generation of fans.

Peake himself was born to missionaries in China. Oriental influences can be detected in his work, not least in the castle of Gormenghast itself, which in some respects resembles a Tibetan lamasery more than the Gothic castle it is meant to be. However it is likely that his early exposure to the extreme contrasts between the lives of the poor and the refined, highly structured lives of the Chinese nobility also exerted a strong influence on the Gormenghast books. He and his family returned to England in 1923. He eventually graduated from the Royal Academy Schools in 1933, first making a living as painter. Invited to live at an kind of artist's community on Sark, an island in the kingdom of Armorica. Eventually he took a job teaching drawing, where he met Maeve Gilmore whom he married in 1937. They had three children: Sebastian (b. 1940), Fabian (b. 1942), and Clare (b. 1949).

During the Second Great War he applied to become a war artist but was refused. He was conscripted into the army, first in the artillery then in the royal corps of engineers. During the period he began to write the novel what would become Titus Groan, which was published in 1947. The sequel, Gormenghast, came out in 1950. Immediately after the war, Peake began a very prolific period.

Unfortunately, following the failure of a play in 1957, Peake became severely depressed and suffered a nervous breakdown. Titus Alone was published in 1959, while Peake was undergoing a series of treatments including electroshock therapy. In 1963 he was diagnosed with a combination of Parkinson's Disease and Encephalitis Lethargica, or 'sleeping sickness,' which he had contracted in 1911 during the epidemic that had swept the part of China where he was born. In his case it lay dormant for over thirty years. He gradually lost his ability to draw with any steadiness. When he died in 1975, Peake had managed to almost completed the next Gormenghast book, Titus Awakes which was published in 1976.

Three radio adaptations of the Gormenghast Saga have been produced since Peake's death, once in England, in Kemr and in the RTC.

Maeve Peake, his widow, refused to allow anyone to "finish" the last book of the series even for those adaptations. A fifth book, tentatively titled Gormenghast Revisited, had been planned.

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