[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 1.1]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 12:29:32 PDT 2007

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Date: Tue, 10 Jun 2003 09:17:40 -0400
From: Charles Sligh
To: Anna Lillios 
Subject: DURRELL

"the city which used us as its flora" (1.1)

I have always heard this reference to flora as an
intimation of the decadence yet to be described in
_Justine_, and, at the same time, at least for this reader,
as a word whose petals are strongly-colored with meanings
cultivated by nineteenth and twentieth authors usually
labeled as "decadent," whether that label be capped or not.

Specifically, among writers, I have in mind Baudelaire,
Huysmans, Wilde, Le Galliene, Dowson, and Symons.
Baudelaire's influential introduction of floral
decadence--and especially of his close aligning of vegetal
monstrosity with sexual and urban settings--almost goes
without saying.

The British Decadents also continued to associate strange
growths and damaged petals with the rich compost of sex and
the City; they also had at hand an independent tradition,
via William Blake's "Sick Rose" and "London."

So perhaps Durrell's Alexandrian exfoliations borrow a
vocabulary already set in place.  I especially think
reading LD's "flora" with such an awareness is appropriate
in the following related passages:

"A drunken whore walks in a dark street at night, shedding
snatches of song like petals" (1.3).

"I remember the first time I saw her at work. . . .
Through the doors of the surgery I caught a glimpse of Clea
. . . sitting under a withered pear tree.  She was dressed
in a white medical smock, and her colours were laid out
methodically beside her on a slab of fallen marble.  Before
her, seated half-crouching on a wicker chair, was a
big-breasted sphinx-faced _fellah_ girl, with her skirt
drawn up above her waist to expose some choice object of my
friend's study. . . .  Her face showed the rapt and
concentrated pleasure of a specialist touching in
the colours of some rare tulip." (2.9)

As Huysman's Des Esseintes might say, "It is all a matter
of syphilis."  Not literally, of course.  But it
interesting, in a "global reading" sort of way, to
juxtapose these connections with the state of "sick man" in
exile, Darley.

(Clea, bless her, reads Huysmans when she can't sleep, I
believe I recall.)


Charles L. Sligh
Department of English
University of Virginia
cls9k at virginia.edu

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