Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Feeling Peakey?

Thursday at 6 in my august institution: a public lecture on the life and work of Mervyn Peake, semi-surrealist satirist and illustrator, given by his son Sebastian. All welcome.

I got to know Peake's work through my French teacher, Mike Elkin. A veteran of the 1968 barricades and a devotee of underground literature, he would bombard me with alternatives to the 'classics' pressed on me by my equally charismatic English teacher, Caswell. The pair of them balanced perfectly, so between them I got a brilliant, though unorthodox education.

Peake grew up in China before being sent to a religious English boarding school at the age of 13, and as a war artist, entered Belsen in 1945: his work reflects an outsider's view of British society (and humanity in general) as absurd, labyrinthine, often threatening but always darkly comic. His most famous work is the Gormenghast trilogy, in which post-war England is represented as a vast sprawling castle fossilised in ritual and incapable of coping with the evils of ambition and Nietszchian Will (amongst other things). Under the surface, evil always lurks in the human heart. Much like Ronald Searle, who also turned his war experience into humour, there's always something disturbing going on underneath.

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