[ilds] [RG 2003 Justine 2]

James Gifford gifford at ualberta.ca
Fri Apr 6 13:06:00 PDT 2007


------ Forwarded Message
From: Bruce Redwine
Date: Sun, 6 Jul 2003 21:04:21 -0400
To: <DURRELL at NEWS.CC.UCF.EDU>
Subject: [ILDS] ILDS:  Discussion Group--AQ.  Redwine.


I'll be the devil's advocate and throw something out.   Picking up on Bill
Godshalk's provocative question about Melissa's rings buried beneath
Darley's hearth ("it seems rather kinky" [6/3/03]), what are we to make of
Darley's treatment of Melissa?

Poor Melissa Artemis, "patron of sorrow" (Penguin 1991, p. 248,
"Character-Squeezes").   She takes care of Darley, sees to the preparation
of his meals, sleeps with him, pays his debts with her body -- all that.
And what are her rewards?   Darley turns his affections to Justine and
bestows on Melissa a few sighs and memorial lines:

"After all what is the good of a fine metaphor for Melissa when she lies
buried deep as any mummy in the shallow tepid sand of the black estuary?"
(sec. 5, p. 15).

"I found Melissa, washed up like a half-drowned bird, on the dreary
littorals of Alexandria, with her sex broken" (sec. 12, p. 24).

Despite Darley's renunciation of poetry, he's very poetic and
self-conscious, which brings his sincerity into question.

Moreover, Melissa Artemis seems drenched in irony, from her surname (no
woodsy virgin she) to the fragment from the Vulgate Song of Songs:   "I
think of Melissa once more:   hortus conclusus, soror mea sponsor" (sec. 19,
p. 39). 

Aside from the sonorous poetry of Solomon's song, Melissa is neither a
garden locked ("hortus conclusus"), to the contrary she bestows her fruits
on many, nor his sister ("soror mea"), nor his wife ("sponsor").   She's
simply a cabaret dancer and occasional prostitute, with a heart of gold, no
less, who out of "charity" has taken on Darley (sec. 8, p. 18).   My
question:   is Melissa truly deserving of such irony?   I rather like her,
as she walks around in her "shabby sealskin coat," with "phthisic hands" and
"sullen aniline beauty" (sec. 8, p. 18).   Doesn't the irony really undercut
Darley himself, who spins out the poetry?   Is he too much taken with his
own cleverness and sonorousness?

So, what are we to make of Darley?   Has he been living too long among
amoral Alexandrians, has he gone native and abandoned his principles, like
Antony? Justine, on the other hand, finds him risible ("Regard derisoire"
[sec. 20, p. 39]).   Durrell's prose dazzles but beneath the glitter lie
those buried rings, which, presumably, he intends for his reader to uncover
and think about.

Bruce Redwine

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