Titus Groan starts with the birth and ends with the first birthday celebrations of the heir to the grand, tradition-bound castle of Gormenghast; every grand fantasy citadel since owes something to Mervyn Peake (thinking, most recently in my reading, of Isse Tower in Cecilia Dart-Thornton's The Ill-Made Mute, but there are many others). Peake weaves a grand miasma of doom and foreboding over the sterile rituals of the castle, introducing also the villainous Steerpike who seeks to exploit the gaps between the formal rituals and the emotional needs of the ruling family for his own profit.
It's not terribly clear what era Peake imagines the novel to be set in. The internal workings feel rather Edwardian in a way, conscious of past glory and ignorant of the future. The description of the mud-huts of the villagers outside the castle sounds medieval at best. It also has to be said that not a lot actually happens; my memory is that this is mostly scene-setting for the second book.
I'm going to try and track Bechdel passes and fails for the fiction I read this year. Titus Groan is a technical pass. There is more than one woman characterr; they do talk to each other. Sometimes they talk about Titus, who is a baby not a man, so perhaps such conversations do get through the Bechdel test. The earl's demented twin sisters burble to each other about many things, not all of which are men, but it's not clear that those are really conversations in the full Bechdel sense. Anyway, towards the end, Titus's sister Fuchsia reminisces about her childhood with her nanny, which I guess does qualify in that no men are mentioned.
Anyway, on to Volume II now.