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Am I correct in my recollection that nowhere in the Gormenghast Trilogy does Peake explain how schoolboys were expected to know about geography when their entire lives were constrained by The Castle, and that nowhere does he explain where the professors and the doctor came from?

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    They have a globe in the classroom. It ends up on a bonfire, eventually.
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 15, 2023 at 17:58
  • @Valorum "CANE SLYPATE THURSDAY."
    – Buzz
    Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 3:57
  • @Buzz That one regularly winds its way back into my consciousness :-) Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 6:28
  • @OrangeDog Later. Initially I posted after criticising (in a comment to another question) people who demanded to know every possible detail about a story, not allowing that possibly the author never provided it. Commented Jul 16, 2023 at 6:30

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Besides the globe with "CANE SLYPATE THURSDAY" inscribed across it, as mentioned in comments on the question.

Gormenghast is often compared to the island of Sark, which is one of the British Channel Islands, and is where Mervyn Peake lived for a number of years between 1933-1935 and 1946-1949. Sark is notable for two islands Greater Sark and Little Sark joined by a narrow isthmus called the "La Coupee" (Sark has its own version of Norman French, hence the French name).

The similarities between Sark and Gormenghast extend to a number places within Gormenghast being called by names from Sark, including the aforementioned Coupée, as well as "Little Sark", "Gory" and the "Silver mines" [chapter 76] - which are all mentioned by Countess Groan while directing the search for Steepike.

As mentioned in this article from Glasgow University:

" ...And it’s intimately bound up with the Isle of Sark. The stony bulk of the building recalls the stony bulk of the tiny landmass, rising from the ocean like the carcass of a whale. In the second Titus book, parts of the castle even acquire names associated with the island: the Countess of Groan lists the Coupée (‘the high knife-edge’), Little Sark, Gory and the Silver-Mines, as sections of the building to be searched in the hunt for Steerpike, while Peake’s description of these parts could serve as a description of Sark’s shoreline: ‘Great islands of sheer rock weather-pock’d with countless windows, like caves or the eyries of sea-eagles. Archipelagos of towers, gaunt-fisted things, with knuckled summits – and other towers so broken at their heads as to resemble pulpits, high and sinister; black rostrums for the tutelage of evil’ (p. 699). ..."

In addition, the scholarly journal Peake Studies, has an article on Gormenghast and Sark entitled "The great stone island: Gormenghast castle and Sark" (alas, I can only access the first page), which mentions the similarities between the sprawling vastness of Gormenghast and Sark.

Thus it is not inconceivable, even in the absence of outside geography, that Gormenghast contained a sort of isthmus of its own within the geography of the castle - perhaps the aforementioned "High Coupée" itself, which Titus crossed when he sighted Steerpike.

However, this doesn't actually answer the question of "where do the professors, doctor and other specialists etc come from?" We know that some are hereditary, such as is the case with the Masters of Ritual (Sourdust -> Barquentine) and the Bright Carvers, but next to nothing about the other roles. The Professors are obviously steeped in ritual, like the rest of the castle, but not so much the Doctor.

The answer is - there is no "in story" explanation.

There are all sorts of inconsistencies in the story - There's nothing outside (according to Gertrude) yet Sepulchrave has a massive library - books written by whom?; there's chemistry and global geography taught at the school (hence the globe), gunpowder/firearms, metallurgy, medicine yet all these things would be very difficult to develop in isolation, and given the population of the Castle, very unlikely to all be at the point they are, even if the Castle and its contents are past their heyday.

Irma Prunesquallor also has fashion magazines; - just what would be the content of the magazines given the known population of the castle?

So, the logical conclusion is that there is frequent outside contact and knowledge; hence the globe and presence of other skills. That's not to mention that in Titus Alone, Titus manages to escape and experiences some of the outside world and then desires to return, which Anchor and Juno are able to locate, at least approximately enough for Titus to jump out in a parachute and land at a location that he recognizes as being near the castle when he hears a cannon fire for the morning ritual. This indicates that the outside world also has some knowledge of the castle.

As to whether the professors and the Dr etc are castle born and/or trained? I simply don't know and I don't think it is mentioned in the books, but it seems unlikely that the Dr could be medically trained in the castle unless it were a hereditary position and they had outside contact for him to keep up on relevant practices.

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  • All that is true, but does not really answer the question: the /in/ /story/ origin of the professors etc. However I'd add that when Gertrude emphatically tells Titus that there is "nothing outside" (I forget the exact words) when he is leaving, it might be a statement of desperation- delusional denial of reality- rather than intended as literal truth. After all, Sepulcrave and his predecessors and companions have focused on ritual to the exclusion of all else: what better justification is there other than that there /is/ nothing else? Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 7:53
  • @MarkMorganLloyd There is no "in story" explanation. There are all sorts of inconsistencies in the story - nothing outside (according to Gertrude) yet Sepulchrave has a massive library; there's chemistry and global geography taught at the school (hence the globe), gunpowder, metallurgy, medicine, Irma Prunesquallor has fashionable magazines; yet all these things would be very difficult to develop in isolation, and given the population of the Castle - just what would be the content of the magazines? So, the logical conclusion is that there is frequent outside contact and knowledge -cont...
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 8:23
  • @MarkMorganLloyd ...cont hence the globe etc. That's not to mention that in Titus Alone, Titus manages to escape and experiences some of the outside world and then desires to return, which Anchor and Juno are able to locate, at least approximately enough for Titus to jump out in a parachute and land at a location that he recognizes.
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 8:27
  • @MarkMorganLloyd having re-read your question (rather than just the title, I'll add the above to the answer.
    – bob1
    Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 8:34
  • ...although he wasn't confident of the location until he heard the morning canon whereupon he turned away :-) The fact that he could get near enough to the castle to hear a canonshot but have it obscured by a small hill tells us something about its size... at that particular point of Peake's imagination. Commented Jul 17, 2023 at 8:39

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