The Edged Coins Can Smart: Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan and the Semiotics of Late Modernism

Date of Graduation

Spring 2007


Master of Arts in English



Committee Chair

William Burling


Mervyn Peake's Titus Groan (1946) is one of the most neglected British fantasy novels of the 20th century. By way of the interpretive methodologies of A.J. Greimas and Fredric Jameson, this thesis argues that Titus Groan represents Peake's meditation on the problems of artistic production in late modernism, and accordingly portrays those contradictions inherent to production under late capital. Unsatisfied with the commodity status of art in the culture industry, Peake symbolically explores the complex mediations between reified commodity culture and artistic production. Additionally unsatisfied with the anachronistic patronage models of earlier modernists, Peake's novel simultaneously disallows any consideration of art as commodity. Thus, Titus Groan is situated in the dialectics of Modernist aesthetics and founds a tradition of British fantasy other than that of Tolkien and Lewis, a trajectory embodied in the postmodern fantasies of M. John Harrison and China Miéville.


fantasy, British novels, Titus Groan, Mervyn Peake, late modernism, twentieth-century fiction, twentieth-century novels, Gormenghast, semiotic square

Subject Categories

English Language and Literature


© Carl A. Stewart